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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.
Informing and supporting parents, educators, service providers,and policymakers on topics related to special education
The word "alignment" evokes positive images of efficiency and effectiveness. The tires of your car, your exercise regimen, your professional strategies—when these things are well aligned you don't waste time or effort, and they all can help you realize your goals.
Alignment as a good thing means that right now very good things are possible for education in California. The federal offices that oversee special education and general education requirements have together revised the monitoring system for special education to include school outcomes for students with disabilities—and to encourage state-level alignment between special and general education (see article page 3). California's Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) completely revamped how education is funded in the state, eliminating strict spending restrictions for numerous categorical programs so that educational efforts could be more closely aligned with the specific needs of local communities (see article page 5). The Special Education Division is working to align its new federal accountability requirements—in the State Systemic Improvement Plan—with the LCFF and with general education (see article page 7). The California Department of Education, the California Department of Developmental Services, and the California Department of Rehabilitation are aligning their efforts behind a program to support competitive integrated employment for students with cognitive disabilities (see article page 16). California has identified a Multitiered System of Supports (MTSS)—which aligns efforts at the classroom, school, and district levels—as a means to ensure effective instruction in the California Common Core State Standards (see insert). And the California Task Force on Special Education finds alignment between general education and special education to be one of the most important factors in improving school results for students with disabilities (see article page 9).
This issue of The Special EDge explores the many ways that California's educational initiatives and systems may be able to align in effective ways.
This is a time of great opportunity. Many components of the educational system in the state are seeing a renewed focus on student outcomes. Three activities could have an especially profound effect: 1) At the federal level, U. S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), is moving forward with its initiative called "Results Driven Accountability," a program that requires each state to develop a State Systemic Improvement Plan. 2) California has changed its funding structure to a local control funding formula and requires local control accountability plans (LCAPs) specifically to address the needs of students in poverty, students who are English language learners, and foster youth; each district's LCAP must also establish goals for all significant subpopulations of students, including students with disabilities. 3) Along with these federal and statewide initiatives, a special education task force was convened at the request of the California State Board of Education and has identified many areas that, if acted upon, would improve educational outcomes for students with disabilities.
A desire to improve outcomes for students with disabilities is not new. In 1990 the Special Education Division proposed a strategic plan—much of which is echoed in the task force report—that identified areas that needed to be addressed in order to improve outcomes for students with disabilities. The resulting inaction in response to that plan reflected an inability to do what was needed to realize the desired goal.
The current opportunities call again for change, but the historical barriers that prevented improvement in student outcomes remain. Still to be determined is whether or not any or all parts of the system have the will to work together and the human energy and political capital to drive the improvements that have long been needed.
OSEP has identified student scores on standardized achievement tests as the primary measure of student success. This is an important measure; however, it does not fully reflect student achievement. The LCAPs now required in California include all significant subgroups in their goals; they do not necessarily require specific activities to address students with disabilities. The task force has identified key areas needed for improvement; many of these are outside the authority of special education in California.
It is not enough to identify the problem. Many of the recommendations of the task force require additional funding and policy changes. School districts will need to address students with disabilities as part of, not apart from, improved educational outcomes for all students. The California Department of Education will need to be organized to support those efforts at the school district and county levels. OSEP will need to welcome and support unique state-level efforts to improve outcomes for students with disabilities through State Systemic Improvement Plans.
In this issue you can read about ways to take advantage of the many new opportunities to improve educational results for students with disabilities. Again, it remains to be seen whether or not we have the collective will and energy to do the necessary work.
But what an opportunity.
The federal offices that oversee special education and general education requirements have revised the monitoring system for special education to include school outcomes for students with disabilities. The Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) and the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education (OESE) have collaborated "to deliver more effective monitoring, policies, and technical assistance [and to] focus on providing evidence-based instruction and interventions that prepare students for post-secondary opportunities."1
OSERS guides the implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the federal legislation that entitles students with disabilities to special education services. OESE does the same for general education services through the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA, also known as No Child Left Behind). The intent of the joint effort of these two federal agencies is "to ensure that States, districts, schools, principals, and teachers have the support necessary to address the needs of all students, including students with disabilities."2
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan identified an important incentive for this effort when, in a public statement on May 21, 2014, he said, "While we have seen consistent improvements across the country in procedural compliance, we unfortunately have not seen a corresponding improvement in educational results for students with disabilities. . . . Clearly, our department's historical focus on compliance must shift to one focused on results, outcomes, and academic achievement for all children."3
What has emerged from this concern and the collective efforts of OSERS and OESE is a new monitoring approach: Results Driven Accountability (RDA), which is designed to add a focus on the school results of students with disabilities to the already-existing emphasis on compliance with IDEA's requirements. The expressed goal of RDA is to improve "education results and functional outcomes for all children with disabilities" and to more fully realize the goal of IDEA: "to prepare [students] for further education, employment, and independent living."
