Delaware Shows Improvement In Special Education But Measurements Are Horribly Wrong

The United States Department of Education released their annual state determinations for special education the other day and Delaware obtained a “Meets Requirements” for indicators under IDEA Part B.  For IDEA Part C, they were designated as “Needs Assistance”.  Part B is for children ages 3 and up to 21, with disabilities, and Part C ranges from birth to 2 years old.  I wrote last year how so many of these special education indicators are based on the state assessment: their scores and participation rate play a very heavy roll.  I have neither the time or the patience to get into the nitty gritty with these determinations at a granular level.  The feds don’t get it and our state doesn’t get it.  I have no doubt the Delaware Department of Education will celebrate this and say “look how far we’ve come”.  But since so much of this is based on the Smarter Balanced Assessment, I give it about as much legitimacy as a Mona Lisa forgery.

 

DE Atty. General Matt Denn Files Brief For Special Education Supreme Court Case… What About My Kid Matt?

Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn, along with the AGs from Massachusetts and New Mexico, filed an amicus brief for the upcoming special education case which will be heard by the United States Supreme Court.  The Endrew F. v Douglas County School District is a case which can change the face of special education.  But what about my kid right here in Delaware Matt Denn?  The one who was kicked out of a special education program at a Delaware private school last Friday with no due process, no advance notification to the parents about the true purpose of the meeting, and no chance for my son’s voice to be heard?

For the most part, I like Matt Denn.  I think he can be an excellent advocate for students with disabilities.  But sadly, what he wants and what we have in Delaware are two very different things.  I wish Denn could help my own son the way he is helping this child in Colorado.  I understand the implications of this case and what it can do for special education if they rule in favor of the student.  That would be a very good thing.  But there are far too many students here in Delaware that are now suffering with special education.  My own son Jacob included.  If Delaware’s special education is supposed to be so great, why isn’t it Matt?  We both know the answer to that.  But why should my kid have to go through all venues of education in this state and still not have schools understand his needs?  Charter, district, private school, private school homeschool-coop program.  None have worked Matt.  None.  They may be great at other things, but they have all failed my son.  As one father to another father, I’m asking you to do something here, in Delaware.  In your state.  Not later, not down the road, but now.  I don’t know if I can get my son back on track.  There has been so much damage done to him.  By adults who think power is more important than what is right.  Maybe you don’t know what it’s like to watch your own child’s spirit break time and time again.  I truly hope you don’t.  But I’m just one of many parents who has to pick up the pieces of a child’s shattered life again and again while the system fails him time and time again.  It doesn’t matter what kind of school it is.  I don’t care about all this fancy legal stuff.  I just want consistency and best practices with my son, with all the special needs kids in this state.  We are destroying lives here Matt.  What are you going to do about that?

Talk is on thing but actions speak louder than words.  How many more Jacobs do we have to have in this state Matt?  How many more tears have to be shed before something is done?  How many families have to deal with turmoil you can’t even begin to imagine Matt?  How many more children have to be psychologically beaten down before you do something?

cropped-jacobandme.jpg

 

Delaware Files Amicus Brief Supporting a Colorado Student’s Claim on Behalf of Delaware, Massachusetts, and New Mexico.

Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn, joined by the Attorneys General of Massachusetts and New Mexico, filed a formal brief Monday with the United States Supreme Court supporting the appeal of a Colorado public school student with disabilities who claims that his school district has not complied with federal law in meeting his educational needs. The brief filed by Delaware urges the United States Supreme Court to adopt a higher national standard for the services that U.S. schools must provide, and articulates that the standard reflected in Delaware state law, rather than the lower standard used in Colorado and many other states, is the proper standard to measure the provision of such services.

The brief was written by Delaware State Solicitor Aaron Goldstein and Deputy Attorneys General Patricia Davis and Laura Makransky. The brief states that the three Attorneys General “implore this Court to find that the highest level of educational benefit for children with disabilities currently recognized by federal courts of appeal is the correct level for all of the nation’s children with disabilities in order to ensure that the [Individuals with Disabilities Education Act]’s ideals of equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency are fulfilled.”

Although Attorney General Denn has joined other briefs filed with the United States Supreme Court since taking office in January of 2015, this is the first United States Supreme Court brief that his office has authored since he took office. “We chose this issue to seek to be heard with the United States Supreme Court,” Denn said, “because it is fundamentally important to the future of every child with a disability in our nation’s public schools. We also sought to be heard because how the Supreme Court phrases its opinion could also have a direct impact on students with disabilities in Delaware public schools.”

 

 

 

Delaware To Get Federal “Needs Intervention” In Special Education Again As Incompetent DOE Lies At Public Meeting

Delaware WILL get a “Needs Intervention” label for their Annual IDEA Determination from the Office of Special Educations Programs at the United States Department of Education.  The Delaware DOE knows this, but they aren’t announcing it.  My guess is they are waiting for the “formal” letter to come from the feds before they publicly release this information to the public.  Even though they were told this information at least four weeks ago.  If I were a betting man, we won’t find this out until after June 30th.  I predicted this three weeks ago when I found the letters that went out to the districts and charters.

