Special services review highlights district’s strengths and weaknesses
In February, the Board of Education approved a comprehensive review of the district’s special education services by the consultant group District Management Council (DMC).
Ann Paul, assistant superintendent of special services, told the board in December, “Their goal, as they shared it, is not to produce a report, but to produce real improvements for students and bring about meaningful, measurable and sustainable change.”
The results of DMC’s Special Education and Struggling Students Opportunities Review were presented at the board’s June 25 meeting.
According to DMC’s report, its review “highlights many of the strengths in the district” and also focuses “equally on the academic achievement of students and on the cost of effective use of limited financial resources.”
DMC’s research included:
- Extensive in-person interviews.
- Online survey for parents, principals and staff.
- A deep look at hard data.
- Classroom visits.
- Bench-marking against best practices and like communities.
- An analysis of weekly schedules shared by all support and special services staff for the week of April 26.
Rather than trying to “determine what is good or bad,” according to the report, the review is designed to “create a road map to help move a district to the next level of performance.”
The study cost the district $200,000, which the board approved during its Feb. 5 meeting.
In its final report for Wilton Public Schools, DMC recognized that the district’s special education students have “historically under-performed their general education peers.”
Using results from the Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT), which was replaced by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) in 2013-14, the report noted the following findings:
- Achievement gaps between general education and special education in third grade reading and math persist but have narrowed since 2010.
- Achievement gaps between general education and special education in eighth grade reading and math have remained relatively constant since 2010 and is much larger in math than in reading.
- The district had higher reading performance for special education students than similar districts in 2013.
DMC reported that the district “has much to be proud of and many strengths that create a strong foundation for continuous improvement,” citing that:
- It is committed to providing an inclusive education for students with disabilities.
- Its staff deeply cares about all students.
- Its leadership is committed to raising student achievement through the implementation of new scientific research-based interventions (SRBI) practices and a review of current supports for struggling students.
- It is committed to the social and emotional needs of students.
- It has taken an inclusive approach to reviewing the supports for struggling students.
When it comes to providing an inclusive education for students with disabilities, DMC reported that:
- 97% of PPT staff indicated inclusion is beneficial for most students with mild to moderate disabilities.
- 85% of parents of students with individualized education plans (IEPs) indicated their students were welcomed into the school community.
As part of its final report, DMC recommended the following “high-impact actions” for the district to take to improve supports for its struggling students, raise student achievement and “cost-effectively use limited resources:”
- Consider adopting a consistent, best-practice approach to teaching reading to struggling students without IEPs and with mild to moderate disabilities in grades K-5.
- Ensure the fidelity of the implementation of the SRBI practices already developed by the district.
- Consider strengthening and expanding supports for students who struggle to read and comprehend at the secondary level.
- Consider more tightly integrating social, emotional and behavioral services into the programs at each school.
- Consider increasing the amount of time related services staff spend with students, while also closely managing group size through thoughtful scheduling.
- Consider streamlining the paperwork and meetings for special services staff.
In February, Superintendent Kevin Smith noted that in its proposal, DMC said if the recommendations yielded from its study are implemented, it will not only “raise student achievement,” but also “provide the district an annual savings of two times the cost of the study.”