Don’t let your special needs child fall victim to “new”​ Federal and State voucher/choice policies

This article originally appeared on long-time Delaware special education advocate Steve Newton’s LinkedIn account yesterday.  I read it today and Steve not only hit a grand-slam with this article, but he hit it out of the park!  This is the must-read of the month and the timeliness of this could not be more important!  Normally, I would italicize this but for reasons which will soon become clear, I did not.  Great job Steve!

The road is about to get a lot rougher for special needs kids in America’s schools

It’s never been easy.

IDEA [Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act] was signed into law by President George H. W. Bush in 1990 to stiffen the supports for disability-challenged American students that already existed in Section 504 of the Americans with Disabilities Act. IDEA established the rules for determining the need for special services, how supports within the education system would be determined, and provided for their monitoring via IEPs [Individualized Education Plans]. The trifold intent of IDEA was to (a) guarantee parents and students a role, a voice, and an appeals option in the process; (b) fund services that would allow special needs students to receive FAPE [Free Appropriate Public Education]; and create mechanisms for monitoring/enforcing the entire process.

Despite the fact that none of those goals has ever really been attained (Congress has never fully funded IDEA in any budget in the past 27 years), IDEA represented a massive improvement for special needs students across America. Millions of kids with specific Learning Disabilities (as in Math or English), with Emotional Disabilities, with ADHD, with Autism, and with other, lesser-known disabilities managed to finish school and go on to college, or employment, and independent, productive lives. Flawed as it is in the execution, IDEA has been a hugely successful law.

But the last decade has seen major problems setting in Continue reading

Good Luck Brian “Smarter Balanced Guy” Touchette!

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The Delaware State Board of Education released the agenda for their August 18th meeting, a week from today.  Included in the agenda was the Delaware Department of Education personnel changes.  One of the employees leaving the Delaware DOE is Brian Touchette.

I always felt kind of bad for Brian.  He was the front guy at the DOE for the Smarter Balanced Assessment when they were doing the field test for it and when they were determining accommodations for students with disabilities.  When the opt out movement started kicking up dust, Brian went from Assessment Director to an Education Associate in a very short time after two Delaware PTA Opt Out Town Halls.  I gave him a rough time at a Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens meeting about accommodations a couple of years ago.

I haven’t heard much in the way of Touchette news since those opt out town halls and I wondered what became of him.  But it appears Touchette is no longer with the DOE now.  Good luck Brian!

 

Remember The Days When Special Education Was…Special? Steve Godowsky Should!!!

I found an old document.  Very old.  It’s so old I was nine when it came out.  The first Star Wars movie was two years old.  Empire Strikes Back wasn’t even out yet.  The Smashing Pumpkins sang about this year.  1979.  At this point in time, a very young Steven Godowsky was working at what was known as the State of Delaware Department of Public Instruction.  We know this now as the Delaware Department of Education.  And Steven Godowsky is now Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky.  Back then he was a supervisor in the Exceptional Children Programs.  When he was first nominated to replace Mark Murphy last year, I thought it was impressive he was a Supervisor back then.  But in looking at this document, everyone who worked in that department was a Supervisor.  What was the DPI like 37 years ago?  Check the below out, when it looks like Delaware was trying to create the Individualized Education Program, what we now call the IEP.

 

First State Military Academy Delivering Top-Notch Special Education Services

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Delaware’s First State Military Academy did a 180 degree turn on their special education services for students with disabilities.  For those who believe I hate all charter schools, this is not the case.  What I am against is bad decisions by some in the charter community as well as traditional school districts.  I have seen some charters who did very bad things manage to do an awesome turnaround.  I’ve also seen charters do really great and then see them fall apart.  And then there are those charters who are bad and manage to continue their downward spiral.  There are some I don’t write anything bad about because there is nothing bad about them.

First State Military Academy just opened last August.  Located in Smyrna, the new charter had some special education issues in the beginning of the year.  After an initial special education director resigned, and a replacement didn’t work out as planned, the school had to get it together.  The school already had a higher than normal special education population.  Getting IEPs together for a large influx of students with disabilities, along with opening a new school, has to be a harrowing effort.  To that effect, the school hired a former special education teacher from the John Charlton School in the Caesar Rodney School District.