At the Governor’s Advisory Council for Exceptional Citizens meeting on Tuesday night, the Exceptional Children Resources Group at the DOE gave a presentation to the council on the Local Education Authority (LEA) portion of the annual determination.  The presentation was given by Barbara Mazza and Maria Locuniak from the DOE.  In this presentation, there were several absolute lies that are in this article, for which I caught them red-handed.  It is very alarming they would try to dupe a state council devoted to the improvement of outcomes for persons with disabilities. Continue reading “Delaware To Get Federal “Needs Intervention” In Special Education Again As Incompetent DOE Lies At Public Meeting”

Breaking News: Special Education Nuclear Blast Will Take Place In Delaware In The Next Month

A couple of years ago, I wrote about a hurricane in Delaware Special Education.  This year I predict a full-blown nuclear blast.  The Exceptional Children Resource’s Group at the Delaware Department of Education will release their FY2014 Special Education Compliance & Results report they must submit to the United States Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs in the next month.  The results are going to be catastrophic for Delaware.  We will be labeled as “needs intervention” once again.

This year’s results will be more controversial than any other year because out of the 43 “indicators” identified by the US DOE this year, 28 of them are based on the state assessment.  In Delaware, that would be the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  In other words, 65.11% of Delaware AND each local school district or charter school’s rating scale will be based on Smarter Balanced.  Participation rate will tie into this.  Delaware did not make the participation rate of 95% for students with disabilities in ANY grade.  So that is 32.65% of the rating.  The other 32.65% is based on proficiency goals for both ELA and Math.  What is odd though is the Math goals are based on the 2014-2015 Smarter Balanced scores but the ELA goals are based on the 2013-2014 DCAS scores.  The other new indicators are results tied to early childhood learning to elementary learning in three different areas covering “growth” and “expectation” for a total of six categories.  These new weights total nearly 14% of the rating.  Other new “results” indicators are graduation rates and drop-out rates, which Delaware did not hit the goals for either one.

In terms of compliance, which used to account for 100% of the Annual State Improvement Plans from the US DOE, this year it only counts for less than 14% of the entire report.  Delaware came in at the halfway mark for this section.  Indicators in this section included disproportionality in all disabilities or specific disabilities (much more of one disability over another, like ADHD for example), a disproportionate amount of suspension rates for minority students who are also students with disabilities, initial evaluation timelines, pre-school transitions, and secondary transition (making sure students with disabilities who transition from middle school to high school are part of their IEP team).  Delaware did perfect in the disproportionality sections, but the other areas fell well below the goals.

The report on this hasn’t come out, but the Delaware DOE did send letters to each school district and charter school in the state.  Based on the numbers in each of these letters, I was able to determine Delaware will be labeled as “needs intervention” this year by the US DOE.

The following districts and charters were labeled as “needs intervention”: Brandywine, Christina, Colonial, Lake Forest, Red Clay, Woodbridge, Campus Community School, Delaware College Prep, EastSide, Prestige Academy, Thomas Edison and students handled through the Department of Students, Children, Youth and their Families.

The following districts and charters were labeled as “needs assistance”: Appoquinimink, Cape Henlopen, Capital, Delmar, Indian River, Laurel, Milford, Smyrna, Academy of Dover, Family Foundations Academy, Gateway Lab School, Kuumba Academy, Las Americas ASPIRAS, Positive Outcomes, and Providence Creek Academy.

What is interesting is the charters who have very few students with disabilities or very low populations of intensive or complex categories did extremely well this year.  Out of the 43 indicators, the Charter School of Wilmington only qualified for 1 which they passed.  Delaware Military Academy only had 6.  None of the charters and a few districts did not qualify for the pre-school indicators.  When I determined Delaware’s rating, I factored out any district or charter that was not applicable for any of the 43 indicators.

The participation rates were based on the 2014-2015 Smarter Balanced Assessment.  I find it hysterical that they are using Smarter Balanced for this report.  The goals for Smarter Balanced Math on this report was a proficiency rating of 15% for students with disabilities.  All grades with the exception of 11th grade passed that goal.  But the participation rates, compliance indicators, and early childhood learning all brought Delaware way down this year.  When the final numbers come out, I predict we will be at 37.21% for our overall percentage with US DOE.  For the ratings systems, 80% and above is “meets requirements”, 60% to 79% is “needs assistance”, and 59% and below is “needs intervention”.

To see how your district or charter school did, check out this page on the Delaware DOE website.  Letters were sent out to each Superintendent or Head of School (charters) on May 31st.

