March 14, 2013
Three years after launching an effort to integrate more students with special needs in mainstream classrooms, the Department of Education has some news about the initiative’s effects.
The department today released data showing that students with special needs in schools that participated in the first phase of the initiative saw their test scores improve more than students with disabilities at similar schools that were not in the program. Their attendance rates rose and suspension rates fell more than the students with disabilities at similar schools, too.
And as the initiative expanded citywide this year, students frequently moved to less restrictive classroom settings in sixth and ninth grade, the years where the department required schools to serve all eligible students, regardless of their disability.
The information partially satisfied special education advocates, who are on board with the goals of the city’s reforms but have been clamoring for more data about the reforms’ impact for more than a year.
“From what I am seeing here it looks like there are positive trends — but I’m not seeing everything here that I want to,” said Maggie Moroff, who heads the ARISE Coalition of advocates.
In January, Moroff submitted a Freedom of Information Law request to the Department of Education, asking for 25 kinds of information about the effects of the special education reforms. She asked for documents showing how students with different kinds of needs fared during the 260-school pilot; how often the city asked for permission to have oversized classes with students with special needs; and how frequently parents in the pilot schools filed formal complaints about their children’s placement.
Corinne Rello-Anselmi, the Department of Education deputy chancellor in charge of special education, said the city would continue to collect data as the reforms move into their second year of citywide implementation. In particular, she said, the department would be looking at the formal complaint rate this year.
But she said she thought schools had done a good job of defusing potential conflicts by working with parents and clearing up misconceptions about the reforms, which required a new way of thinking about how to assign students to classroom settings but did not mandate any particular placement. The department has held 970 training sessions since the beginning of the school year for school staff, according to the data released today, and Rello-Anselmi said officials had worked closely with schools that needed more help adjusting to the changes.
“I would love to say everybody got it right on the first shot,” she said. “Some schools were doing it very well and some schools were struggling, and that’s where we put our targeted support.”
Moroff said ARISE and Advocates for Children, which hosts the coalition, hear regularly from parents who are dissatisfied with their children’s placement under the reforms. But she said those cases might very well be extreme.
“It’s hard for us to analyze based on the families we talk to,” Moroff said. “We really want to see more complete data.”