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California Department of Education, Special Education Division’s special project, California Services for Technical Assistance and Training (CalSTAT) is funded through a contract with the Napa County Office of Education. CalSTAT is partially funded from federal funds, State Grants #H027A080116A. Additional federal funds are provided from a federal competitively awarded State Personnel Development Grant to California (#H323A070011) provided from the U.S. Department of Education Part D of the Individuals with Disabilities Education act (IDEA). Opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of the U. S. Department of Education.
During 2015–2016, the California Advisory Commission on Special Education (ACSE) worked to support efforts that create coherence and unity in California's K–12 education system and that align with the recommendations of the Statewide Task Force on Special Education. The singular focus of the commission is on strengthening this system to improve school outcomes for children with disabilities. As the system recently has come several steps closer to becoming truly unified, we are cautiously thrilled with the trajectory.
The ACSE used the following strategic priorities to guide its efforts: coherently conceived and coordinated systems, the involvement of families in the educational life of their children, effective assessment for all, and successful transition to adult living.
The State Board of Education (SBE) approved, on March 9, 2016, a proposal from the California Department of Education (CDE), Special Education Division, to begin aligning special education accountability with the master accountability plan for general education. The ACSE had voiced unanimous support for this very practical, concrete, and importantly symbolic move to make special education part of general education and ultimately toward creating a unified system that is aligned, efficient, and effective for all students.
Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) rubrics require an unprecedented level of parent participation and involvement. This includes parents of children with disabilities. The ACSE has committed itself to exploring ways that these parents can become "general education parents first" and an integral part of the larger system. The commission began in 2016 a search for resources and supports so that all parents can be informed and effective in their efforts to participate in the local education plans that are critical to preparing their children for the future.
The ACSE also focused on student assessments, which provide another vehicle for unifying systems. Most students with disabilities will take the general education assessment, California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP), which is built on California's rigorous content standards. What is taught is what will be tested. The ACSE also argued for the importance of including the one percent of students with significant cognitive disabilities in quality standards and testing. These students will take the California Alternate Assessment, which the ACSE insisted should be directly based on students' curriculum and instruction—an important right for all students and reflective of an integrated and aligned system. In addition, the ACSE stressed the importance of ensuring that students with significant cognitive disabilities are taught to standards based on those taught to their peers.
Given the many—and dramatic—changes that teachers face in adopting the relatively new state academic standards and assessments, the ACSE has stressed the critical importance of quality supports and resources for teachers to make it possible for them to administer tests effectively.
Part of the current sea change toward a unified system is reflected in how, for the first time in our experience, special education is included at the inception of important initiatives. The Superintendent's Task Force on Accountability is just one example of how special education is no longer an afterthought and is now being given "a seat at the table" of efforts to improve education for all children.
One of the ACSE's most concrete accomplishments was its creation of a Disability Equity Rubric (see pages iv and v). Designed to advise and guide the Governor, SBE, legislators, policymakers, and other stakeholders, the ACSE rubric offers a template of considerations for making program, policy, and legislative decisions that affect students with disabilities. These students are among the most vulnerable populations; they are the first to feel the effects of less-than-adequate systems and instruction. What is clear from research and reflected in these rubrics is that any decision that creates a more effective system of education for students with disabilities ultimately serves to create a stronger and more effective system for all students.
As the system of K–12 education in the state becomes more unified, the system's increased efficiencies and effectiveness, coordination and coherence, alignment and alliances will ensure that students are prepared to transition out of high school into the worlds of college, career, and independent living. This is an exciting time to be part of efforts to merge special education into the larger general education system—a place where it squarely belongs and where the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) originally intended it to be. We have been privileged to be those commissioners who provided information, council, and advice toward realizing that vision.