Let me be the first to say I think it is utterly preposterous they are using the Smarter Balanced scores and participation rates for this report.  It is ludicrous to think it accounts for nearly two-thirds of it.  For those who ever thought testing is good, not only are teachers evaluated based on the scores, but our schools are now going through double jeopardy based on the scores and participation rates, especially schools with high populations of low-income and minority students who ALSO have high populations of students with disabilities.  I don’t accept this report and see it as utter garbage.  While some of the compliance indicators, the graduation rates, and the drop-out rates are worthy measures, the rest of it is utter crap.  I’ve said this last year and the year before, but there are so many other worthwhile things they could be measuring with these annual reports.  Such as IEPs being implemented with fidelity, IEP denials, and parent feedback.  In fact, the only thing remotely surrounding parents in this is participation rates, and that is an extreme dig at parental choices that are not against the law.  Delaware and the US DOE will NEVER learn…

I hate to be the deliverer of bad news, but once I saw these letters and what they were measuring, I knew I would be spending the rest of my day figuring all this out.  The last time we got a “needs intervention” in Delaware, back in 2014, Governor Markell announced the creation of a Special Education Strategic Plan.  He set aside funds in the FY2015 budget for this.  Almost two years later and this Strategic Plan still hasn’t seen the light of day.  But a former Rodel employee with very little special education background is getting paid a very nice salary as part of the Secretary of Education’s office.  Matthew Korobkin is in charge of this “strategic plan”.  So far the only thing I’ve heard is how much the Autism community in Delaware was pissed off at him for essentially trying to copy their Autism Blueprint into his strategic plan.  Money well spent Jack!  An IEP Task Force, formed in the General Assembly in 2014, did create legislation that is just now going into effect, but the task force never reconvened even though this was a huge discussion point towards the end of the first round.

A Message From Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn About IEPs And DOE Surveys

Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn wants all parents of students with disabilities with an IEP to read this message!  As part of the IEP Task Force recommendations back in 2014 which became part of Senate Bill 33 last year, the Delaware DOE is required to send surveys out to a representative number of families where a child has an IEP.  The goal of the survey is to see how our schools are doing with the IEP process and implementation.  I strongly urge all parents in Delaware who  have a child with an IEP to take this survey.  Thank you.

“Dear Friends,

I am writing to ask for your assistance in ensuring that our schools are complying with their legal responsibilities to provide appropriate services to students with disabilities. One of the recommendations of the IEP Improvement Task Force that I chaired was to survey families specifically about their experience with the IEP process, so the state could determine if particular schools or districts were failing to comply with their legal responsibilities to children with disabilities. The General Assembly enacted legislation last year requiring the Department of Education to conduct this survey. The Department of Education, through the Center for Disabilities Studies at the University of Delaware, is mailing such a survey out to the homes of a randomized group of approximately 5,000 students with IEPs. In addition to these mailed surveys, we have also created an online version which will allow families who do not receive the mailed survey to share their experience. While we request permission to contact the responding families if there are concerns about their responses, they may choose to participate anonymously.

I ask you to share the web address for this online survey with the families of children you serve and encourage their participation, so we can try to ensure that all children with disabilities in our state receive the support to which they are entitled.”

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/2T789KW

Sincerely,

Matt Denn

Campus Community Loses Two Special Education Due Process Hearings, First Victories For Parents In 4 Years

Campus Community School, a Delaware charter school, recently lost two special education due process hearings.  These were the first due process hearings in Delaware since 2013, and the first time parents won cases in Delaware since 2011.  In both cases, the school was ordered to pay substantial compensatory damages.  Both cases were represented by McAndrews Law Firm, P.C.  In an article the law firm put out today, attorney Lauren O’Connell-Mahler wrote:

The school was further ordered to review and revise the child’s IEP to address absences due to illness, and to provide remedial education to its staff regarding their obligations to identify all children with disabilities. The panel found that the school’s record-keeping was inadequate, and determined that the Delaware Department of Education should conduct oversight of the school’s record-keeping until meaningful improvements were in place. Finally, the school was ordered to provide additional information to parents of children with disabilities concerning the educational rights of children so that those rights could be preserved and protected.

Both of the cases are below.  Campus Community received their charter renewal from the Delaware State Board of Education in December of 2015.  Neither of these cases came up at all during any of the formal proceedings for the charter school.  The school did have a comprehensive review of their special education in May of 2014.  This was something their board requested according to board minutes around that time.  The report was included as part of the record for their charter renewal.

Due Process Hearing 16-01

Due Process Hearing 16-05

Delaware’s Moral Imperative: My Email To The JFC, DOE, State Board, WEIC, & Governor Markell

SpecialEducation

Today, the Delaware Joint Finance Committee is meeting with the Delaware Department of Education to discuss proposed changes in the DOE’s budget for Fiscal Year 2017.  This hearing will allow the DOE to answer questions about the funding increases they are requesting.  One of the hot issues is the $6 million allocated in Governor Markell’s budget for the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission’s redistricting plan for the students of Wilmington.  I had very strong thoughts about this last weekend and a response from a member of WEIC prompted another article on the matter.