"RDA will emphasize child outcomes such as performance on assessments, graduation rates, and early childhood outcomes," the United States Department of Education explained in a letter to the Chief State School Officers.
Some insist that special education policy in general and RDA in particular are too ambitious and unrealistic. But the National Center on Educational Outcomes, the leading research organization on accountability for the achievement of students with disabilities, concludes that "the vast majority of special education students (80–85 percent) can meet the same achievement standards as other students if they are given specially designed instruction, appropriate access, supports, and accommodations, as required by IDEA."4
A key component of the new RDA efforts—added to the already-existing State Performance Plan and Annual Performance Report requirements—is the State Systemic Improvement Plan (SSIP; see article page 7), which IDEA now requires all states to submit annually in order to receive federal IDEA money. RDA requires this plan to make use of data to "identify gaps in student performance, analyze State systems, and then implement targeted, evidence-based reforms to address the gaps," according to the federal Department of Education letter.
The new accountability system was shaped by collaborative and coordinated efforts that reflect the following principles: · Partnerships with stakeholders · Transparency and clarity for educators and families · A focus on improved outcomes for all children · Protections of the individuals rights of each child with a disability · Differentiated incentives and supports based on the unique strengths and needs of each state · Responsiveness to the needs of children and families
The RDA system also encourages states to target resources "where they can have the greatest positive impact on outcomes" and to minimize duplicated efforts—essentially creating more efficient and less costly systems.5
RDA expressly calls for alignment between general education and special efforts in the form of "ESEA flexibility (if applicable)" and coordination with "Title I, Title III, Professional Development, School Improvement" to improve outcomes for students with disabilities—in effect, to develop a more unified system with cohering rather than competing activities and initiatives. "We believe that only through a coordinated effort across the education system will we be able to positively affect the school and life trajectory of students with disabilities," the letter to the Chief State School Officers reads.
California's Special Education Division (SED) has proceeded to work with general educational stakeholders in developing the state's SSIP, particularly those involved with state and federal programs and who may eventually be providing technical assistance through the tiered system the SED is creating and anticipates implementing as part of its SSIP. This tiered approach will be based on the performance of local education agencies (LEAs). Each will have access to an initial and basic level of supports, with the SED then providing subsequently more intense levels of support, depending on the need of the local district and the success of its students.
How the SED works with school districts will also be guided by how a district's Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) is written (see article, page 5). If that plan is expressly designed to "improve the performance of kids with disabilities, then great," says Fred Balcom, SED director. But if the performance rankings of students with disabilities in a district are poor, and the district has not expressly included measures in its LCAP to address that problem, then the SED will require the district to identify areas where that plan can be improved or to write a separate plan.
The U.S. Department of Education has invested considerable resources to help states develop these plans to improve results for students with disabilities. In the development of its SSIP, California's SED took advantage of some technical assistance from OSEP staff and from the Western Regional Resource Center. OSEP also recently funded a $50 million technical assistance center, the National Center for Systemic Improvement, which is housed at WestED and designed to help states improve services and outcomes for students with disabilities. California plans to engage with this center also as it finalizes its SSIP and moves into the implementation phase.
Both IDEA and ESEA are long overdue for reauthorization. With RDA having evolved out of collaborative efforts between general and special education offices at the federal level, many educators, family members, and policymakers are optimistic about the two major federal laws ultimately becoming aligned as well.
The OSEP GRADS360° site highlights SPP/APR resources: https://osep.grads360.org/#program
Resources for parents about RDA are available through the Parent Center Hub at http://www.parentcenterhub.org/?s=RDA
The Thirtysixth Annual Report to Congress on the Implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Parts B and C is at http://www2.ed.gov/about/reports/annual/osep/2014/parts-b-c/index.html
Prior to 2013, the funding system for California's public schools was commonly described as a mess. According to the California Department of Finance (CDF), money was "inequitably distributed, not tied to student demographics, largely state controlled, and lacking appropriate accountability measures." The CDF went on to state that, "over time, the state created more than 60 categorical programs, each with accounting and reporting requirements, many of which are not outcome-focused . . . and no longer are reflective of current demographics."1
Governor Jerry Brown changed this picture on July 1, 2013, when he signed into law Assembly Bill 97, which put in place the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF). Brown said, "I'm signing a bill that is truly revolutionary. We are bringing government closer to the people, to the classroom where real decisions are made, and directing the money where the need and the challenge is greatest. This is a good day for California, it's a good day for school kids, and it's a good day for our future."2
Many Californians share Governor Brown's optimism for the future of schools and students under the new funding model. The LCFF is designed to address issues related to simplicity, transparency, equity, and accountability by creating clear, consistently applied funding formulas; by providing more resources to those districts that have more students with greater needs; and by holding all entities that receive education dollars accountable for how they use that money to improve student outcomes. More specifically the LCFF does the following:
Under the new funding law, each district must create a Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP), which then serves as the vehicle for achieving this transparency and as a roadmap for securing improved student results. The LCAP must reflect three things:
Districts will be held accountable for implementing their plans, and future state monitoring and sanctions will be predicated upon how successful districts are in reaching their expressed goals. The state has identified eight priorities that districts must use to guide the direction of their goals:
County Offices of Education must align their goals with these same eight priorities, along with two additional priorities: instruction for expelled youth and services for foster youth.