The ACSE supports legislation and initiatives that ensure a system of education that is built on a framework of coordinated, tiered academic and behavioral programs, supports, and interventions and that is supportive of the strengths and needs of local communities. During its 2015–2016 meeting year, the ACSE listened to numerous speakers who represent the growing commitment across the state to unifying educational systems. This vision of one, coherent system of education is relatively new, and the fact that so many educational leaders and stakeholders are dedicating their efforts to make the vision a reality has refined the ACSE's focus and sharpened its enthusiasm for the work that is yet to be done.
The ACSE was pleased to be the first formal organization to learn of the Special Education Division's (SED) plans to tie special education reporting and accountability requirements, as defined by the federal government, to the state's Local Control and Accountability Plans of general education—an unprecedented advancement toward a single, coherent, and unified system. The federal Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) monitors how states use the money they receive from IDEA, along with the benefits student receive from that use. In this capacity, OSEP gave states a great deal of leeway to define their plans—State Systemic Improvement Plans (SSIP)—and the SED took advantage of the opportunity to coordinate and unify efforts.
As the state struggles to interpret how exactly to create one coherent system out of very complex and disparate structures, meetings with the SBE have provided a glimpse of the possibilities. The commission has been encouraged by the unparalleled inclusion of and interest in special education issues by the members of the SBE, who are intentional in their efforts to make special education an inherent part of general education. The SBE liaison to the ACSE, Niki Sandoval, expressed a desire to see "one, coherent system that supports each child as a general education student first. Every student in California deserves an inclusive learning environment that fosters his inherent abilities and strengths. We have a responsibility to make this happen."
The commission continues to explore with great interest the fact that 70 percent of students with disabilities also qualify for educational supports from other categorical sources—Title 1 and English language learner funds, for example—contributing to the understanding that no student holds a static, singular label and that every student would benefit from a uniquely devised and coordinated set of resources and supports that are an intrinsic part of the larger, general education system. The ACSE is eager to see how plans to serve multifunded students take shape across the divisions of CDE.
The state's strategic plan for education, A Blueprint for Great Schools: Version 2.0, also expresses a vision of a unified system. The plan focuses on success for all students, including students with disabilities. In a statement to the commission, the deputy superintendent for the District, School, and Innovation Branch of CDE said, "We can't be successful in our local control plans if we can't figure out how to help kids with disabilities be successful." The ACSE endorses this plan and applauds its seamless treatment of students with disabilities as members of the general education community.
With the reauthorization of the federal law governing general education, now the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the ACSE saw the SED take advantage of another opportunity to make California's system of education more unified. While the division clearly acknowledges the funding complications, the need "to keep clear identity of IDEA money," and the attitudes and structures that reinforce a "you have your IDEA money and you work on your kids" approach, the ACSE was pleased and encouraged that the SED is working intently on ways to address cross-program student need, in spite of past prohibitions and cultures of segmentation. With 70 percent of students with disabilities also belonging to one of the three specific subgroups targeted by the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) for additional school monies—students who live in poverty, students who are English language learners, and students who live in foster care—the division is working across CDE to enhance the policy and program conversations about these three groups to include children with disabilities. The goal, as ACSE sees it, should be to make multifunded services the norm in the system and not an anomaly.
In a presentation about teacher preparation, the ACSE learned about the work of the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing to contribute to a unified system by preparing teachers to serve all students through educator preparation and professional learning. The ACSE heard and supports this organization's clear commitment to unified systems: "All adults on a school campus are responsible for student learning. All students have a right to participate and learn together. All students are welcomed and valued in the general education classroom. And all teachers will be prepared through a 'common trunk' [of knowledge and skills], using evidence-based practices."
The ACSE sees the CDE-funded Inclusion Collaborative at the Santa Clara County Office of Education as an important initiative for creating a statewide culture of inclusion and contributing to the creation of a unified system. The ACSE especially appreciated the collaborative's focus, which ironically "is not inclusion, rather student success," according to one of the program's directors. Building trust, providing what's best for the child, focusing on relationships, putting in place a solid foundational system, being proactive rather than reactive—all of these principles guide the collaborative and make it a powerful force for change, improvement, and coherence in California's schools.
