April 27th, 2009

Spending Spiral–special education in Massachusetts

Check it out! MassINC’s Spring 2009 edition is here. Its cover story focuses on special education in Massachusetts–particularly its high cost (approaching $2 billion a year) and effect—“but there is little evidence that the state’s huge investment is paying off as hoped.” The article is found at:

http://www.massinc.org/index.php?id=732&pub_id=2452

It raises many challenging questions… as it follows the state over the past 10 years, when Massachusetts abandoned its “maximum feasible benefit” standard and moved to the (presumably, lower) federal FAPE standard–providing a free appropriate public education for students with disabilities. In spite of the fact that the change in law was expected to cut the numbers of students eligible for special education and reduce costs, and “prevent the spiraling costs of special education entitlements from derailing the state’s education reform effort,” this report highlights the fact that these goals are unmet.

Since then, the numbers of students receiving special education services has risen. Costs continue to rise, taking funds away from other programs. For example, in Boston, while schools cut budgets across the state, special education funds “escaped virtually unscathed.” One superintendent asked, “How do you set up a class of human beings who are entitled to an education [while] everyone else gets what’s left over?”

The article speaks about private school tuition costs (about a quarter of the state’s special education spending), transportation costs, disparities between communities, and other costs and asks the question: are we better off now than then? That is, have we succeeded in educating children with disabilities, are they passing the state’s graduation requirements, including the test, the MCAS, are gaps narrowing betweeen special and regular education students, are gaps between wealthy and poorer communities narrowing? Etc. The article concludes that our efforts are not paying off as hoped or planned.

A thought-provoking read. Your thoughts?

Post by Miriam Kurtzig Freedman, M.A., J.D. | No Comments

April 20th, 2009

NAEP Update!

I am honored to let you know that I have been appointed as a member of the NAGB (National Assessment Governing Board) Expert Panel on Uniform Rules for Testing Students with Disabilities (SD) on the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress). This test is often called ‘the nation’s report card.’ It’s supposed to be the common yard stick for measuring our nation’s students. The NAEP is a voluntary, representative test–given across the country at the 4th and 8th grade levels. Over the years, issues have arisen about HOW the test is administered to SD and to English language learners (ELL). These issues involve the exclusion of such students and the inconsistent use of accommodations on the test.

The Expert Panel is supposed to provide recommendations to the NAGB so that, in the future, the test can be given under uniform rules.

The work of this Panel is supposed to be completed by this summer. Any ideas? Pass them on to me.

Thank you and wish us luck! Our nation needs the NAEP to be a gold standard of validity and reliability.

Post by Miriam Kurtzig Freedman, M.A., J.D. | No Comments