At the heart of this is the basic special education funding for Delaware students in Kindergarten to 3rd grade.  Currently, students in Delaware do not receive any additional funding if they qualify as basic special education in K-3.  Within a month of starting this blog, I wrote about this eye of the hurricane in Delaware special education and broke down the categories for the funding for these services:

Basic Special Education units are determined by eligibility of special education for students in grades 4-12 and they must not be considered intensive or complex. Students in this group receive one unit for every 8.4 students.

Intensive units are based on a need of a moderate level of instruction. This can be for any student with an IEP from Pre-Kindergarten to 12th grade. As well, there must be supports for health, behavior or personal issues. The student must have an adult facilitating these supports with a ratio of 1:3 to 1:8 for most of their education. The student must be in the mid-range for use of assistive technology and also need support in the areas of a school nurse, an interpreter, an occupational therapist, or other health services. These students would also qualify for extended year services (ESY), and may have to utilize services outside of the school such as homebound instruction or hospital services. On their IEP, these students may have accommodations outside the norm, which should include adaptations to curriculum to best support their needs. Schools here get one unit for every 6 students.

Complex Special Education units are determined by severe situations that require a student to adult ratio of 1:1 or 1:2. Most autistic children should fall into this category. They must receive a high level of instructional, behavioral, personal and health supports. Assistive technology needs to be utilized at an increased level for these students. ESY is a must, as well as a high level of homebound instruction or hospital services, interpreters, occupational therapists, or services from the school nurse. Unit funding is provided as one unit for every 2.6 students.

Today, I emailed all the members of the Delaware Joint Finance Committee, Secretary of Education Dr. Steven Godowsky, Maryann Mieczkowski (the director of the Exceptional Children’s Resources Group at the DOE), Delaware Controller General Michael Morton, Elizabeth Lewis (oversees education funding with the Delaware Office of Management and Budget), State Rep. Kim Williams (the sponsor of House Bill 30 which would give this funding), State Board of Education President Dr. Teri Quinn Gray, Executive Director of the State Board Donna Johnson, and the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission’s core leadership team: Dr. Tony Allen, Dr. Dan Rich, Kenny Rivera, and Elizabeth Lockman. I addressed the need for basic special education funding for ALL Delaware students in K-3:

From: Kevin Ohlandt <kevino3670@yahoo.com>
To:
Smith Melanie G (LegHall) <melanie.g.smith@state.de.us>; McDowell Harris (LegHall) <harris.mcdowell@state.de.us>; Bushweller Brian <brian.bushweller@state.de.us>; Ennis Bruce <bruce.ennis@state.de.us>; Peterson Karen (LegHall) <karen.peterson@state.de.us>; Cloutier Catherine <catherine.cloutier@state.de.us>; Lawson Dave (LegHall) <dave.lawson@state.de.us>; Carson William (LegHall) <william.carson@state.de.us>; Heffernan Debra (LegHall) <debra.heffernan@state.de.us>; Johnson JJ <jj.johnson@state.de.us>; Miro Joseph <joseph.miro@state.de.us>; Kenton Harvey (LegHall) <harvey.kenton@state.de.us>; “jack.markell@state.de.us” <jack.markell@state.de.us>; “michael.morton@state.de.us” <michael.morton@state.de.us>; “elizabeth.lewis@state.de.us” <elizabeth.lewis@state.de.us>; Williams Kimberly (LegHall) <kimberly.williams@state.de.us>; Tony Allen <tony.allen@bankofamerica.com>; Daniel Rich <drich@udel.edu>; Kenny Rivera <kenneth.rivera@redclay.k12.de.us>; Elizabeth Lockman <tizlock@gmail.com>; Godowsky Steven (K12) <steven.godowsky@doe.k12.de.us>; Mieczkowski MaryAnn <maryann.mieczkowski@doe.k12.de.us>; Johnson Donna R. <donna.johnson@doe.k12.de.us>; Gray Teri <teri.gray@sbe.k12.de.us>
Sent:
Wednesday, February 17, 2016 11:20 AM
Subject:
Basic Special Education Funding for Kindergarten to 3rd Grade students in Delaware

Good morning all,

Some of you may know me, but for those who don’t, I am a concerned parent of a special needs child in Delaware.  He was denied an Individualized Education Program in 3rd grade at a Delaware charter school even though he fully qualified for it. 

As a result of this event, I set out to look into Delaware education and all facets surrounding it, which led to the creation of my blog, Exceptional Delaware.  One of the first things I discovered was that students who qualify for basic special education do not receive funding for this in Kindergarten to 3rd grade.  Students in 4th to 12th grade do.  As a result of this, many students in these grades are denied IEPs all over our state.  Many times this results in special education lawsuits filed against school districts and charter schools.  I firmly believe this also sets up these children with disabilities for failure.  By not getting the funding they are entitled to at a state level, this results in the local education agency bearing the brunt of these costs.  The federal IDEA funding has never been at the level that it was originally intended for. 