The ACSE supports legislation and initiatives that strengthen collaboration between schools and families to ensure active and meaningful parent and family engagement.
The ACSE has played an important role in bringing the voice of students, parents, practitioners, and stakeholders together in this new era of local control. With its long history of attending carefully to the voice of parents and the importance of their contributions to their children's education, the ACSE is pleased that parent involvement is now one of the central tenets of LCFF. Local Education Agencies (LEAs: charter schools, county offices of education, and school districts) are responsible for the school success of students with disabilities and must plan for that success in their LCAPs.
The commission sees a conundrum in this proposed involvement. While parents of students with disabilities are included and ostensibly welcome to this process, these parents often do not see themselves or their children as belonging in general education first. In addition, many are often not familiar with the general education initiatives that could benefit their children. And while some LEAs may not have an infrastructure in place or a culture that invites or welcomes authentic participation and partnerships, the responsibility for developing this system now resides at that local level. As such, the ACSE assumed a new commitment to supporting parents of students with disabilities in their involvement in schools and the LCAP process. The commission began and will continue to study what it means to include children with disabilities within general education and will continue its effort to inform parents about what the LCAP is, how it influences the education of their children, why it is important for them to get involved in LCAP processes, and what those involvement opportunities are.
In its commitment to parents, the ACSE has been a staunch supporter of parent training and information centers, family resource centers, and other organizations that provide support, counsel, resources, and direction to parents of children with disabilities. The ACSE sees these organizations as ideal sources of training for parents to become effective contributors to LCAPs and other local initiatives.
The ACSE supports legislation and initiatives that ensure that assessments are aligned to instruction, with the appropriate accommodations in place to allow students to fully and accurately demonstrate what they know and can do.
As California aligns its rigorous state academic standards to its curriculum and assessments for all students, the ACSE has closely followed the integration of the English language arts and the English language development frameworks, another unprecedented educational breakthrough in its coherence. The framework sharpens the state's focus on how to make all students successful through aligned curriculum and instruction. The ACSE recognizes this effort as a vital step toward school success for students with disabilities—and an important step in unifying systems.
The ACSE received several updates on the progress of the CAASSP and appreciates the intricacies of introducing this complex process to the thousands of schools in the state. The ACSE has expressed numerous times the importance of training teachers on how to administer these tests and of providing them with ongoing support throughout the school year. One challenging feature of this effort involves the online delivery of the assessment. The ACSE is optimistic about this test's potential to more fully and authentically include students with disabilities in the general assessment process, since the majority of them take this test. But the commission is also concerned that online accommodations and modifications may represent a significant stumbling block for those students and teachers who are less experienced with computers than others. The goal is to provide a fair and accurate test statewide for all students, and numerous factors influence that goal: the alignment of the test with classroom instruction so that students are tested on what they are taught, the knowledge that teachers have of the test and their experience administering it, and the familiarity on the part of students with the test format. ACSE has confidence in the state's ability to create a robust structure for ensuring that all of these necessary components and supports are in place.
The commission is passionate about the importance of providing students with the most significant cognitive disabilities with the same kind of opportunity to show knowledge and mastery and to experience school success that other students have. Ensuring this opportunity is a critical component of a cohesive and unified educational system that promotes the success of all students. As such, the ACSE awaits with anticipation a final California Alternate Assessment and will continue to monitor the progress of this assessment as it is being field tested.
During every meeting of the 2015–2016 year, the ACSE received an update on the progress of the state's efforts to create a new educational accountability system. The ACSE views favorably the proposed use of a multiple-measures approach to constructing this system, which will include a robust capacity to build technical assistance and supports directly into the accountability cycle, allowing LEAs and the state to quickly "course correct" as they learn from their own data. The ultimate goal of the new accountability system is to improve programs and services for all students. One presenter on the topic said, "Our focus is on making the connection between instruction and assessment. . . . We've lived through a very sanction-oriented accountability system. That is changing. The goal now is to continuously improve." The ACSE appreciates the great care and time the state is giving to this effort to ensure that all components work together in a coherent, aligned way.
