skip to content | CalSTAT

CalSTAT Technical Assistance and Training

IDEAS that Work!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.

California Advisory Commission on Special Education

Annual Report



California continues to implement a series of critically important educational reforms—rolling out the new Local Control Funding Formula, fully implementing new instructional standards, and significantly changing student assessments and systems of accountability. Our schools have completed their first year under local control accountability plans (LCAPs), and our students have experienced their first computer-adaptive state assessments, which are aligned to the new and more rigorous standards.

As this report is being printed, for the first time since 2013 parents are receiving testing report cards, and for the first time ever, school systems are examining whether or not they have met the goals they set forth in their new accountability plans. In effect, a new baseline is being established, a starting point for measuring the results of the state's reforms and their impact on the educational outcomes for students. While LCAPs are designed to encourage schools to prioritize specific supports for students with disabilities, it is not yet clear if the Local Control Funding Formula and its accountability mechanisms will actually improve school outcomes for these students.

In light of the overhaul of the general education funding system, which targets resources to the state's neediest students, California's Advisory Commission on Special Education (ACSE) has been focused on the need for corollary reforms for students with disabilities.

Special education in California is complicated—exceedingly detailed in its compliance regulations and inadequate and inequitable in its funding patterns. Any effort to streamline and rectify this system necessitates a time-consuming, thoughtful, and strategic analysis if there is any hope of bringing about meaningful reform.

The Statewide Special Education Task Force, a group of stakeholders charged with examining why students with disabilities do not realize more school success, has recommended sweeping reforms in all major areas of the educational system: assessment, accountability, teacher preparation, early learning, family engagement, and funding. Five ACSE commissioners were members of the task force. As individuals, they focused specifically on teacher preparation, funding, and a tiered system of supports. Together they contributed to the group's analysis and recommendations, which were published in a final report earlier this year.

Priority Areas

The recommendations of the Statewide Special Education Task Force directly aligned with the priority areas on which the ACSE focused its efforts during the 2014–2015 meeting year: Tiered System of Supports: Excellence and Coherence; Assessments; Postsecondary Transition; and Parent, Family, and Student Engagement and Empowerment.

Tiered System of Supports: Excellence and Coherence

One of the principal charges of the ACSE is to "advise the State educational agency in developing and implementing policies relating to the coordination of services for children with disabilities." Many educational systems and services in the state lack coordination, contributing in particular to specialized services and supports that are isolated in much of their implementation and less effective as a result. Because of this lack of coordination, too many students end up with a disability label when they simply have learning gaps and need effective, targeted, and supported instruction. Research shows that quality instruction within a well-designed tiered system of supports repairs disjointed approaches to serving students and ensures that every child is given a quality "best first" education—prekindergarten through high school—and that every child receives effective supports at the first sign of any struggle, academic or behavioral. The ACSE has chosen "Tiered System of Supports" as a priority area because of the central importance of coordinated systems to effectively meet the needs of all children, those with and without disabilities.


The M.I.N.D. Institute at UC Davis reported to the ACSE on the institute's proven-practices-only approach to serving students with autism. The commission also heard a presentation on the importance of equity and access in the state's English language arts (ELA) framework. In a third presentation, the commission learned how California is addressing equity issues through the State Performance Plan Technical Assistance Project, using the lens of disproportionate representation of certain racial and ethnic groups in special education and in school suspension and expulsion data.

A panel presentation to the ACSE on the implementation of a multi-tiered system of supports (MTSS) featured two school leaders who have embraced this approach. Each of these leaders' school districts faced different student needs, systemic dilemmas, and gaps in supports. Both districts collaborated with teachers and found innovative ways to develop a tiered system that addressed their goals, initiatives, and principal belief systems. Both leaders reported significant accomplishments among their students through an MTSS structure, with each operating in very different ways and thus emphasizing one of the basic premises of MTSS: flexibility of design to make optimal use of local talent and resources and to address the specific needs of students. The panel members also emphasized the importance of a system that reflects a process of continuous evaluation and improvement. Their ultimate message was that there is not one model of MTSS that can be "taken off the shelf " and implemented; rather MTSS is a process that must be embraced and individualized, from the superintendent to the individual classroom and student.