Since then, I’ve heard from multiple sources the school is offering top-notch special education services.  One of their biggest challenges was the handling of student accommodations with a technology-based curriculum.  For example, IEPs or 504 plans could have an accommodation where a student is only expected to do half of an assignment.  In Math, instead of doing 20 problems, they only do 10.  When you have a computer doing the scoring, it would take a massive amount of computer code to change existing programs.  The school found a way to work around this and make sure students with accommodations are taken into account with the scoring.  This allows the students to receive a more accurate grade based on their special education needs.

I’ve also heard IEP meetings are excellent at First State Military Academy.  The difference between when they first opened last year and today are night and day.  The meetings are organized, the teachers are on board, and parents are much happier.

I’ve heard from many folks about how great Commandant Patrick Galluci and School Instructional Leader Dr. John Epstein are.  It looks like they are living up to this reputation.  I’m happy the school not only identified their prior special education issues but also acted on them.  Doing the right thing is what most of us want.  If I am constantly bashing on certain charter schools in Delaware, there are valid reasons for that.  Special education is near and dear to me and good news deserves a shout-out!

Because of the very nature of charter schools in Delaware, information about them is much easier to find through the Delaware Department of Education website and other sources.  I have written about traditional school districts quite a bit as well on this blog.  Most of my issues with Delaware charters surround their enrollment preferences and financial transparency.  If I can find something out from their website or through Google, that’s an issue.  But the biggest source of information, when it comes to good news, comes from the parents.  I am always happy to publish the good stuff as well as the bad.  If you know something great going on, let me know.  I won’t bite!  Unless it is to spread any type of love about standardized testing.  You won’t find any support from me on that one!

Secretary Godowsky And Governor Markell Recklessly Whitewash The SAT/SBAC Debacle While Violating State & Federal Law

“I, Jack Markell, do proudly swear to carry out the responsibilities of the office of Governor to the best of my ability, freely acknowledging that the powers of this office flow from the people I am privileged to represent. I further swear always to place the public interests above any special or personal interests, and to respect the right of future generations to share the rich historic and natural heritage of Delaware. In doing so I will always uphold and defend the Constitutions of my Country and my State, so help me God.”from the Delaware Oath of Office for all publicly elected officials

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Yesterday, Governor Markell and the Delaware Department of Education made a grandstand announcement about the SAT replacing the Smarter Balanced Assessment for high school juniors.  They forgot many things in their hasty announcement.  There are important and crucial reasons why this is not what it appears to be and actually violates many state and federal laws.