A number of educational programs still remain outside the LCFF model—special education among them5—and there is no explicit link between the LCFF and resources for students with disabilities. Special education dollars to Special Education Local Plan Areas (SELPAs) are not affected by the LCFF and will remain the same, as will restrictions and guidance on how that money can be used. Yet students with disabilities do not share a single, monolithic profile. In fact, students with disabilities are also students who live in poverty, students who are learning English as a second language, and students who live in foster homes.
These students make up sizeable percentages of the recognized LCFF subgroups: in California, 33 percent of youth in foster care have disabilities; 23 percent of students who are English language learners have disabilities, and 14 percent of students who live in poverty have disabilities.
With the LCAPs targeting the three identified subgroups, many advocates for students with disabilities see the LCFF and its accompanying LCAP as a potential force for improving education for students with disabilities. As well, even though the LCFF does not direct the use of special education dollars, the funding law specifically states that districts are accountable for the academic growth of students with disabilities. So with special education funding protected, some special educators and administrators are optimistic that these additional LCFF monies will be used for the very programs, supports, and services that their students need and that districts previously couldn't afford.
Public support exists behind efforts to use LCFF funds directly in support of students with disabilities. In statewide sessions sponsored by the State Board of Education to gather public input about the new funding model, participants expressed an interest in having LCFF money be spent on two specifically special education-related activities: professional development for educators so that more teachers would know how to work with students with learning disabilities, and programs directly for those students who have a learning disability.11
There's no question that the LCFF changes funding models. But with LCAPs creating paths to securing improved results for all students, Mary Samples, assistant superintendent for the Ventura County SELPA, is cautiously optimistic about the LCFF being a force for something even more momentous. "Culture change has to happen," she said. "I've been in education for 42 years and I've spent half of my career in general education and half in special education. We've unintentionally created this division, this divided system. And once a child crosses over from general education into special education, people forget that the child still belongs to general education first.
"If we can address problems early, through early intervention initiatives funded through LCFF, then many students will not need special education, or will not need it in such intensity. For most students who are identified [as having a disability], special education becomes a lifetime assignment. It's not meant to be that way in many cases. Two-thirds of the students with disabilities have speech and language deficits or learning disabilities. The intent of disabilities law was to identify student needs, give them the additional help necessary, and set them up with compensatory skills—thus eventually eliminating the need for special education and ensuring the student is on a successful educational path.
"That hasn't happened. Rather than thinking of students in categories, we need to start with all students. The more we can do for all of them before they need to be identified for special education, the better it is for all students and the better it is for the system. But systems get stuck, and the system of education needs a major adjustment." Samples believes that the LCFF promises a significant step toward that adjustment by providing local educational agencies the flexibility they need to educate the students they have.
The Local Agency System Support Office at the California Department of Education was created to guide the implementation of the LCFF. Jeff Breshears, administrator in that office, talks in terms of a new approach—"not a compliance and punishment model. The impetus [for implementing the model] comes from the local community and stakeholders."
The structure of the LCAP reflects "a process of continuous improvement," says Breshears. "We're trying to create a system of support for growth, working with locals to learn what they want and then helping them get there—helping them guide the ship."
Breshears has seen some growing pains. "County Offices of Education and school districts," he says, "are still adjusting to working outside of strict categorical boundaries." And for some people "there is anxiety in believing that, when a plan expresses goals for 'all students,' that language means that special education is not left out. But this is a sea change. When districts demonstrate that 'all students' truly means all students, then the anxiety will abate and be remembered as just part of the learning process." He reminds stakeholders, "This is brand new. It will take time to fully develop and implement."
The California Collaborative for Educational Excellence (CCEE) is the new entity that will provide support to "advise and assist LEAs in achieving their LCAP goals."12 State statute (Education Code section 52074) requires the CCEE to help districts improve their achievement in the eight priority areas, enhance the quality of teaching, improve district and school-site leadership, and address the needs of special student populations. Improving the school outcomes for students with disabilities is specifically included in the details that guide the work of the CCEE.13
The LCFF has created uncharted territory. "Some components, such as the evaluation rubrics, are still being developed; and we all continue to adjust to this new model," says Breshears. But David Toston, executive director of the El Dorado County SELPA/Charter SELPA, says that the LCFF has generated "a unified and comprehensive focus on creating one system that responds to the needs of all," a focus that "we have never had before. The strength of the LCAP is that it is putting students first, and not placing them into categories. I believe the LCAP will lead to stronger instructional programs that will meet the needs of most students in the general education setting. Priorities are aligning—and with the LCFF, resources are starting to align, as well."