A student's future hinges largely on assessments; they are the record of note for school achievement, determine whether or not a student receives a high school diploma, and influence access to postsecondary options for further schooling as well as for employment. Because of their critical importance, assessments must be selected with great care, they must be monitored for effectiveness, and they must align with curriculum and instruction for all students. The implementation in California schools of the California Common Core State Standards (CA CCSS), with their promise of increased rigor and academic challenge for students, brings front and center the state's own challenge of choosing appropriate assessments and ensuring the integrity of their use. When choosing "Assessments" as one of its four priority areas, the ACSE was particularly concerned with what makes an assessment accurate—and fair—for students with disabilities and especially for students with significant cognitive disabilities.


In five of its six meetings, the ACSE received updates on the Smarter Balanced Assessment system and learned about plans for a new state alternative assessment for students with significant cognitive disabilities. Both assessments are being developed to align with the CA CCSS.


The ACSE had supported California's adoption of the alternate assessment developed by the National Center and State Collaborative (NCSC), which incorporates evidence-based curriculum, instructional materials, and professional development modules aligned to the CA CCSS to create summative assessments for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities.

Liaison Efforts

The commissioners continued to work with legislators, the California Department of Education (CDE), the State Board of Education, and stake- holders to ensure that students with disabilities, and particularly students with significant cognitive disabilities, are able to participate in assessments that are equitable, valid, and reliable tools for measuring student progress.

Positions, Actions, and Guidance

The ACSE supported eliminating the California Alternate Performance Assessment (CAPA) for the 2014–15 school year and replacing it with the successor alternate assessment, California Alternate Assessment (CAA), a field test that was aligned to the new state standards and the core content connectors. The ACSE is eager to hear the results of a survey that is being conducted to determine the quality of the CAA field test and to support the best options for developing an alternate assessment that will be operational in 2015–2016.

The ACSE sent an advisory letter to the head of CDE's Assessment Development and Administration Division in support of ensuring that special education teachers and administrators are well equipped to support students with disabilities in demonstrating their progress towards mastery of the CA CCSS.

Postsecondary Transition

All students with disabilities need to anticipate and prepare for a successful transition from the carefully orchestrated and managed world of K–12 education to further education, employment, and an appropriate level of independent living as adults. Two of the most important factors in determining a student's post- secondary success are confidence in his or her abilities and skills in self-advocacy. Since all of public education and IDEA services are designed to help prepare students for success in adult life, and because the postschool outcomes for students with disabilities have not appreciably improved since the passage of IDEA, the ACSE has chosen "Postsecondary Transition" as a priority area.


The commission learned from presentations what exactly constitutes "college and career-ready"—the focus of the CA CCSS—especially for students with disabilities, and how standards can be raised for all students to ensure that they are prepared for a successful postsecondary experience. Representatives from the California Youth Leadership Forum and Youth Voice, two premier organizations supporting the training and employment of youth with disabilities in California, updated the ACSE on their mission and activities and the importance of promoting youth leadership among students with disabilities. A student from McClatchy High School in Sacramento presented his own transition portfolio and explained the effectiveness of portfolios as accurate and authentic vehicles for recording and reflecting student achievement. Another student gave a presentation on the specific needs of students with disabilities who are going into the workplace. One of ACSE's student representatives provided the commission with information about student-led Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings and her own experience being involved in these meetings and plans. The ACSE also heard information related to Career Technical Education serving students with disabilities and received an update on college and career transition for students with disabilities. Particularly of interest to the ACSE is a workforce development initiative and new legislation that is guiding work across divisions—CDE, the Department of Rehabilitation, and the Department of Developmental Services—and requiring interagency collaboration to help students prepare for competitive, integrated employment.

Parent, Family, and Student Engagement and Empowerment

Parents and family members are central to the healthy development and ultimate life success of their children with disabilities. In fact, parent and family involvement in the educational life of a child is the most accurate predictor of the child's school success. IDEA has written family involvement into nearly every aspect of the special education process. However, to be constructively involved in their children's education, parents and family members need critical information and the support of other, more experienced families in order to effectively advocate for and be partners in the education of their own children with disabilities. Given the central role that parents and family members play in the school and postschool outcomes of students, the ACSE has chosen "Parent, Family, and Student Engagement and Empowerment" as a priority area. The commission's specific interests include increasing family participation in the education of children with disabilities and determining best practices for running a Community Advisory Committee, the parent and family organization that serves as a local advisory body for effective special education programs and services to the local Board of Education and the Special Education Local Plan Area (SELPA). The ACSE also deems critical efforts to increase the direct involvement of students with disabilities in decisions about their own education.