  1. The SAT went through a “redesign” to make it tied to the Common Core standards.  This is not the same SAT high school juniors took last year.  Delaware already has horrible scores on the SAT.  With the scores based on Smarter Balanced already showing less than half of Delaware students were proficient, expect those scores to plunge even lower on the SAT.
  2. House Bill 334, which brought the Smarter Balanced Assessment to Delaware explicitly states that “(j) Rules and regulations pursuant to this subchapter shall be proposed by the Secretary subject to approval by the State Board of Education.”  Since the State Board of Education did not vote on this, nor have they even had this as a discussion item on their agenda, Governor Markell broke Delaware law.  The State Board would not be able to vote on this until their February State Board meeting at the earliest.  By giving the Secretary full authority on this issue, Markell is in violation of his oath of office.
  3. There is no fiscal note for this unlawful change as well.  The funding for giving the SAT to all high school juniors in Delaware was part of the Race To The Top grant.  Those funds are now expired.  With the SAT at $90.00 or more, who is going to pay for this assessment?  Assuming there are roughly 10,000 high school juniors in Delaware, that price tag is now $900,000.00.
  4. As Delaware State Rep. Kim Williams brilliantly pointed out yesterday, “Last year, the Governor announced that Delaware colleges agreed to use the Smarter Balance Assessment as a way to measure college readiness as Delaware students entered college. Students would be able to opt out of remedial courses if they were to score at a certain level on the Smarter Balanced Assessment, what happened to that great idea?”
  5. Over the summer, Governor Markell spoke to an audience at an education “think tank” called New America.  He stated “Smarter Balanced is the best test Delaware ever made.”  Why is he replacing “the best test Delaware ever made” with the SAT?  Is Smarter Balanced no longer the “best test Delaware ever made?”
  6. By far, the biggest mistake Markell and the DOE made in their haste to push this through was their complete ignorance of students with disabilities who have to take the SAT.  As per Title 14, § 151, (f) ”The Department shall establish alternate assessments for children with disabilities who cannot participate in the statewide assessment of student achievement even with appropriate accommodations and modifications. Alternate assessments must be developed and used in the statewide assessment beginning not later than the 2010-2011 school year. Each local school district, through the individual student’s Individualized Education Program Team or 504 Team, shall determine what assessment the student will take, as well as the student’s matriculation or promotion status and necessary remedial activities if the student’s performance on the assessment is below standard, and if the statewide assessment is administered, what accommodations and/or modifications will be utilized. However, no student shall be denied the opportunity to take the state assessments administered pursuant to subsections (b) and (c) of this section.”  Since the decision was made to begin this in the spring of this year, has the Governor and the DOE assured students with disabilities that the accommodations offered on the SAT will be the exact same ones offered by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium?  According to the College Board website, the process for accommodations on the SAT for students with disabilities is completely different.  At a minimum, the Governor and the Delaware Department of Education have now broken IDEA law (more on this below).
  7. With a letter from 10 Democrats, and not an actual resolution or bill passed by the General Assembly, Governor Markell has circumvented the legislative process.  House Bill 334 specifically states the purpose of the legislation was to transition Delaware from DCAS to Smarter Balanced.  Without an executive order, Governor Markell usurped the authority of the General Assembly and their ability to make laws in Delaware.  Since he signed the law, he has broken it.  “This bill provides for the transition of the statewide student assessment system, the Delaware Comprehensive Student Assessment (DCAS), to the Smarter Balanced Assessment System (Smarter). Specifically, the bill removes references to multiple assessments.”

In terms of accommodations for students with disabilities on the SAT, it is a minimum of a seven-week process.  The deadline to submit this application, along with consent from the student’s parent, for the March 5th test is January 15th, for the May 7th test it is March 16th, and for the June 4th test it is April 15th.  This will mean that all IEP teams will need to meet to determine what accommodations students with disabilities will need for the SAT test.  What happens if the College Board won’t accept all the accommodations students received for the Smarter Balanced Assessment?  According to the College Board website, sending an IEP or a doctor’s note is not sufficient by itself.  If Delaware State Code specifically states the IEP team decides on the accommodations but they are now subject to College Board approval, how does this even work?  In looking at the College Board website, they also ask for a great deal of personal student information including doctor evaluations and any medicine students take.  I don’t believe this is written in Delaware State Code.  The Governor and the DOE are seriously putting Delaware at great risk of potential litigation with this action.  In addition to IDEA federal law, there are also serious questions concerning private student data, FERPA, and basic civil rights for students with disabilities.

While Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky brought up working through the accommodations issue, he is not looking at the big picture at all.  In a letter sent to Delaware educators this morning, Godowsky failed to bring up many of the points I have made concerning actual laws his Department and the Governor have broken with this decision.

Message from the Secretary of Education

 
Fellow educators,
 
I hope you enjoyed the recent holiday break and have returned rejuvenated for the rest of the school year. Thank you for your continued commitment to ensure every child is prepared for success in our schools.
 
I am pleased to welcome you back with exciting news for 2016: The SAT will replace the Smarter Balanced Assessment as the state accountability test for high school juniors beginning this spring.
 
We made this decision after hearing from educators, students, families, lawmakers and others concerned about the testing burden on students, especially 11th graders who already were taking both tests.
 
We formally announced this news today, and you can learn more here. This change comes with many challenges we must overcome in a short time period, such as determining the proper accommodations for students with disabilities, and we are working through these issues. We will continue to update this site with more information in the weeks ahead.
 
