18 Jun D300 Short of the Mark for Special Ed (IL)

June 18, 2010

By: Emily McFarlan
Source: The Courier-News

Students with special needs in Community Unit School District 300 lag behind the state average in the time they spend in regular classrooms, according to a recent audit by the Illinois State Board of Education.

That means the Carpentersville-based school district now has two years to bring that time spent closer to state standards. If not, it could lose funding in the future, according to Barbara Kelley, the district’s director of pupil personnel services.

"The state is here because we’re below average — 10, 11 points below average. It’s totally unacceptable," District 300 Superintendent Kenneth Arndt said.

"Sometimes, you don’t realize the path you’ve gone down isn’t the right path."

That path for the school district has been a flat line over the past few years, according to data presented by Kelley at this week’s school board meeting. And District 300 consistently has been about 10 points behind the state average.

The percentage of the district’s 3,158 special education students who spent at least 80 percent of their time in a general education setting was 40.2 percent in 2007. Meantime, 50.7 percent of special education students statewide spent that much time in a regular classroom.

In 2008, that number remained the same in the school district, rising slightly to 41.1 in 2009. By last year, the state average was at 52.2 percent.

The state is focused on that indicator because it has "a lot of impact" on the other indicators, said Dawn Camacho, focus monitoring coordinator of the state’s Special Education Services Division.

And, Camacho said, research has shown "the more time they have in a general education setting, the better they perform on state testing."

District 300’s numbers raised concerns for the state’s Special Education Services Division, which audited 13 large unit school districts across the state last school year based on concerns over time spent in a regular classroom, Kelley said.

Federal monitoring

That time is one of 20 indicators the federal Office of Special Education Programs uses to monitor different aspects of special education services, according to David Andel, administrator of the state’s Special Education Services Division. Other indicators include graduation and dropout rates.

The state’s audit of District 300 involved interviews with teachers, administrators and para-educators and an online survey of parents and district staff, Kelley said. In April, state representatives visited three elementary, two middle and two high schools in the district, and held a forum to talk to parents of special education students at Jacobs Hi gh School in Algonquin.

The results of that audit give the school district until June 2012 to bring the percentage of special education students who spend at least 80 percent of their time in regular classrooms up 5 percentage points, to 46 percent.

"Fortunately, we’d already had a lot of discussion about that," Kelley said. "We saw it coming and set our targets closer to 50 percent."

Kelley said she had learned of the impending audit at the same time she took on the job of director of pupil personnel services last fall, and "I think we’ve started to make changes already."

Most of those changes have included updating codes and language in the school district’s Individualized Education Plan Management System for special education students and Infinite Campus, its student information system, she said. The placement levels for students in those old systems meant "concentrating more on labels than on individual student needs."

May seek help

Kelley said she also has met with each principal and created building profiles for each school and reviewed how to fill out state forms with special education facilitators. The state already has approved a Corrective Action Plan team of district administrators, teachers and parents, and that team submitted its plan to the state this week.

That plan may include using federal funds to seek assistance from the Massachusetts-based Urban Special Education Leadership Collaborative. And, she said, "It’s going to be a lot of training."

Professional development has been key to bringing other Illinois school districts into compliance with state standards, according to Camacho.

Kelley said failure to meet those standards could mean losing funding in the future. But Camacho declined to comment on consequences, noting that no school district yet has been sanctioned for noncompliance.

"Our services are very supportive in nature. We work with the school districts to help bring them to compliance," Camacho said.

And Kelley said she has reason to be optimistic for District 300: "People are doing a good job. They love their jobs. It’s just time for a change."

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