Delaware’s Special Education Plan To Prevent IEPs & Improve Smarter Balanced Scores

Ever since Delaware received the label of “needs intervention” with special education in June of 2014 from the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) at the United States Department of Education, the Delaware Department of Education made every effort to do everything but tackle the number one problem of special education: making sure IEPs are implemented with fidelity.

Their solution to the problem: make sure children can read by 3rd grade so they can score proficient on the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  Every state in America has a checklist of items, dictated by the US DOE, that they are monitored on by OSEP.  One of them, Indicator 17, is a plan each state must come up with to improve special education outcomes.  The Exceptional Children Resources Group, the special education area at the Delaware DOE, chose the Delaware Early Literacy Initiative as their project for Indicator 17.

To say this is a confusing mess would be an understatement of epic proportions.  I find it even more troubling they would pick Kindergarten to 3rd Grade as their test subjects when they know children in those grades don’t receive basic special education funding.  The students who are considered intense or complex do, but the bulk of the students with disabilities in those grades fall under “Basic Special Education”.  As a result, some schools in Delaware are hesitant to grant IEPs for these students since they know the cost will fall on the district or charter school without any extra money from the state.

The Delaware DOE relies on Response to Intervention as a way of determining if a child needs special education services or not.  It is a faulty system, mandated by the feds, that can take years before a child is fully identified for special education.  As a result, these children become lost in a system while their neurological disabilities manifest.  An IEP, or Individualized Education Program, is designed for that particular student.  The IEP team, consisting of the school Special Education director, a Principal or Vice-Principal, the primary teachers, the school nurse, the school psychologist, and the parent or parents of the child.

Judith Canty Graves and Carson Graves, of the website Make Special Education Work, recently wrote an article about why RTI isn’t working.  In the article, they wrote:

Even though RTI instruction may be high quality and research-based, can it meet your child’s unique needs? Meeting these needs through an individualized education program is your child’s right under IDEA.

While the Delaware DOE’s Early Literacy Initiative is certainly a long read, it is chock full of errors and omissions that fail to adequately address the unique and individual attention a child with disabilities truly needs.

 

Delaware DOE Has No Desire To Dump Common Core Or The Smarter Balanced Assessment

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Last week, the United States House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the Every Student Succeeds Act.  The US Senate will most likely vote on the bill this week and it is expected President Obama will sign the bill.  This will get rid of the No Child Left Behind mandates imposed on all the states.  It gives states more control.  It explicitly says states can come up with own state standards and they do not have to be tied to Common Core.  In Delaware, I see absolutely no indication of Governor Markell or the Delaware Department of Education dumping Common Core or it’s bastard offspring, the Smarter Balanced Assessment.

On October 27th, the DOE submitted a proposal for contract bids on an Early Literacy Initiative.  The bidding on this closed last Friday, 12/4.  The contract calls for a vendor to go into four Delaware schools, three traditional district schools and one charter school.  From the Request for Proposal:

 

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Delaware and literacy rates for the most at-risk students have never been something to brag about.  I fully support all children learning to read, but if the motivation is so they do better on the Smarter Balanced Assessment, I have serious issues with that.  I don’t think increased “rigor” is going to help the students whose needs are not being met.  For those who want to bash me for this, it is all designed for increased proficiency on the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  Why?  Good question.  Governor Markell was the one who wants students with disabilities to go from 19% proficiency on SBAC to 59% in six years.  Like that rigor rubber band isn’t going to snap!  This is what standards-based IEPs are all about, and anyone saying they aren’t is either lying or is unaware of the true motivation.

 

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Which schools will be a part of this experiment?  Are these current priority or focus schools?  The DOE should really give more information on these schools so the vendor can know exactly what they are getting into.  There is a huge difference between MOT Charter School and East Side, or Warner Elementary and Hartly Elementary.  Are these schools the DOE is going to pick for this even aware of what is coming with this contract?  And who were the bidders?

 

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I am very familiar with four of these bidders: American Institutes for Research (AIR), Public Consulting Group (PCG), Amplify, and University of Delaware.  But 95 Percent Group and Institute on Community Integration (ICI)?  Never heard of them.  I checked out 95 Percent Group’s website and I always get nervous when I see only three people listed as employees for a company like this.  I’m sure they have more, or maybe they don’t.  The Institute on Community Integration is through the University of Minnesota.  Whereas 95 Percent Group has a small staff listed, ICI has tons of staff listed on their website!  This happens with university programs like this.  I hate to see AIR and PCG get even more involved in any aspect of Delaware education.  It is very sad that the DOE has more faith in these companies than they do in our own schools and teachers.  But since someone has to be the mediator between these companies and all our schools, it helps to make their existence even more important than it really is.

I have to ask though, what the hell are we even doing anymore?  All of these companies have one goal when they take on these state vendor roles: increasing the scores on the state assessments.  Whether they reach their goal or not, it is a faulty measure of success because state assessments do not provide an accurate assumption of student success.  By driving students to do well on these tests, all they are getting paid for is essentially helping teachers teach to the test.  That isn’t education.  It is a false narrative written by folks like Governor Jack Markell.  We need to stop reading this story.  We need to demand our legislators strip the DOE of spending our taxpayers funds for “cash in the trash” programs like this.  Every time the DOE signs a contract like this, with some contracts never seeing the light of day, we allow the DOE to continue this practice.  Most of us aren’t even aware of this.  Enough is enough…