There are current plans in the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission’s redistricting plan for Wilmington students to grant Red Clay Consolidated School District the basic special education funds for students in K-3 in FY 2017.  This would also include the current Christina students enrolled in Wilmington schools should the redistricting plan pass the State Board of Education and the 148th General Assembly.  In FY2018, this funding would be provided to the entire Christina School District, and in FY2019 to Colonial, Brandywine, and the Wilmington charter schools.  While the plan doesn’t specifically give a timeframe for the rest of the state, the commission does urge our state to provide these funds as soon as possible for all of Delaware.

I have grave issues with this as all students in this category should be entitled to these funds.  While I am vehemently against the use of standardized test scores to determine school accountability levels, by the very nature of these plans it would set up some schools to do better than others in Delaware.  In the Delaware Department of Education’s goals submitted to the US Department of Education for their ESEA Flexibility waiver, the DOE had growth goals for Delaware.  For students with disabilities, they want them to go from 19% proficiency from FY 2015 to 59% proficiency in FY 2021.  By giving certain schools and districts this funding, it sets up a disproportionate funding mechanism that benefits some over others.

There are other concerns with this as well.  If a 1st grade student should happen to transfer from Red Clay to Indian River, would that basic special education funding follow them? 

As a parent of a special needs child, I find this lack of funding for students who are at the foundation of their education experience to be highly disturbing.  The current budget plans call for a huge influx of funding for early education, in the hopes of preventing rising costs for special education.  What I find to be not included in this conversation is the fact that disabilities in children are neurological.  I’m not saying they can’t be accommodated for a better educational outcome, but why would we give all this money to early education centers and then leave these students out to dry when they are brought into elementary school?  It doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.  While I certainly appreciate the needs of Wilmington students, I feel it is funding that should be available for all students in Delaware.  Special education is a federal mandate if a student qualifies.  By not providing the necessary state funding, we are failing these children.  I can’t tell you how many times I have heard of districts not providing services, even with an approved IEP.  While no school or district will ever come out and say it, it is because of a lack of funding in most cases. 

For any student who has gone through special education in Delaware at this age, the results are very cumbersome and painful for the student and their parents or guardians.  Parents are forced to fight a system where, in many cases, they are branded as a difficulty.  Students are disciplined based on behaviors that are neurologically based, and because they don’t have an IEP, it results in severe problems for the student as they grow.  Many students who are denied IEPs and don’t receive these services can and do fall into the complex and intensive special education categories later on because these services were not provided at an earlier age.  This happened with my own child.

I urge the Joint Finance Committee to provide the basic special education funding for ALL K-3 students in Delaware.  This isn’t really an option, but a basic civil rights issue that separates Delaware from many other states.  It is their federal right to receive a “Free Appropriate Public Education”.  By forcing districts and charters to sign an IEP indicating they will make sure the district has adequate funding to provide special education services is not proportionate to the state funding provided for students in all grades.  As well, by providing this funding for some but not all, it could certainly put the state into a precarious legal position should parents collectively band together to address this issue.

Currently, House Bill 30, sponsored by State Rep. Kim Williams is in the Appropriations Committee of the General Assembly where it has been since March 26th of last year.  I would urge the JFC to allow the funding for this legislation to be provided in the Delaware FY 2017 budget so these children can get the services Delaware has a moral imperative to provide.

If anyone has any questions or concerns surround this issue, please do not hesitate to reach out to me.

Thank you,

Kevin Ohlandt

I sent this out a couple of hours ago and have not received a response from anyone.  Which is fine, but I sincerely hope it will be brought up in their discussions today with the Department of Education.  If it is, I am fairly certain the DOE will bring up what is known as Response to Intervention (RTI) and how this is a very useful tool for schools to identify students who may qualify for special education services.  This is one of the biggest fallacies in American education and does not cover many areas that could qualify a child for special education.  It is a failed experiment that, at best, causes delays of several years before a child can get an IEP and the full special education services they need.  Special education calls for the least restrictive environment.  Why would the State of Delaware restrict the funding these children need to receive FAPE and the least restrictive environment?  This is our moral imperative in Delaware.

 
 

Exciting News About The IEP Task Force in Delaware!

In my conversation with Attorney General Matt Denn the other night, we also talked about the possibility of the IEP Task Force in Delaware reconvening.  This group dealt with issues surrounding Individualized Education Programs and special education in Delaware.  This culminated with Senate Bill 33, signed into law by Delaware Governor Jack Markell a couple weeks ago, which will launch a multitude of new laws concerning special education in Delaware.

Denn said Senator Nicole Poore was planning on introducing legislation that evening/morning to get the IEP Task Force going again, but with the very hectic schedule due to the budget issues, he wasn’t sure if it was going to happen.  I looked on the Delaware General Assembly website yesterday to see if anything did happen, and I didn’t find anything.

I contacted Senator Poore, and she did confirm what Denn told me, but she said it was absolutely crazy that last day and was not able to get it in for a vote.  However, she did state that herself and State Rep. Deb Heffernan have discussed this at length about getting the IEP Task Force going again, and they will be working during the next 6 months to examine ideas and issues to tackle when they introduce legislation in January 2016 to get the IEP Task Force reconvened.  Attorney General Denn will not be the Chair, but Poore and Heffernan would be co-running the task force.