This year, the SAT is also redesigned. Changes include:
 
  • Two sections (plus an essay): Evidence-Based Reading and Writing, Math
  • A focus on the math that matters most for college and career
  • A move away from obscure vocabulary to the use of relevant words in context
  • The elimination of the guessing penalty
 
Several SAT supports are available to you as well. College Board has partnered with Khan Academy to provide free SAT test practice to all Delaware students. Khan also provides personalized SAT practice based on students’ PSAT results. Through a score reporting portal, you can monitor student progress and guide them in preparing for greater SAT success. More information on the re-designed SAT, personalized practice recommendations, and important SAT dates and news is available here.  
 
Teacher guides and professional development modules are also available to support educators integrating SAT practice into their classrooms. Resources are available online, and College Board can come to districts to assist with training. Find more information here.
 
We continue to look for ways to support Delaware educators, help students, and reduce testing, and we look forward to the results of the work of an on-going assessment inventory task force to inform our state’s policy in the future.
 
In partnership,
 
Steven Godowsky
Secretary of Education
It is more than obvious Governor Markell is desperate and scared of the veto override on House Bill 50.  He is pulling out all the stops, but now he is getting very sloppy, careless and reckless.  Delaware parents have him on his toes and he really doesn’t know how to handle it.  Legislators in Delaware are now confused about what to do based on these decisions by Markell and the DOE.  The amount of discussion surrounding House Bill 50 while completely ignoring the entire purpose of the bill is sucking the oxygen out of the room.  Legislators are forgetting what this entire bill is about: parent rights, nothing else.  It is not about over-testing, or the SAT, or anything else.  It is parent rights.  Parents want it, they asked for it, and the majority of the 148th General Assembly approved it.  Everything else is subterfuge and propaganda coming from the DOE, Markell, and Rodel.
Governor Markell, in granting the authority to the Secretary of Education of Delaware, to make this decision is in violation of his Oath of Office.

All The DOE Assessment Information Given To Districts In Delaware

On Wednesday, November 18th, the Delaware Department of Education had a meeting with all the district testing coordinators to go over all things assessment.  This includes the Smarter Balanced Assessment, the assessment inventory campaign, accommodations, and more.  It looks like the DOE’s Office of Assessment will be raiding monitoring visiting every single public school in the state over the coming months.  But who will lead this office now that Schwinn and Reyna are bidding adieu?

MUST READ! Fascinating Look At Special Education At A Delaware Charter School

As part of a Delaware charter school’s charter renewal, schools provide a vast amount of information in regards to efforts they have made to improve their school.  Campus Community School, located in Dover, is up for their charter renewal this year.  A year and a half ago, the school realized they were having special education issues and sought the services of a consultant to see what was and wasn’t working.  The below document is a very interesting read.  It really goes into issues between general education teachers, special education teachers, administration, and special education coordinators.  These are not issues that are foreign to traditional district schools either.  Delaware public schools, as a whole, have a lot of work to do with special education.  My fear, and I have always said this, is that as long as success is based on once a year high-stakes assessments, students with disabilities will always be marginalized and not given the attention they truly deserve.  With the release of Smarter Balanced the stakes have risen even higher and these children will be forever lost unless there is a change now.

I would strongly recommend the Delaware Department of Education thoroughly read this document if they haven’t already.  What is detailed in this document is going on in a lot of Delaware schools.  These students do not have the true supports they need.  Far too many incidents with “behavior” are manifestations of children’s disabilities and if they don’t have the proper support and services, this cycle will continue.  Perhaps with his massive amount of special education background, Interim Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky will be able to change this.

Smarter Balanced & Assessment Inventory Presention By Delaware DOE Shows CLEAR Issues

On 6/17/15, the Delaware DOE had a working lunch regarding the Smarter Balanced Assessment Survey, issues with the testing, data incidents, number of technology issues, a timeframe for the release of the scores, how the report will look, and accommodations.  The most obvious horror I see is the ability for the DOE to edit/access accommodations.  The accommodations they already have are not in full compliance with IDEA law.  If it is an IEP, they need to be able to let the students have the same accommodations they would for any other test.  The fact they don’t, and don’t even seem to care along with the US DOE, shows a blatant disregard for Federal law as passed by the U.S. Congress and signed off by then President Bush.  I can’t wait to see the opt-out figures!