Even though much of exactly how the LCFF plays out remains to be seen, this new funding model clearly is moving the state away from a system of education made up of disparate programs operating separately and serving isolated needs. The LCFF brings California a significant step closer to simply providing effective schooling for each child and for all children.
1. California Department of Finance. (n.d.). Overview of the Local Control Funding Formula Proposal. Retrieved from http://www.dof.ca.gov/reports_and_periodicals/district_estimate/documents/LCFF_Policy_Brief.pdf
2. What Does the LCFF Appropriation Formula Look Like? CSBA August 2013 Fact Sheet. http://www.csba.org/GovernanceAndPolicyResources/FairFunding/~/media/CSBA/Files/GovernanceResources/GovernanceBriefs/2013_08_LCFF_FactSheet-appformula.ashx
3. California Department of Education. (n.d.). Local Control Funding Formula. Retrieved from http://www.cde.ca.gov/fg/aa/lc/
4. Education Code Section 51210. Retrieved from http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=edc&group=51001-52000&file=51210-51212
5. Legislative Analyst's Office provides a complete list of funded programs that remain discrete and protected categories: http://www.lao.ca.gov/reports/2013/edu/lcff/lcff-072913.aspx
6. Public Policy Institute of California. (2000). Disabled Children in Low-Income Families: Private Costs and Public Consequences. Research Brief, 40. Retrieved from http://www.ppic.org/content/pubs/rb/RB_1000MMRB.pdf
7. Newacheck, P. 1988. "Testimony before the Senate Finance Committee U.S. Congress," Children's Health Care Issues: Hearings before the Senate Committee on Finance. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
8. Perrin, J. M. (June, 2002). The Millbank Quarterly: A Multidisciplinary Journal of Public Health and Health Policy 80(2), 303¬324.
9. The Stuart Foundation. The Invisible Achievement Gap. Page ii. Retrieved from http://www.stuartfoundation.org/docs/default-document-library/the-invisible-achievement-gap-report.pdf?sfvrsn=2
10. Watkins, E., & Liu, K. K. Institute on Community Integration. Who Are English Language Learners with Disabilities? Retrieved from https://ici.umn.edu/products/impact/261/2.html
11. Local Control Funding Formula Regional Input Sessions. http://lcff.wested.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/LCFF_Input_Sessions_Summary.pdf
12. California Department of Education. Local Control Funding Formula Overview. http://www.cde.ca.gov/fg/aa/lc/lcffoverview.asp
13. Taylor, M. Legislative Analyst's Office. An Overview of the Local Control Funding Formula. Page 19. Retrieved from http://www.lao.ca.gov/reports/2013/edu/lcff/lcff-072913.pdf
The California Department of Education (CDE) is accountable to the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) for the federal money the state receives to educate students with disabilities. OSEP creates compliance measures (called "indicators") and through these measures monitors whether special education services are being appropriately provided— determining, for example, whether or not timelines are being met for student evaluations and how much time students with disabilities spend in the general education classroom. California submits to OSEP a State Performance Plan and an Annual Performance Report that chart the state's status and progress in complying with the requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and has always received high compliance ratings.
When OSEP announced its Results Driven Accountability (RDA; see article page 3) as a way to include educational results and functional outcomes for all students with disabilities in its monitoring process, many special education stakeholders were left with two competing reactions: optimism at the prospect of a monitoring system that focused on student results, and concern that the attention to compliance might be lost—or at least lessened—in the process.
A great deal remains to happen before anyone sees the effect of RDA. By adding performance measures to the existing compliance measures, RDA appears to represent a balance; and it seems also to have opened doors to aligning general and special education in unprecedented ways.
RDA calls for states to create a State Systemic Improvement Plan (SSIP) that articulates desired student outcomes—essentially the results a school intends its students with disabilities to realize. The SSIP is to be implemented over six years and in three phases:
"A vision of one system of education, with a continuum of services based on individual student need—that is our very first principle," said Fred Balcom, director of CDE's Special Education Division, when he presented the SSIP to the State Board of Education (SBE) in March 2015.
OSEP has accepted improved student assessment scores as a goal for the state's SSIP. California's goal is more ambitious. "Implementing proven practices to improve student performance is the SSIP's guiding focus," said Balcom. "Our goals are to get kids to come to school, find better ways to provide discipline, and provide access to and instruction in the California Common Core State Standards" so that students are able "to enter the world of college, work, and career" after they finish high school. "This first year [Phase 1] is a data analysis phase," said Balcom, although he added that data analysis in California is "no small issue." Not only do the state's 1,400 districts create a challenge to any kind of analysis related to California students; but, according to research, the state's data system has "only in the last several years begun to move beyond the traditional approach to data collection: emphasizing discrete, disconnected data 'silos' that address reporting and monitoring requirements but do not lend themselves to analyses that can guide policy and program improvement."1
However, as the state works to align its data-gathering efforts, California is proposing through the SSIP what is perhaps an even more important step: aligning special education monitoring and systems improvement with the general education efforts that are being guided by the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF; see article page 5).