Poore recognized that while the original IEP Task Force tackled a lot of issues, there are certainly many more matters to tackle.  While the make-up of the group may be a bit different, I look forward to this group getting together again and discussing these issues!  Recently, Delaware was rated as “needs assistance” by the Office of Special Education Programs based on their 17 part indicators for compliance and results, but this blogger does not believe this paints a full picture of the issues facing special education in Delaware.

Delaware DOE Pats Itself On The Back For Special Education Improvements…Slow Your Roll!

Apparently the US Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) has come out with their official state ratings and Delaware has elevated to “needs assistance” after two years of “needs intervention”. This is based on data from two years ago, from fiscal year 2013. The DOE announced all of this today in a press announcement, which is rather long.  I love how the DOE calls it “the second highest rating” when there are only four, and they were at the “second to last” rating the past two years.  I will have MUCH more on this later.  I’m still too tired from the General Assembly’s all-night session to be objective…

Delaware continues to make special education improvements

The Delaware Department of Education is working closely with school districts and charter schools to ensure students with disabilities have opportunities to learn the same content as their peers, receive support they need to prepare for success after high school, and have their social, emotional and behavioral needs addressed.

Those were three areas about which the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) expressed concerns when, in 2014, the department changed the ways in which states were evaluated for the services provided to students with disabilities. That evaluation, based on performance data from the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 school years, gave Delaware a rating of “needs intervention,” the second-lowest of four possible ratings. This year, the state improved to the second-highest rating, “needs assistance,” in its 2015 evaluation, which used data from the 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 schools years. The state expects the efforts undertaken statewide over the last 12 months will yield even greater progress.

“Over the past year we have partnered with our districts and charter schools to examine data, provide additional educator training, begin new programs and clarify expectations for students with disabilities,” Secretary of Education Mark Murphy said. “We know we have more work to do, and we are committed to continue to make improvements until all Delaware students have the best chance to make the most of their abilities.”

Results driven accountability

OSEP’s 2014 report used a new approach to its evaluation called results driven accountability (RDA); in prior years, OSEP had based its ratings only on whether states had complied with the provisions of the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA). RDA incorporates measures such as the percentage of students with disabilities who are taking state assessments as well as the National Assessment of Educational Progress; how students with disabilities performed in reading and mathematics on NAEP; and proficiency gaps between students with disabilities and other students. This year’s report from OSEP also includes the graduation and drop-out rates of students with disabilities.

In keeping with OSEP’s new evaluation method, the Delaware Department of Education now is using RDA in assessing the performance of the state’s school districts and charter schools. District and charter school reports for 2015 are available on the Exceptional Children section of DDOE’s website.

“Delaware is committed to closing the achievement gap for students with disabilities,” Chief Academic Officer Michael Watson said. “In the past several years, the state has moved away from solely focusing on compliance and procedural requirements. While important, we also need to focus on results for students, such as graduation rates, transitions to college or career and proficiency gaps when compared to their peers. We applaud the U.S. Department of Education for increasing the focus on these issues in Delaware and across the country, and we believe that we have a special opportunity now to address these issues.”

Over the past year the state has:

· Provided professional development for special education teachers on standards-based Individual Education Plans (IEPs), positive behavior supports and accessing the general curriculum.

· Included special education teachers in all Common Core State Standards trainings.

· Assisted districts and charters schools in developing transition plans for students with disabilities who are 14 years old or entering the eighth grade to help them succeed in jobs or further education. The state is collecting data to ensure those plans are being prepared and carried out.

· Clarified for districts and charters the policies requiring students with disabilities to take NAEP and state assessments to ensure the state has full information on the progress of these students.

· Provided districts and charter with comprehensive data on their performance to help local leaders better understand how well they are complying with state and federal law and how their students with disabilities are performing academically.

· Provided targeted state technical assistance to those districts and charter schools found to be in need of assistance and intervention.

In addition, the DDOE, in collaboration with various stakeholder groups, is developing a five-year, K-3 Literacy Initiative to ensure that specialized instruction and support is provided to the state’s youngest readers with and without disabilities. This plan will identify major areas of need and will develop, implement and evaluate specific interventions for students in these grades.

Feedback on progress in Delaware schools

The state’s commitment to improvement is one shared by district and charter school leaders.

“The mission of a public school system is to ensure the success of every student, regardless of his or her disability or socioeconomic status,” Indian River School District Superintendent Susan Bunting said. “The State of Delaware and the Indian River School District have made tremendous strides toward this goal since the initial OSEP evaluation in 2014. The professional development provided to teachers has been integral to the process of giving students the individual tools they need to overcome their personal challenges and be successful in the classroom. We believe future OSEP ratings both locally and statewide will show vast improvement and reflect the hard work invested by educators across Delaware.”

