Thursday, October 1, 2009

Special ed and inclusion

Some very informative new information was added today to the September post on special ed and inclusion. So that it is not overlooked, it is being added below for an October post.

September 23, 2009

PSSA/ special education/ inclusion
This PG article explains how the special education subgroup is measured for AYP purposes, and suggests that the need to meet PSSA standards may be prompting some districts toward greater inclusivity of special ed students: also notes an upcoming change in state standards that will make it easier for districts to make AYP in the special ed subgroup.
Posted by Questioner at 9:48 AM


Stephanie said...

I have been involved as a parent advocate for my daughter and other children with disabilities for the past 20 years. I wanted to share my perspective of the impact of excluding students with disabilities has on our districts AYP scores. Please bear with me on this lengthy posting. I will post this in 3 sections.

PPS used to have a REAL Inclusive philosophy where many students with special needs participated in regular education classes with non-disabled peers.

Many years ago advocates fought to have students with special needs included into the PSSA numbers because it forced the teachers and administration to teach the kids what everyone else was learning. Not a dummied down curriculum or a different curriculum. We welcomed NCLB and the high expectations that every child should and could learn, including students with disabilities, and it held school districts accountable.

Also during this time there was a decision on a 10 year lawsuit called GASKIN. The lawsuit states students with disabilities have been denied their federal statutory right to a free appropriate public education in regular classrooms with necessary supplemental aids and services. In particular, the plaintiffs allege that PDE has systematically failed to enforce the provisions in federal law requiring local schools and school districts to offer a full continuum of support services allowing disabled children to be educated in regular classrooms. Out of this Gaskin case, came a type of monitoring tool that forced districts to collect data and show where each student with disabilities were being educated.
October 1, 2009 2:05 PM

Stephanie said...

This tool is called Penn Data (LRE Monitoring). This database told PDE if school districts were choosing to include students with all other non-disabled peers in the general education classes or if they were choosing to exclude students by sending them to full day programs in special education classes or to center schools. With this data, the Gaskin panel then labeled each district as being on a Tier.

Not being on a tier was the best, Tier 3 was being watched. Districts in Tier One or Tier Two would be subjected to new requirements as part of PDE’s regular cyclical monitoring of all 501 Pennsylvania districts. As part of the cyclical monitoring process, districts in Tier One or Two Tier would be obligated to provide data on inclusion practices and undergo specific staff training designed to target the particular LRE deficiencies identified in compliance monitoring. We can tract this via /Penn DATA and Gaskin Tier process that PPS went from not being on the watch list to tier 3 in 2005-2006, tier 3 in 2006-2007, tier 2 in 2007-2008, tier 2 in 2008-2009.
October 1, 2009 2:06 PM

Stephanie said...

Prior to 2005, the Pittsburgh Pubic School District was not on the list because PPS was the MODEL district for including students with disabilities, the best and correct way (with supports!). The students with special needs were doing a good job and making progress toward meeting AYP, and the students were being taught the regular education curriculum to the best of the teacher’s abilities with appropriate supports and the kids were being successful. At this time, the Students with Exceptionalities department was run by a special education director who cared about parents, teachers and students.

When MR was hired the Director of Students with Exceptionalities position was changed, a different director was put into place and all of a sudden many students stopped being included and were being put into more restrictive placements, like special education classes all day or placing them outside the district in segregated places and programs.

Including students with special needs with appropriate supports was the key to success and AYP success! PPS used to have 3 full time inclusion specialists that moved around the district providing technical support to teachers and staff. Now, they don’t have any. This past year (2009) the school board voted to eliminate the Inclusion Specialists positions. The kids are not being exposed to the regular education curriculum, therefore not making progress in the general education curriculum or making AYP.
October 1, 2009 2:06 PM

amymoore said...

