21 Jul Chicopee Improves Special Ed Rank (MA)July 21, 2010
By: Jeanette DeForgeSource: The Republican
Changes in the way children with learning disabilities are taught has improved the state’s ranking of the school department’s special education program.
Previously classified as a Level 4, which is one of the lowest rankings in the five-level system, the department recently improved to a Level 2 category, said Debra A. Schneeweis, the special education director.
Those in the level 4 category have a low proficiency index and could be mandated to spend special education money in a specific way.
The percentage of special education students in Chicopee who score proficient on the MCAS is still well below state average. In scores released in the fall of 2009, 51.4 percent ofstudents were proficient in English and 40.7 percent of students were proficient in math. The statewide average shows 67.8 percent of special education students were proficient in English and 56.9 percent were proficient in math.
But Schneeweis said the ranking jumped partly because the city’s special education children showed growth. The previous year, 50.3 percent of local special education students were proficient in English and 39.3 percent were proficient in math.
Having a bett er ranking is an advangate because schools are not required to make changes and the state does not attach any money given for special education, she said.
Currently 17 percent of the about 7,800 students in Chicopee have learning disabilities, which is the same as the state average, Schneeweis said.
One of the biggest problems is it is more expensive to provide services to students who have learning disabilities, especially if they must be sent to private special education schools. The department has been trying to expand the type of classes it offers for students within the public schools.
"Autism is our biggest need. We have some self-contained classrooms," she said.
Some autistic students are also able to learn in a regular classroom with some modifications, Schneeweis said.
School Committee members said they were happy to see the improvements, especially since a state evaluation report from about seven years ago was so critical it called for the entire department to be reorganized.
"The efficiency and effectiveness has been greatly improved. I just am thinking about how we can make it even better," Committee member Michael J. Pise said.
Part of the battle is to ensure state regulations are followed and education plans for each student are updated regularly, Superintendent Richard W. Rege Jr. said.
It is vital to ensure students with special needs are performing at a high level, he said.