Parents said they are seeing positive changes as well as areas in which the state and districts/charters can continue to improve. In her role as a board member of the Parent Information Center, Appoquinimink parent Verna Hensley hears from parents with varying experiences depending on their location.

“I still see challenges – the uneven implementation of policies that are already in place but may or may not have filtered down to every district and in the district filtered down to the school or classroom,” she said. “I’m optimistic. I see progress, but it has to flow all the way down to the parent and the child’s experience in the classroom.”

Ellen Coulston, a parent in the Brandywine School District, also cited communication as a remaining challenge.

“There is a problem with the communication between the state and the districts,” she said. “There are good things happening. There are good ideas but they are (not all reaching the local level).”

Delaware receiving a poor rating last year was a good thing, she said.

“It raises awareness to all stakeholders and causes people to honestly step back and re-examine how we are impacting students,” Coulston said, noting the greatest need she sees is for better training in teacher pre-service programs including transition planning so all educators in the classroom can lead and better support students toward better outcomes.

“It’s part of Common Core. It’s part of your college and career readiness,” she said.

Brandywine Superintendent Mark Holodick said he’s pleased with the improvements since the report first was issued.

“Response to Intervention, done well, as well as increased efforts around communication can help us continue to see growth in a positive direction,” he said. “Many districts, including Brandywine, have made great strides in strengthening communication, as evidenced by the work done by many district and school administrators, teachers, and educational diagnosticians over the past two years. The communication between district office, schools and families has been a priority for us in Brandywine, and we have made significant progress in meeting the needs of all students. In the past, districts and schools have been very compliance-driven and more focused on meeting requirements. Now, instead of being driven by requirements and regulations, we are ensuring that we meet each student’s individual needs through individualized plans, special services, collaboration with parents and programs that promote inclusion.

“I am very optimistic about this progress and the potential for even greater achievement and success for all students,” he said.

Alison May
alison.may@doe.k12.de.us
(302) 735-4000

IEP Task Force in Delaware To Begin September 4th, Lt. Gov. Matt Denn Will Chair Group #netde #eduDE @TNJ_malbright

The IEP Task Force, which came out of Senate Concurring Resolution 63 in Delaware, will begin their meetings on September 4th, at 4:30pm.  The purpose of the task force is to improve the IEP process in the state of Delaware.  The meetings will occur in Dover, with video conferencing available in Wilmington.  No locations have been designated for both locations as of yet.  The members of the task force have not been released, but the legislation states it will include the following:

  1. Two members of the State Senate, a member of the majority party appointed by the Senate President Pro Tem and a member of the minority party appointed by the Senate Minority Leader;
  2. Two members of the House of Representatives, a member of the majority party appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives and a member of the minority party appointed by the House Majority Leader;
  3. The Secretary of Education or his designee;
  4. The President of the State Parent Teacher Association or the President’s designee;
  5. The chair of the Delaware Developmental Disabilities Council or the chair’s designee;
  6. Three representatives of the Governor’s Advisory Council on Exceptional Citizens, to be selected by the chair of the Council;
  7. The Governor or the Governor’s designee;
  8. The Lieutenant Governor or the Lieutenant Governor’s designee;
  9. A representative of the Delaware State Bar Association, to be selected by the President of the Delaware State Bar Association;
  10. The President of the Delaware State Education Association or the President’s designee;
  11. Two representatives of the Delaware Association of School Administrators, to be selected by the president of that organization;
  12. Two persons who teach special education in Delaware public schools, to be selected by the task force chair;
  13. Two persons who provide services to children with disabilities in Delaware public schools, to be selected by the task force chair;
  14. One non-attorney who advocates for parents and children in IEP proceedings, to be selected by the task force chair.
  15. Three parents, one from each county, each having a child who has had or currently has an IEP, to be selected by the Senate and House Task Force members.

This notice was written on Lieutenant Governor Matt Denn’s public Facebook page:

During my tenure as Lieutenant Governor, I have made improving the services we provide to children with disabilities a top priority. We have had some notable successes, but there is still an awful lot of work to be done. Last June, I worked with legislators to create a task force focused on improving the way that Delaware schools prepare individualized education plans for students with disabilities, and Senate President Patricia Blevins has asked me to chair that task force. Our first meeting will be on September 4th at 4:30 p.m. – we have tried to schedule it to allow parents and school employees to attend. We will soon be announcing meeting locations (the first meeting will be held in Dover with a videoconferencing hook-up in Wilmington), and each meeting will allow members of the public to offer comments at the end of the meeting. If you have an interest in this subject, I encourage you to put it on your calendar and plan to attend. If you can’t make it to the meetings, audio recordings of all the meetings will be posted on the Lieutenant Governor’s office web site.
 
I think this task force can do some good work if they do not solely concentrate on tailoring IEPs to Common Core and Smarter Balanced Assessments.  I’m sure the topic will come up, but there are far more important things to look at with special education in Delaware.  As many special needs parents know, schools do not always do the right thing when it comes to IEP implementation, or even IEP approval.  While DOE input will be needed, parent input will most likely be more important due to the complexities of the IEP process.  For schools, it is a professional matter as part of their business day.  This isn’t to say they don’t have personal feelings about it, but at the end of the day, it’s their job.  For parents, it is deeply personal and can change the outcome of a family’s life.
 