Throughout its meeting year the ACSE made it possible for representatives from the seven Parent Training and Information Centers in the state to be present at ACSE meetings through simulcast and to voice their position on issues by phone if they could not attend a meeting in person. A representative from a Family Empowerment Center also presented to the commission on the specialized resources that these centers provide to parents and families in their communities: peer-to-peer support, training on rights and processes, and information on available services and resources.

Positions, Actions, and Guidance

Parent, Family, and Student Engagement and Empowerment has always been a focus of the ACSE and was consequently made a formal priority area in 2015. The commission is in support of the recommendations of the Statewide Special Education Task Force related to family involvement in their children's education. The commission supported the Family Empowerment Centers' call for expanding the number of centers, especially since there are only 14 statewide, and many parents do not have local access to the important services they provide. The ACSE also supported recommendations to increase funding to Family Resource Centers and to promote clear and specific guidelines for teacher-parent-school collaboration and interaction. The ACSE is seeking ways to promote increased involvement of students in their IEP meetings and student-led IEPs.

Additional Areas of Focus

Statewide Special Education Taskforce

The ACSE viewed the work of the Statewide Special Education Task Force as a tremendous accomplishment for the seven million children educated in this state. The task force addressed ways to meet the needs of students with disabilities and articulated a design for one coherent system that would ultimately better serve all students. Because of the work of this task force—and the five ACSE members who served on it—the California State Board of Education took initiative and solicited ideas from the field on how best to meet the needs of all students, but especially those of students with disabilities.

Having so many people willing to give their time and effort to such a monumental task for the good of the students of this state speaks volumes about the collective commitment of the California Department of Education, the State Board of Education, and the governor and about their willingness to seek solutions from those who are living the important work of special education every day.

GOAL Award

"This is the model for our future— when we all focus on ability." —Dava Parks, Special Day Class teacher, Kastner Intermediate School

Each year California's Advisory Commission on Special Education chooses a recipient for the Grazer Outstanding Achievement in Learning (GOAL) Award. The prize is named after film producer Brian Grazer and his family, who donated money for the ACSE to recognize a program in the state that is doing exemplary work that can be held up as best practice in educational service to students with disabilities. This year, the GOAL Award and its $5,000 honorarium went to the Collaborative Mentoring Program at the Kastner Intermediate School in the Clovis Unified School District in Fresno, California.

Kastner was not new to including students with disabilities in classes with their general education peers, but previous efforts had produced lukewarm results, according to Dava Parks, Special Day Class teacher at Kastner. Students ended up sitting next to each other in class but not interacting. Parks wanted a program that generated authentic interaction among students and that would influence the lives of everyone involved—students with moderate to severe disabilities as well as students in general education.

With the approval of the school board, a peer mentoring program was launched. Students in general education now can apply to be part of an elective class where they learn how to be peer mentors, a fairly rigorous process, as Parks explains it. Interested students are interviewed, and those who are accepted into the class receive extensive training on how to provide guidance and friendship to a student with a disability. The peer mentors participate in weekly disability awareness training and learn about such issues as confidentiality, disability types and categories, and behavioral strategies. They also learn about careers in education, psychology, speech therapy, and more. They then mentor students with disabilities who are enrolled in Kathy Shrewsbury's art class at Kastner.

"We don't pick the cream of the crop," says Parks of the student mentors, "but we always end up feeling like we've picked the cream of the crop."

The program is looking forward to its third year in the fall of 2015. Parks had 13 students applying to be mentors in the first year. This fall she will have 28 mentors who will provide support to students with disabilities and serve as role models. A great deal has happened through this program.