The ACSE supports legislation and initiatives that ensure that students with disabilities are given the education and supports they need to transition successfully out of high school into the world of college or career and to live independently to the fullest extent possible.
Through this lens of transition, the ACSE followed the developments of the California Competitive Integrated Employment (CIE) initiative as it aligns its efforts with the California Community of Practice on Transition and with WorkAbility. The commission sees the current focus on tightening linkages among CDE, the Department of Rehabilitation, and the Department of Developmental Services as one more important way that educational efforts in the state are becoming more collaborative and coordinated. While "there is a lot to be worked out, and we are just at the beginning" of these efforts, according to a CIE presenter to the ACSE, this initiative represents an important start as the state seeks to better serve students with significant cognitive disabilities and prepare them for independent living and adult life.
In general, the ACSE is in support of any effort at every level of the educational system that promotes quality learning and instruction to prepare students for success in life and employment after high school.
Perhaps one of the ACSE's most enduring accomplishments during 2015–2016 was the development of its Disability Equity Rubric (see pages iv and v), designed to guide SBE members, legislative staff, and other policymakers in how to develop relevant initiatives and legislation in a way that appropriately considers students with disabilities. It is the ACSE's hope that this rubric continues to be used in the creation and adoption of policies and that it will contribute to a system of education that is responsive and sensitive to the needs of California's diverse student population.
Certainly one of ACSE's most satisfying activities during the year is presenting the GOAL Award. The commission created this award in 2005–2006 through a generous contribution from film producer Brian Grazer, who donated $100,000 to recognize educational programs in the state that demonstrate exemplary practices for students with disabilities. The GOAL Award—Grazer Outstanding Achievement in Learning—celebrates both the programs that serve California youth with disabilities and the professionals who work with them.
The recipient of the 2016 GOAL Award is Camino Nuevo Charter Academy's Dynamic Blended Inclusion (DBI) program. The school was founded 17 years ago and serves 570 students in a K–8 setting in the MacArthur Park neighborhood of Los Angeles; 97 percent of these students qualify for free or reduced-price meals, and more than 98 percent are Latino. Twelve percent of students qualify for special education services.
Before 2011, the school's special education program educated many of its students with disabilities in self-contained, segregated classes; others were taken out of their general education classes to receive specialized academic services and instruction. School leaders saw that providing special education services apart from general education deprived students with disabilities of effective access to the core curriculum. Beyond this problem of access, the approach was triggering social-emotional and behavior challenges among the segregated students, who felt stigmatized and marginalized. This realization led to the creation of DBI, an innovative, full-inclusion special education model.
"A moral imperative to serve all kids" guided the school's leaders in creating DBI, along with four fundamental principles. First, school leadership and staff made special education a priority: the DBI model drives the operations of the school—from bell schedules, staff planning schedules, teaching partnerships, and class rosters—and all decisions are made with special education first in mind. Second, the school made a commitment to support the collaborative efforts of general education and special education teachers; co-planning time is scheduled each week for co-teaching teams, and annual release days are budgeted to allow for longer-term planning and data analysis. Third, all adults in the school are responsible for all students. And finally, students' services are individualized across a spectrum of supports, which are determined by ongoing data analysis.
Within the DBI model, each special education teacher has a caseload of 10 to 12 students and works with the support of a nine-person paraprofessional team. The school treats these paraprofessionals as important contributors to the DBI model. All staff receive ongoing coaching, professional development, and training so that they can work with all students. The students with individualized education programs (IEPs) are strategically clustered into heterogeneous general education classrooms, and a special educator provides academic supports by co-planning weekly and co-teaching daily with a general educator. Co-planning sessions focus on scaffolding lessons and activities and ensuring that all necessary accommodations and modifications are accounted for as outlined in each student's IEP. This general education-special education collaboration results in a variety of teaching models—team teaching, co-teaching, and station teaching—all of which make it easier to group students to optimize their access to core content.