In California, approximately 11 percent of students have disabilities. "If we focus really hard on these students' improvements, we could improve overall scores a little," Balcom said at a meeting of the California Advisory Commission on Special Education in February 2015. But, he went on to say, "33 percent of students in foster care have disabilities, 14 percent of students who are poor have disabilities, and 23 percent of students who are English language learners have disabilities. As we began to look at this infrastructure, how we are organized in the state, and the kinds of things we do, we started looking at those things that will have a greater impact than just focusing on students with disabilities." As the LCFF targets funds and resources to provide extra supports to these three high-need groups, and as it requires local educational agencies to write Local Control Accountability Plans (LCAPs) to ensure that those services and supports are delivered and those needs are met, Balcom concludes that, "if we align with that activity [and the local plans], the performance of students with disabilities will improve disproportionately as well. Rather than looking at students by disability," he added, "let's look at them as part of the whole population."
Balcom pointed to another advantage of aligning the State Systemic Improvement Plan with the new funding model: "OSEP intended a scaling-up process [with the SSIP]," he said, which would involve devising and creating an infrastructure for implementing the plan. In response to the LCFF, education stakeholders already have been working for months to put systems in place to accomplish the plans that the new funding model requires. By aligning the special education plan with the general education ones, OSEP's "scaling up" process in California is, for all practical purposes, already complete.
At its March meeting, the SBE voted unanimously to support the SSIP and its alignment with the LCFF. Balcom will now submit the plans to OSEP for approval.
The LCFF is commonly referred to as the most comprehensive transformation of the school funding system and the educational infrastructure in California in 40 years.2 Aligning the State Systemic Improvement Plan with the new funding model represents an important step toward turning the Special Education Division's first principle into reality: one system of education, with a continuum of services based on individual student need.
In 2013, Mike Kirst, president of the California State Board of Education, and Linda Darling-Hammond, chair of the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing and professor in the Stanford Graduate School of Education, found private money to create a task force to study why students with disabilities in California are not realizing better school outcomes. The effort was managed through the San Mateo County Office of Education, which sent a request for participants to the larger special education community. Two co-directors were selected: Vicki Barber and Maureen Burness, both former California SELPA directors, with Barber also having served as a county superintendent. They reviewed more than 200 applicants for task force membership, ultimately choosing 35 individuals to represent key state agencies—the State Board of Education, the California Department of Education, the Commission on Teacher Credentialing, the Legislative Analyst's Office, the Department of Finance, and California state legislative staff—as well as parents, general and special education educators, higher education professors, and representatives from charter schools and nonpublic schools and agencies.
After a dozen meetings and more than 700 public statements from individual stakeholders, the group released a report that describes what it found to be the challenges to school success for children with disabilities in California. The report makes 55 recommendations for how to address those challenges.
One of "the biggest barriers" to improving school outcomes for California's students with disabilities, said a task force member, is California's divided system of education. "General educators do not feel prepared to work with students with disabilities, and special educators are not authorized to teach general education students. The result is a system that operates in silos. The most critical recommendation from this task force is the need for a culture of one unified system of education for all children, ages birth to 22. If we put in place the elements to create that system, it would make all the difference in the world for students, and not just students with disabilities. It would improve school outcomes for all students."
Another task force member emphasized the group's intention to create a report that includes all students, not just students with disabilities, and that "the purpose of the task force was to propose important options that currently don't exist uniformly throughout the state, particularly for those children who may have high-incidence disabilities, such as learning disabilities" and that the task force members "fully believe in the importance of continuing to make specialized settings and state schools available to children in the low-incidence populations—children who are blind or deaf, for example. Those separate learning environments may be the least restrictive for some children. What we are offering here is a vision of education that more effectively—and efficiently—serves all children. And serves them better."
The recommendations of the task force offer a vision of an aligned system of education in which every child receives the services he or she needs, early intervening services are robust and inclusive at the earliest sign of student need, and most students are served through quality instruction in general education settings. What follows are highlights of those recommendations. The full report with its 55 recommendations, along with subcommittee reports, is available at http://www.smcoe.org/about-smcoe/statewide-special-education-task-force/.
The task force argues that the entire system of education for all students in the state would realize profound improvements if early childhood education and services were enhanced and quality preschool made available to all, with consistent standards for both early learning and professional preparation. The report cites research showing that "the long-term economic benefit to society of high-quality preschool ranges from $4 to $10 for every $1 spent." The report emphasizes that, regardless of the challenge a child might face, delivering appropriate services, direction, and support at the earliest juncture has been solidly proven "to provide exponential return on that first investment."