Thanks, Stephanie, for the additional information. I don't think many people really understand the issues as they relate to special education. Just this afternoon, I had a discussion with an AA friend who thought that the subgroup reporting causes more harm than good. By continually reporting that the school failed to make progress due to its subgroups, the subgroups are being blamed. Your comments show the other side of the argument: if the subgroups are not recorded separately, it is easy to ignore them.
October 1, 2009 2:34 PM


Questioner said...

Thanks, Stephanie.

About when did the vote take place to eliminate inclusion specialist positions? Even for conscientious observers of the District, so much can slip by. Were these specialists' responsibilities assigned to someone else?

Stephanie said...

Hello Questioner.
The board voted toward the end of last school year 2008/09. (*A couple of us from the Local Task Force testified to the Board with our concerns.) Let me clarify a little. PPS eliminated the inclusion specialist’s duties and shifted all the responsibility to the third person. But remember, there are approximately 6000 + special ed students in PPS and this one person covers ALL 62 buildings.

*For those who are interested, there are 29 Local Task Forces across Pennsylvania that are paired up with the 29 Intermediate Units and they have been in existence for 32 years. The Pittsburgh LTF IU2 meets once a month on the 4th Tuesday of every month. It is a group that needs to be made up of 51% parents and 49% professionals. Pittsburgh is one of the most active in the state. It was this LTF who questioned the administration on what will happen to the 900 + special ed students in the 20 school buildings that were closing. Typically you would think everyone would move together however, we discovered that the special education students did not move with their schools/friends many ended up in basement classrooms in different buildings.

deegazette said...

I am not sure I understand completely. I will read the PG article and the post and commnents again. Doesn't a child get counted for purposes of PSSA subgroup if they have an Individual Education Plan regardless of inclusion or pullout? If an IEP is what determines "counted in a subgroup" any district including more kids in a general education classroom is ok, right? If that is what the parent and student agree to. UNLESS, the district does not provide the needed supports. Then that is not right.

Questioner said...

It seems that a child with an IEP is counted as part of the special education subgroup regardless of inclusion.

The situation seems to be though that many schools are having trouble making AYP for their special education subgroup. According to some observers, lack of or changes in the extent of inclusion seems to be resulting in less progress for this subgroup.

Stephanie said...

To: Questioner
Good afternoon. I wanted to get the true/facts to your questions. Some students with disabilities take an alternate assessment called the PASA and most take the PSSA'a so, I am going to ask an assessment expert from the PDE and get back to you.

Mark Rauterkus said...

Years ago, 15 perhaps, PPS was known as a GREAT place for kids who had special needs. That goes to the quote above about being a 'model.'

So true.

I knew a number of families that MOVED into the city because a child needed special attention / care / educational plans. The children got the service / education in the city that would NEVER come in suburban Pittsburgh districts (by and large).

Our special education programs were not only top flight -- but they got people to move into the city.

Now, I think, the opposite is the case.

PPS isn't getting any bigger.

parentone said...

I have a question about differentiated instruction and inclusion. I suspect somebody is getting the shaft, is it the teacher or the special education student in an inclusive classroom? If the teacher does not have the needed assistance to give attention to the student requiring extra help it seems that both teacher and student are being treated unfairly.

Stephanie said...

I apologize for the delay but I spoke with a number of people so that I could provide accurate information.

This information was given to me by PPS. Regarding PSSA and PASA and students with exceptionalities and how they are counted in sub groups.

If a student has an IEP, they are counted in the students with IEP subgroup.

There is a very small percentage of students with disabilities in Pennsylvania that take an alternate test called the PASA. These students usually have significant disabilities. Their performance counts just as much as the performance of a student with an IEP that is assessed by the regular assessment (PSSA). No more, no less and their performance is included in the IEP subgroup analysis.

Students who attend Approved Private Schools PSSA/PASA scores are reported to the PPS district office.

Students who attend Pioneer and Conroy PASA scores are reported to their (neighborhood) home school building special education sub group. If the Conroy or Pioneer schools did not have enough students assessed who responded to a sufficient number of items then they would not meet the threshold for public reporting (minimum of 40 students with valid assessment scores).