Because they now have a range of behavioral models, students with disabilities are "starting to blend. You can no longer tell which kid has a disability and which doesn't," says Parks. The mentors are realizing their own goals, as well: increased knowledge about and acceptance of their peers with disabilities. The success of the program is being seen schoolwide. Students with disabilities are more involved in school activities, and mentors are taking their "mentees" to events, both in school and in the larger community. Even more importantly, during breaks, lunch, and in community activities, students with moderate to severe disabilities have become accepted members of their community, not ostracized or seen as "other." As one Kastner student said, "Once you get to know the kids, you forget they have a disability. They just become friends."

According to Parks, all of the students involved in the collaborative mentoring program—both mentors and mentees—are realizing higher achievement in their classes and "higher levels of self-confidence" overall. No wonder participation in the program has more than doubled in two years. No wonder Kastner received the GOAL Award.

Liaison Activities

ACSE commissioners serve as liaisons to numerous stakeholder groups, sharing ACSE information with key individuals and organizations and bringing back to ACSE meetings important information and perspectives from the field. These groups include the California State Board of Education, the Commission on Teacher Credentialing, the Charter School Association, and Parent Training and Information Centers.

Public Input

During its 2014–2015 calendar years, ACSE heard from dozens of members of the public and from stakeholders in the special education community. Those individuals who spoke before the commission—parents and teachers of students with disabilities, representatives from the California Teachers Association, California School Employees Association, Parent Teacher Association, SELPA Directors Association, the California Speech-Language-Hearing Association, CARS+ The Organization for Special Educators, Parent Training and Information Centers, Family Resource Centers, and the California Charter Schools Association—shared personal experiences, updates from their respective organizations, legislative agendas/positions, and comments on topics from ACSE agendas. Public and stakeholder input is an invaluable source of information for the ACSE and helps to inform and shape strategic plans and agendas for future meetings.

A Look Ahead

The 2015–2016 school year in California already promises important educational changes for students with disabilities. At all levels of leadership, the guiding principle of "one system of education that serves all students" is being championed. With the final recommendations of the Statewide Special Education Task Force as a guide, alongside the passionate voices from ACSE commissioners and from the field, we anticipate significant evolution in the way schools in the state educate and assess students with disabilities.

During this next year the ACSE will continue to work to identify the key systemic elements that must be present to create a unified, coherent system of education that functions successfully. We will continue to engage and learn from those districts and charter schools that ensure a high-quality education for all. The ACSE will hear from leaders of schools and local education agencies who are doing outstanding work and will advise changes in policy and practice that promote a strategic and systematic use of those practices statewide, so that excellence becomes the norm, not the exception.

While championing a system that is prepared to serve all students, the ACSE looks forward to seeing the state adopt and effectively use a system of assessments that are inextricably connected to content and curriculum that prepare students for adult life, with these assessments effectively and accurately capturing what all students have learned and are capable of doing. The ACSE also looks forward to its continual engagement in this work to ensure that teachers are well prepared to administer these assessments and can do so with confidence.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act became law 40 years ago, and the postschool outcomes for students with disabilities remain disappointing. Recent reports point to the inability of our schools to prepare these students for the workforce. The ACSE looks forward to continuing to support efforts that align resources and initiatives to give students with disabilities the education, training, and preparation they need in order to leave school able to realize optimal levels of employment and independence as adults.

Finally, but perhaps first, the ACSE looks to parents and family members of students with disabilities as its most important compass for guiding the commission's first mission: finding and supporting the development of the best educational practices and services possible for students with disabilities.

ACSE's Vision: A Unified System

Tiered System of Supports

A tiered system of supports requires every level of a school system to evaluate the needs of all students and the expertise and use of all staff members. Engagement and ownership is essential by leadership and staff from the general education program as well as from the special education program. This system incorporates best practices in instruction (including early intervention at every level—essentially, as soon as any student at any age needs extra help) and strategies for social and emotional learning. Students with the most significant cognitive disabilities are given equal access to this system, as well as the best supports and assessments possible to ensure that they too benefit from school and have every chance of realizing a productive adult life. This approach connects general and special education to the vision of a robust, tiered system that is flexible, timely, and responsive to the needs of all students.


Student assessments are carefully crafted to reflect curriculum and classroom learning, in both form and content. Assessments are authentic and reflect what students actually need to know and do in order to secure successful postsecondary outcomes for further education, employment, and independent living. Robust training and any necessary technology support at the state, regional, district, school, and classroom levels ensure that teachers can successfully administer—and students can successfully take—assessments; they also ensure that students with disabilities have and can use any appropriate assistive devices they need in order to learn and to be accurately assessed.