The report recommends implementing specific educational structures, kindergarten through twelfth grade, to secure equity and student success: universal design for learning (UDL), a multitiered system of supports (MTSS), and response to intervention (RtI). The position of the task force is that, if schools were to deliver quality "first instruction" through these structures, more students—with and without disabilities—would realize school success, and fewer students would be identified with learning disabilities.
Within the system that the task force envisions, general educators and special educators work together as much as possible to support all students; schools save money because more students succeed and fewer need specialized services; and more students leave high school with clear transition plans and prepared for postsecondary education, careers, and independent living. Without this kind of structure, "schools are saddled with burdensome costs for services, which, once children become adults, are then handed on to society at large, contributing to state and national spending on public assistance, social service, and incarceration."
The task force report emphasizes the importance of teacher preparation programs that place greater emphasis on helping teachers develop a more broadly inclusive set of skills and attitudes; on special education teachers being able to instruct to rigorous high standards; on general education teachers being better prepared—by learning about prevention and intervention strategies—to work with students who struggle; and on all educators learning how to collaborate effectively with a wide range of other teachers and colleagues.
The report also points to the urgent need for teacher preparation programs to attract and train new teachers because of the number of current teachers poised to retire within the next five years—and the inevitable and problematic teacher shortage that will result.
Adult learning theory informs the recommendations the task force makes for professional learning, with the report advocating such strategies as job-embedded coaching, mentoring, and ongoing support, which create "conditions for lasting change and improvement in educational practice," as opposed to single-shot trainings with no follow-up—and no resulting improvement in practice.
The task force report focused part of its discussion of assessments on the Individualized Education Program (IEP) and the importance of making sure that it "evolves and adapts" to reflect the rigorous standards of the Common Core. Insisting that the "IEP should be as coherent as the system it reflects," the report implies that if a student's IEP does not reflect those standards and create a process for supporting a student in learning them, any assessment of those standards would be either unfair or inaccurate. The assessments themselves, according to the task force, should "reflect the success of the IEP, must be selected with great care, their effectiveness monitored, and their alignment with curriculum and instruction secured for all students."
The recommendations of the task force for educational accountability focus largely on data systems. Describing the current systems as "misaligned and inconsistent," the group advocates for creating and maintaining accurate and aligned data systems that could then serve to "inform, direct, and support teacher preparation, classroom instruction, individual-goal setting, and meaningful assessment."
The task force recommends increased funding for family and parent centers so that family members of students with disabilities across the state have access to training and supports that would help them, in turn, better support and advocate for their children. The group also recommends expanding efforts "to enhance [family] involvement in the special education process" and to include students "in decisions about their education," particularly through direct student involvement in their own IEPs.
The task force describes California's system for funding special education as inequitable, baroque, and inadequate. The report calls for a reformed approach that reflects equity, pointing to the success of programs such as WorkAbility and then to the fact that "some SELPAs receive funds for WorkAbility; others do not." In general, the recommendations encourage a funding system that reflects "greater coherence between general education and special education, is sensitive to changes in enrollment, and invests in the systems and provides incentives for practices that will lead to greater success for students." The task force returns to the argument of "solid return" for its investment "in the form of productive, tax-paying citizens and in the avoidance of more intensive—and expensive—services and supports that would be needed later."
In its other financing recommendations, the task force calls on the federal government to redress its chronic failure to fund the 40 percent of special education it had promised with the original passage of special education law in 1975. Also at the federal level, there exist significant amounts of Medi-Cal money that the government ostensibly makes available to school districts but at the same time has created complicated, difficult, and prohibitively time-consuming barriers to accessing this money. The task force recommends that the reimbursement arm of Medi-Cal be made more easily navigable.
While readily acknowledging the massive challenge inherent in turning its recommendations into reality, the task force report refers to other states that have successfully created the "coordinated policy, accountability, and instructional systems that address the entire range of learning needs and that support teachers and administrators in coherent efforts to successfully educate all students"—essentially what the task force would like to see happen in California. The states that the report lists—Maryland, Kansas, and Tennessee—are not nearly as large or diverse as California; but they do have models that appear to be working.
The report recounts California's recent movement toward collaborative systems, "thanks to the Local Control Funding Formula and its plans [see article page 5]. California has established high standards for every student, thanks to the Common Core State Standards. And California has a chance to ensure that every student counts, thanks to the system of assessments that is being developed." The report ends with a plea for "coordinated leadership and action" among all of the key constituents and a culture and practice of alignment and collaboration.
Task force members are hoping "that people read this report as a road map for leaving behind a singular way of thinking—of general ed here and special ed there, of high-incidence disability here and low-incidence there.
"The prospect of creating a united, effective system of education is an ambitious one, but it's worth every effort. And we'll need everyone's effort."