I strongly encourage all special needs parents in the state of Delaware to make it to these meetings.  We all need our voice to be heard.  If you are unable to attend, I will be more than happy to send any messages to the task force as I will be at each and every meeting.  Feel free to email me at kevino3670@yahoo.com or leave messages on my Exceptional Delaware Facebook page.  If you have specific examples of how the IEP process has worked out for you or your child, please include that information.  All information will be protected and kept anonymous if you choose.
 
The final report is due to the Governor in January, 2015.  The group is planning to meet twice a month.  From what I am hearing, public comment will be available at the end of each session.
 

Special Education in Capital School District A Hot Issue At Board Meeting #netde #eduDE @Doverpost @TheStateNews

The topic of special education and standardized testing came up in a big way at the monthly Board meeting in the Capital School District.  Here’s where I take my impartial glasses off and announce that I spoke at the meeting.  I gave public comment to the Board concerning my article yesterday about Federal interference with IDEA and Special Education laws.

I read parts of the letter the US Republican Senators sent to the US DOE and US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan about how the US DOE is potentially breaking the law with results-driven accountability and NAEP testing as a performance indicator for special education students.  I advised that since a national test like NAEP is skirting around IDEA laws, then the state is doing the same with Smarter Balanced Assessments by having it put into Indicator 17 on the new special education audit system the state of Delaware has to give to the Feds.  Because of this, I advised the Board that no child with an IEP should be required to take the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  I also said parent opt-out shouldn’t even be an option, it just shouldn’t happen at all.

Board Vice-President Matthew Lindell also brought up the subject of standards-based IEPs and their impact on Capital School District.  It appeared Superintendent Dr. Michael Thomas was going to look into this subject.  I wrote about the standards-based IEPs last week and how the state of Delaware is incorporating Common Core and the controversial results-driven accountability as part of their “counseling” to schools for these new standards. 

Dr. Thomas also briefly discussed the United States Supreme Court decision on Schaffer v. Weast, from 2005.  This decision indicated the burden of proof for due process hearings on special education matters rests with the party initiating the case for the student, usually the parents.  In using this framework, Dr. Thomas had a slide up which wrote: “This creates a number of practical problems and is a significant reason school districts are regularly expending vast amount of public funds to settle what are at time dubious claims.” 

There was not much actual discussion about this matter, but the fact that it was introduced seemed odd.  I am quite sure, speaking from experience, that to parents of special needs children, their claims are not dubious and are a result of months of effort to obtain proper special education for their children.  For more information on the 2005 Supreme Court Ruling, please read here: http://www.wrightslaw.com/law/caselaw/ussupct.schaffer.weast.htm

 

 

 

 

 

Uh-Oh, Common Core for Special Education. What are Standards-Based IEPs? And which are the Pilot Districts?

That June 14th Annual IDEA Presentation from the Exceptional Children Group of the Delaware DOE to the Delaware Board of Education sure provided a wealth of knowledge. One of the things that was mentioned was standards-based IEPs. From my transcript in an earlier article, this was where Sarah Celestin spoke of this new form of IEP:

“The first standards based IEPs: This is a new initiative that really has just started since January. We’ve been doing some development work since last summer but the training kicked off in late January and early February. The reason we are moving towards standards based IEPs in Delaware is in our compliance monitoring of IEPs we saw that sometimes the rigor, there was a lot of remedial kind of goals and there wasn’t as much focus on how is a student gonna access grade level instruction. And you remember you need an accommodation, you need an accommodation of remediation and access goals and also goals that are gonna help the student really work on grade level skills. And so through standards based IEPs were really addressing that and we’re very fortunate to have instructional coaches that have a strong understanding of the Common Core and that also really understand IEP development and are able to help the teachers. So similar to what Tracy described to you, we have coaches that do not only the training, but go out and do individual and small group coaching with teachers. Right now we’re working with four school districts on that. The plan is that over the next two school years to go to state to scale up state wide with charters and districts.”

In a nutshell, this is adding common core to IEPs. You know, those INDIVIDUALIZED education plans special needs children get. The Delaware DOE found a way, without any focus groups or parental input, to literally CHANGE how an IEP is written. Is it legal? I don’t know, but I will find out.

According to Mary Ann Mieczkowski, the four pilot districts for standards-based IEPs are Woodbridge, Red Clay, Colonial and Brandywine. Once again, no charter schools were chosen for this world-changing special education initiative? I wonder why that is? Maybe because with the exception of Gateway and Positive Outcomes, most of them don’t know how to write the old IEP, much less a new one! And some don’t even know how to GIVE an IEP.

I would love to talk to ANY parent from any of the four districts above to know how their child’s IEP was created with these new common core standards implemented into a federal document. IEP Task Force…you can’t come soon enough!