The school's original plan was to roll out its new model over the course of five years, beginning in the elementary grades. However, the results from the first months of implementation were so positive that the teachers themselves asked to accelerate the process. In addition to the numerous social and emotional successes that students with disabilities experienced when fully included in general education classrooms, these students most notably realized a 50-point increase on the Academic Performance Index at the end of the first year of implementing DBI.
DBI is a replicable model, and staff from Camino Nuevo regularly participate in districtwide professional development events as well as in state and national conferences to share their work and best practices. They have given consultation support to many schools and other organizations on how best to serve all students, and the school itself serves as a lab site where other professionals can observe and learn. As such, ACSE is proud to have recognized the exemplary work of Camino Nuevo.
In the coming year, the ACSE will continue to be actively engaged in all aspects of educational accountability as the state develops a system that accurately assesses what students have learned.
A number of LEAs in the state have begun to create their own successful versions of "one coherent system." As these efforts grow, the ACSE looks forward to highlighting those models that demonstrate improved outcomes for all students, as well as those that have created systems for not only gathering useful data but contextualizing and translating that data into information that truly informs and guides programmatic and instructional decisions. These kinds of models can be invaluable to other LEAs that are seeking similar paths.
The commission also will continue to work for parents, researching and gathering resources and supporting parent resource centers in this new landscape marked by the operating principle that "all students are general education students first." The commission is committed to championing any protocol or practice that promotes authentic collaboration within K–12 education and will work to reduce the fragmentation that has historically plagued this system.
For more than a decade, the commission has valued efforts to devise a meaningful Certificate of Completion for students with disabilities who choose a non-diploma track during high school. In this coming year, the ACSE will sharpen its efforts toward making this mark of accomplishment a meaningful tool for students as they enter college, career, or the workforce.
Since the advent of the Local Control Funding Formula in 2013, much has been written about the three subgroups called out in the plan as the locus of extra dollars. What is less well known is that, while the LCFF does not change the way special education dollars flow, LEAs must include students with disabilities in their improvement plans, and LEAs are responsible for the school achievement of these students. It is worth repeating that 70 percent of our students with disabilities fall into one or more of those subgroups. In the very recent past, siloed funding, siloed programs, and siloed instruction and thinking were the norm. That is changing. The LCFF calls for the educational achievement of all students; California's strategic plan for education, Blueprint 2.0, calls for the education of the "whole child." Students with disabilities are not a group separate or apart from other students in our schools. Many of them are students who grow up in poverty; many are English language learners; and a disproportionate percentage are students in foster care. The ACSE is committed to working toward an understanding of how to think about students with disabilities within the context of one single system—one system made up of many different types of learners, each with unique strengths and needs, and each being served as a unique individual and as a whole child.
While we are optimistic and hopeful for what is to come, we are also realistic. We know that students with disabilities are one of our most at-risk populations. It is going to take persistent and purposeful coordination and planning to assist our LEAs in meeting the needs of these students. The accountability plan is one important component. The California Alternate Assessment is another key step. Including special education at the outset of policy conversations and as an integral part of all initiatives is a third critical measure. There are probably more pieces to this puzzle than we can know at this stage. But as chair of the ACSE, I have never been so hopeful about California's ability to put together the most important parts. —Gina Plate
The purpose of this rubric is to provide policy makers a tool to help ensure that future legislation and policies consider access for the full range of California learners including students with disabilities.
Guidelines for participating in ACSE meetings and directions for viewing meetings via live Webcast are available at http://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/se/as/acse.asp
View archived meetings at http://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/se/as/acsemtgwebcast.asp
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