The Special Education Division (SED) of the California Department of Education is "generally supportive of" the task force report and its recommendations, according to an SED spokesman, who also noted that, "the vast majority of the work of the division is related to compliance, to monitoring districts in the implementation of education law, procedures, and IEP development." The SED would welcome any change that would allow it to spend less time monitoring problems and dispute resolutions and more time working across divisions and departments in collaborative efforts to help schools enhance learning, instruction, and postschool outcomes for students with disabilities.
With the hope that their efforts will find traction, task force members talk about their work as representing "a moral imperative to serve all children as best we can. We know that better systems exist. And we know that those systems better serve students and staff. This is a civil rights issue—we cannot afford to squander the potential of our children. We have to do this for their sake, for the future of our society and our nation." t
Special education law is intricate in its phrasing, complicated to interpret, and sometimes difficult to understand. Family members, educators, and school administrators don't always agree about how to read the law and how to decide on the appropriate services for meeting the educational needs of students with disabilities. When those disagreements can't be resolved, parents have the legal right to file a complaint with the state and pursue what's referred to as their "due process." The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) mandates the services that schools must provide students with disabilities; guarantees that certain procedures must be followed in providing those services (procedural safeguards); and gives parents or legal guardians the right—or their "due"—to begin legal proceedings if they have reason to believe that the rights of the student or the family have been violated.
Formal legal battles typically are costly, both emotionally and financially. So resolving misunderstandings, mistakes, and confusion at the earliest possible juncture is almost always a better strategy for everyone involved. Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) is designed to do just that. It is an approach—an alternative—for settling disagreements related to special education and to finding mutually agreed-upon solutions for student services before disagreements become contentious and litigious. Most ADR strategies are considered preventive in nature and are used to resolve conflicts and disputes before anyone files a compliance complaint, makes a request for due process, or begins to think there is a need to seek legal advice.
For the past two decades the California Department of Education (CDE), Special Education Division, has funded 20 Special Education Local Plan Areas (SELPAs) to develop and test procedures, materials, and training for alternative dispute resolution in special education. These 20 years of experience among the current ADR grantees—along with a great deal of research at the national level—have shown that ADR provides a number of significant benefits: · Preserved relationships between parents and educators · Enhanced opportunities to resolve issues early in the procedural safeguard process · Increased positive outcomes for students · Reduced numbers of costly due process mediations and hearings · Reduced numbers of complaint filings against local education agencies (LEAs/school districts)
Since California put its ADR funding in place, IDEA has been reauthorized; and state laws and regulations related to special education have evolved as well. In response, the Special Education Division is now updating and redesigning its ADR grants, with a focus on making the alternative dispute resolution processes—including efforts to inform parents about ADR and their rights and responsibilities—stronger, more effective, and broader reaching.
The original pilot projects have been testing ADR activities with the goal of finding the most effective practices and approaches for making ADR options and services available. The Special Education Division is using what it learned from these projects to redesign new grants, which are scheduled to launch on July 1, 2015, and will align state ADR efforts with best practices and make ADR supports and services more widely available throughout the state.
The new grantees will develop and test procedures, materials, and training for alternative dispute resolution in special education. The Special Education Division will work to strengthen ADR efforts overall statewide to secure the established benefits of ADR listed above and to accomplish the following:
The Special Education Division expects the ADR redesign to build systems that have the capacity to manage disagreements in the most helpful way. In sum, the goal of this effort is to provide the best services for students; to preserve relationships, especially between families and educators; to support and develop those ADR strategies that currently exist and that show themselves to be effective, both locally and statewide; and to maintain LEA compliance with federal and state statutes during all phases of a student's educational experience.
The California Department of Education (CDE), Special Education Division, has placed on its Web site a new, searchable database of special education-related laws and regulations. Called the California Special Education Reference (CASER), the database provides users with access to a number of important documents as they relate to special education: · United States Code and the Code of Federal Regulations · Policy letters from the United States Department of Education, including the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) · Communications from the Office of Civil Rights · Federal Register · California codes · California regulatory titles
Users can type key words or phrases into CASER's easy-to-use search function and, by selecting "Next Hit," can scroll through the various bodies of laws, regulations, or guidance documents that contain the searched-for word or phrase, which will be highlighted in each "hit." Or users can conduct a more refined search through the "Table of Contents" cell; by clicking on the plus signs under the titles listed there, users can more specifically target their search. This cell also features a user's guide that provides a thorough description of the site.
CASER is designed to makes it easy for parents, school district personnel, or Special Education Division staff to find the citations they need and to quickly consult a variety of legal references from one Web site. The California Special Education Reference is available at http://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/se/lr/.
Questions about the CASER? Contact Allison Smith, CDE consultant, at 916-319-0377; or email her at ASmith@cde.ca.gov.
Work is a cornerstone of all of our lives," says Santi Rogers, director of the California Department of Developmental Services (DDS). For Rogers, that "especially includes" people with disabilities. So to ensure that working-age individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities have the same opportunity for meaningful work as their nondisabled peers, three state departments that serve them are joining forces.