Postsecondary Transition

All students with disabilities have access to comprehensive and effective transition services and programs. In every school, model transition programs are identified, implemented, and aligned with college, career, and independent living standards and expectations. Best practices for preparing students for postsecondary transition are used, including student-involved and student-led IEPs and the development of portfolios that demonstrate a student's performance skills. Collaboration among Local Education Agencies (LEAs), Charter Management Organizations (CMOs), and Regional Occupation Programs (ROPs) is expanded so that students with disabilities are included in Regional Occupation and Career Technical Education programs. Preparations for career and adult life are woven into the fabric of instruction in an age- and developmentally appropriate way, from a child's first year in school through high school.

Parent, Family, and Student Engagement and Empowerment

Parents and family members of children with disabilities are seen as each child's first and most important teachers. All teachers, educators, and school administrators welcome parents, family members, and students to IEP meetings and into classrooms as partners and collaborators in the education of each child. Family Empowerment Centers and Family Resource Centers receive increased funding to ensure that parents and family members have the resources and information they need to be informed and effective advocates for their children and partners with their children's teachers. Educators receive training on how to create, promote, and maintain authentic family engagement, collaboration, and student involvement; and they are reinforced in the practice of those tenets.

ACSE Charge

"The California Advisory Commission on Special Education . . . . . . is an advisory body mandated by federal and state statutes to provide recommendations and advice to the State Board of Education, the Superintendent of Public Instruction, the State Legislature, and the Governor in new or continuing areas of research, program development, and evaluation in California special education: "The State has established and maintains an advisory panel for the purpose of providing policy guidance with respect to special education and related services for children with disabilities in the State.

"Such advisory panel shall consist of members appointed by the Governor, or any other official authorized under State law to make such appointments, be representative of the State population, and be composed of individuals involved in, or concerned with, the education of children with disabilities."

— Public Law 108-446; 20 United States Code (USC) 1412(a)(21) A-D Section 612

2015–2016 Membership Directory


Feda Almaliti, State Senate Appointee

Mildred Browne, State Board Appointee

Morena de Grimaldi, State Senate Appointee

Kristi Hagans, State Board Appointee

Somer Harding, State Board Appointee

Sara Jocham, State Board Appointee

Betty Karnette, State Assembly Appointee

Matt Navo, Governor Appointee

Lester Pincu, State Senate Appointee

Gina Plate, Chair, Governor Appointee

Nancy Portillo, State Board Appointee

Mariano Sanz, Governor Appointee

Barbara Schulman, Vice Chair State Assembly Appointee

Steve Winlock, Governor Appointee

Student Members

Hyla Rachwal,

Jacob Miller,

Executive Secretary

Fred Balcom, 916-445-4602 916-327-3706 (fax),

Legislative Members

Senate Member: Carol Liu, 916-651-4021 Legislative Director: Robert Oaks,

Assembly Member: Joan Buchanan, 916-319-2015 Legislative Assistant: Diana B. Glick, Consultant,

Governor's Office, Secretary for Education Liaison: Dena Wilson, 916-323-0611 916-323-3753 (fax),

State Board Liaison: Niki Sandoval, 805-688-7997

State Special Schools Liaison

Scott Kerby, 916-327-3860 916-445-4550 (fax),

Staff Liaison

Venetia Davis, 916-323-9773,

CDE Liaison

Kristen Brown, 916-445-1064 916-327-3706 (fax),

Commission Meeting Dates* 2015–2016

August 12–13

October 28–29**

February 24–25

April 20–21

June 15–16

Location: California Department of Education, 1430 "N" Street, Sacramento, CA

*Exact dates may change. Please visit the ACSE Web site: or contact the commission's staff liaison for the most current information or to obtain a schedule. All ACSE meetings can be viewed on live Webcast at

**Special Location: Santa Clarita Office of Education, Boardroom First Floor, North Building, 1290 Ridder Park Drive, San Jose, CA


California Services for Technical Assistance and Training (CalSTAT)
A Special Project of the Napa County Office of Education| 5789 State Farm Drive, Rohnert Park, CA 94928
Fax: 707-586-2735 |