The American Institutes for Research prepared a report for the Office of the State Superintendent of Education that evaluated special education in D.C.’s public schools. This appendix reproduces the recommendations from that report. The report covers both District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) and the public charter schools, referred to here as local education agencies, or LEAs.
The text is taken from American Institutes for Research (2013).
- All LEAs and public schools should be required to participate in system-wide reform efforts related to special education, including system-wide studies. The large numbers of charter LEAs that declined to participate in this study not only impacted the representativeness of our findings, but also reflects the challenges of implementing system-wide reform efforts in the District. If each LEA—of which there are more than 50 in the District—is allowed to opt out and manage its special education programs completely independent of other LEAs, it will result in a fractured, ineffective approach to improving programs and outcomes. We understand that the law allows charter LEA autonomy, but coordination across the system needs to improve for reform to occur.
- Given the high student mobility within the District, OSSE [Office of the State Superintendent of Education] should consider developing a special education consortium of DCPS, PCSB [Public Charter School Board], charter LEAs, and non-public schools to articulate
alignment of standards and curricula for SWDs [students with disabilities] within and across LEAs and schools. This is intended to facilitate smooth transitions and continuity of programs for SWDs moving across and within school systems.
- OSSE, DCPS, and charter LEAs should provide more supports around academic standards used in DCPS and charter schools, including appropriate curriculum, materials, and professional development as they relate to instruction of SWDs. The alignment of standards described in the second recommendation above will help improve the impact and efficiency of such supports.
- OSSE, in concert with DCPS, PCSB, and charter LEAs, should develop a Master Plan for implementing site-based, ongoing professional development that will address the provision of appropriate academic instruction and behavioral supports for SWDs. Training topics should focus on effective differentiated instruction, literacy strategies for non-proficient students, and strategies for effective co-teaching and collaboration. The plan should delineate how professional development opportunities will include—and address the specific needs of—general education teachers, special education teachers, administrators, and other school staff, as appropriate. This plan should integrate site-based coaching and mentoring specifically related to instructing SWDs, with a particular emphasis on supports for new teachers and teachers new to teaching SWDs. OSSE, DCPS, and charter LEAs should provide supports to schools to implement the Master Plan. Because the existing District-wide professional development may not be accessible to many staff members across DCPS and charter schools, it is critical to have targeted, school-based training that aligns with the needs of staff in the school and allows staff to receive ongoing face-to-face, interactive experiences rather than relying extensively on one-time professional development sessions provided to a limited number of individuals or provided through online options.
- OSSE, in conjunction with DCPS and the charter LEAs, should provide a clear definition of and expectations for the inclusion model being implemented across DC schools. To facilitate successful implementation, OSSE, DCPS, and the charter LEAs should offer supports for needed training, staffing, and resources to implement an inclusive philosophy that addresses the needs of SWDs in the least restrictive environment. This training should include a focus on the co-teaching model, as well as how to develop IEPs in
a manner that facilitates a successful inclusion model that is appropriate for that student.
- OSSE, DCPS, PCSB, and charter LEAs should expect all schools to have in place a school-wide behavior plan that is consistently implemented and reinforced across the school. OSSE, DCPS, and charter LEAs should provide supports, such as training and behavior specialists, as needed and requested, and conduct monitoring to ensure consistent and ongoing implementation of school-wide behavior management.
- OSSE, in conjunction with DCPS and charter LEAs, should provide mentoring and coaching for future and new principals that has an explicit focus on special education issues. We recommend that such ongoing coaching and mentoring be provided by principals with expertise in special education and those who have been successful in implementing quality special education programs in their schools. These “expert” principals might be identified through nominations from existing principal organizations within the District and from special education program staff in schools.
- OSSE and DCPS should proactively consider the unique needs of public special education schools when planning, developing, and implementing supports and policies. Although the report did not explicitly discuss the staff and student needs at such schools, respondents delivered a powerful message that they were often overlooked in the process. These schools serve an important role in providing a continuum of services, and should be viewed as partners in the implementation of high quality special education programs.
- OSSE should identify schools that are demonstrating exemplary practices in providing quality special education programs to serve as models for other schools. OSSE should establish infrastructure to encourage and facilitate school-to-school learning opportunities so that more schools can benefit from these exemplary practices.
- OSSE should conduct a more in-depth study of the process of student evaluations and development of IEPs [individualized education plans] in the District. Our review of the documentation revealed concerns about the quality and process that merit further examination. OSSE should conduct ongoing review of a sample of student evaluations and IEPs, as was done in this study, to monitor
their quality and appropriateness and to tailor technical assistance and professional development to improve areas of concern.
- OSSE, in conjunction with the other system-wide entities, should institute mechanisms to meaningfully seek input from schools during the decision-making process and to improve communication across the District. This may be accomplished through site visits and on-site focus groups, which will also give system staff an opportunity to not only learn first-hand about the schools but will also help raise OSSE’s profile.
- OSSE, DCPS, PCSB, and charter LEAs should reinforce the importance of family engagement by establishing expectations that all schools will have parent handbooks, parent resource centers, and a designated, trained parent coordinator at each site. Because of the inconsistency observed in the study schools, the systems should provide the necessary resources to support family engagement, and set an expectation that the schools should tailor their efforts for families of SWDs (e.g., ensure that parent resource centers include information for families of SWDs).