Joe Xavier, director of the Department of Rehabilitation; Fred Balcom, director of the Department of Education, Special Education Division; and Rogers recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that gives the highest priority to finding Competitive Integrated Employment (CIE) for individuals with disabilities. That means a workplace where employees with and without disabilities are integrated and paid the same competitive wage for similar work.
The MOU calls for the departments to meet regularly over a period of six months to develop, with stakeholder input, a blueprint that identifies changes in policies, practices, statutes, and regulations that will improve outcomes for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Sessions began in December 2014 and are being held monthly, with departmental staff working on the blueprint during weekly meetings.
These six months "are about creating the framework of where we want to end up," says Xavier. "The next five years are about putting it into practice."
The issues to be addressed in the blueprint include phasing out the payment of sub-minimum wages in state-funded employment; developing meaningful outcome measures and improving data collection and sharing among agencies; and improving interagency coordination, including referral processes between agencies and the continuity of transition planning from school to work.
"We're wedded to the objective of a deliverable plan in six months," says Rogers. "There is positive enthusiasm in all three departments, and that is exciting. All across the United States people are defining what real work is and what wages reflect the value of that work. We want real, valued work for our clientele."
Rogers credits Disability Rights California with jump-starting the collaboration. The federally funded advocacy agency "was raising issues about access to employment and training. Their leadership encouraged us to come together, to look at organizational and philosophical issues."
Whatever issue is being considered, representatives of the three departments agree that, as Xavier says, "all the work is consumer driven with the objective of maximizing the consumers' potential, of creating their capacity to take competitive jobs."
A number of those consumers will have participated in WorkAbility, a program that offers students with disabilities the opportunity for employment during high school. "People without disabilities would have some exposure to work in high school, work like summer jobs or internships. WorkAbility provides that opportunity for students with disabilities," says Xavier. "They acquire skills they will use after graduation," adds Alison Greenwood, an administrator in the Special Education Division, whose portfolio includes transition and WorkAbility. Work-related experience, she says, "is a good predictor of success" in the post-high school world.
But for all the effort to prepare students for the transition to work, the jobs have to be there. The MOU also calls for "expanding engagement with, and outreach and training to, private sector employers."
"We must have businesses willing to provide the opportunity," says Xavier. "How do we educate them that persons with disabilities are worth hiring?" He cites the example of SAP, a software firm where his department has placed clients with autism who are thriving there. "The company had a commitment to hiring people with disabilities. We need to recruit more companies like SAP."
The plan put forth in the MOU is in line with the Employment First Policy (AB1041) adopted by the state in 2013. Employment First requires that CIE be the first consideration for working-age individuals "regardless of the severity of their disabilities." Where someone may have been placed in a sheltered workshop in the past, "now more effort will go into determining placement," says Xavier.
For that to happen, the MOU requires the blueprint to include a clear statement of employment in integrated, competitive settings as the "first and preferred activity for individuals" with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and that this statement is part of a "directive from each of the departments to employees and partners responsible for providing services." (Of course, not every individual will qualify for CIE, and some may choose other goals, such as postsecondary education or technical or vocational training.)
One result will be a shift in expectations for students with disabilities. Xavier, who is blind, says he received "the gift of expectation from my parents; that's not legislated anywhere." Students with disabilities are diagnosed early now, and "parents will get information about CIE" at every Individualized Education Program (IEP) meeting, says Greenwood. "Even when a student is young, parents will have the expectation that the student will work, and the student also will have the expectation of work." And she sees "more Department of Rehabilitation participation in IEPs for some students in transition."
Nothing in the MOU changes the statutory requirements of the individual departments. Special Education will continue to serve students with IEPs. The 21 Regional Centers operated by DDS will continue to serve nearly 300,000 children and post-high school clients, and Rehabilitation about 100,000 people. Rather, "it's about where can we better align the programs, looking at our language and practices to create a new experience for the consumer traveling through the system," says Xavier.
While the memorandum is a recent document, the departments say the current project is just an extension of ongoing collaboration. "Work around secondary transition has been going on for a while," says Greenwood. "We know each other's requirements, but we're learning ever more about each other. This is a natural progression for our three agencies." Collaboration is "a continuous process," adds Rogers. "The continuum is just being expanded."
The MOU calls for the three departments to meet monthly with Disability Rights California "to inform them of the progress of the blueprint development and seek additional advice" and to establish a process for receiving input from stakeholders, including individuals with disabilities and their families, on developing the blueprint and implementing it over the next five years.
The departments express optimism about the project and the progress to date. "I'm encouraged by the number of people embracing it," says Rogers. "This is an opportunity to leave no one behind, to provide access to good work for our citizens."
By aligning their efforts, three state-level departments have joined forces to promote post-school success for students with disabilities.
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