Thursday, June 17, 2010

DeKalb has fallen down for special education students

According to information sent to the blog, it appears that DeKalb County school system is not doing a good job of providing the legally required "adequate" education for special education students. This is extremely important because much of this funding comes from the federal government and special education services are protected by the IDEA Act.

Special Education services in DCSS cost approximately $90,000,000 a year, nearly 10% of the entire budget. DCSS employs 1,369 Special Education teachers (almost 20% of our total teachers versus 87 Gifted teachers). Per Ms. Tyson’s cost per teacher of $65,000, this would equal $88,985,000 in salaries and benefits spent for Special Education teachers alone.

The state of Georgia has put DCSS under Focused Monitoring with respect to mathematics for our students receiving Special Education Services.

According to a Georgia Department of Education (DOE) study conducted at the end of 2008, DeKalb County services for Special Education students with respect to mathematics are not in compliance in a number of areas, and we may be subject to sanctions from the DOE if we do not show the necessary improvement.

Much of the findings have to do with Assistive Technology. Does the DCSS Information Systems group have a plan to provide these students with the assistive technology they need? DCSS taxpayers spend $19,000,000 in annual personnel costs for our MIS group, millions more for Dell to install and maintain the computers and Activboards, and even millions more for eSis and SchoolNet, integrated systems that are supposed to give teachers the information that will allow them to individualize instruction.

Another area of concern was the Student Support Team process. Educators involved in SST didn’t seem to understand the process.

Individualization for Special Education students was found lacking. For example, flexible grouping and materials organized in advance for students with special needs were weak areas.

Finally, training was seen as a weak area. 35% of all professionals were not familiar with the Special Education manual and 60.8% of paraprofessionals said that they need more training to assist them with accommodations/instructional adaptations.

How can we spend so much while our Special Education students receive so little?

"Summary of On-Site Findings:
The monitoring team found noncompliance in the following area(s):

  • Some students with disabilities are not receiving a free and appropriate public education (FAPE).
  • Some student referrals are not preceded by evidenced based academic and/or behavioral interventions.
  • Some students with disabilities do not have appropriate Transition Services in place to facilitate the student's movement from school to post-secondary services

Required Evidence of Improvement:
The system's 2011 assessment data must meet the annual measurable objective of 75.70% proficiency in mathematics by making AYP for the students with disabilities subgroup. Systems that fail to meet the target and fail to meet compliance criteria within one year may be subject to sanctions from the GaDOE
A review of the data shows that when DeKalb County School System is compared with the 12 other systems in the same size group, the percent of students with disabilities meeting standards in mathematics is below State Target. A review of previous years’ data also shows that the percentage of students with disabilities meeting standards in mathematics was below State Target.”


Many thanks to "DeKalb Parent" for this blog post.


For more info:

Direct link to the GA DOE report;

Wikipedia has a pretty good overview of IDEA.

The Office of Special Education Programs offers an informative parent and teacher tool kit on teaching and assessing students with disabilities. Click here for the link.


Anonymous said...

I teach High School math. At our school, special-ed (resource) teachers are famous for being late to class, leaving class to handle business that should be taken care of during a planning period, working on personal interests(advance degree assignments, texting,etc.) in class while the content teacher teaches.

The resource teachers excuse themselves from being completely involved in the classroom because they DON'T KNOW the MATH. They work as though they are highly paid paraprofessionals, doing nothing more than clerical work (content teachers have to make the answer keys so that resource teachers can grade papers)and occasionally helping with classroom management.

Special-ed students are not served by teachers who don't know content and refuse to use their professional abilities to assist the students who need it the most.

These students often "act out" to mask their academic difficulties. Yet, the school system continually promotes them through to high school. By the time they get to high school, they are under prepared and overwhelmed by the level of math instruction....... contributing to high failure rates, inflated grades, and frustration.

Disciplinary rules are different for special-ed students, too. The students seem to know this which is why they seem comfortable regularly "cursing out" teachers and being given minimal punishment.

What are we doing in DCSS?


Anonymous said...

High School Teacher, your experience sounds similar to my experience in the elementary school. The special=ed teacher was never on time, if he even showed up to class, wanted my lesson plans, but refused to make modifications for the students, and continued to make excuses for the children because they were not performing.

Part of the problem is that we are told in the elementary school that we are not able to give a special ed child a failing grade, even when he does failing work with modifications and puts forth no effort and completes no work. The lowest grade that I am able to give a child is a 71.

When will DCSS begin to make ALL students, teachers, administrators, school board members, and parents accountable? Giving grades to children is not helping them in any way. We are setting these kids up for failure in the years ahead. Will DCSS be sued for this in the years ahead, too?

Teacher said...

Many of my fellow teachers seem to have an "attitude" toward disabled students, especially if the disability is invisible, as in a kid with ADHD or a learning disability (LD). Far too often, I hear colleagues saying "he's just not trying" or "Oh, he just wants attention." They seem to not understand how hard it is to keep trying when you can't succeed, and how much a child used to seeing angry faces might, in fact, want attention.

Check out to learn more about how an IEP (individualized Educational Program) is put together. The process should involve teachers, administrators, lead teachers, parents if desired, and input from outside professionals.

As Anon 8:55 says, many helpers are not doing their jobs. Often, they sit at the side of the room, maybe working on their email, and don't interact with their designated students at all. In evaluating this, though, you need to distinguish between Special Ed teachers and paraprofessionals, who have very different levels of training. Classroom teachers need to understand how to include these helpers in the most effective way.

But this kind of thing, just like classroom the teacher who doesn't know the subject, should be rectified by the principal. It's a top-down thing, to "do" Special Ed the right way in a school. It is certainly not the student's fault, nor is it the fault of IDEA, which seeks fairness for kids who can't keep up with normal levels of instruction.

But there's another concern--how does the inclusion of students with IEPs impact on teaching the non-disabled kids? The one consistent thing that students with IEPs need is more teacher time and attention--whether it's to arrange seating for a child in a wheelchair, monitor a kid with Tourette's more closely, or just to repeat material so an LD student can get it. The push for inclusion, rather than "self-contained" (separate)classrooms means that non-disabled kids are at risk of not getting enough attention. In some classrooms there are 5 or 6 students with IEPS, on top of 25 kids without IEPs. Some of the IEPs are for behavioral disorders, which are really disruptive.

Allowing this imbalance without providing the needed paraprofessionals and support staff, is just another way that DCSS is letting families and teachers down. If you have to spend 10 minutes getting the SmartBoard to work--which is a universal timesink by now--the IEP and non-IEP students alike will suffer.


Anonymous said...

to Teacher @ 9:49

I suppose I should take offense at the use of the term "helper" to describe both paraprofessionals and resource teachers. They should not be regarded as the same.

Resource teachers are TEACHERS. Many of them fail to realize this on their own and perform to a much lesser standard than degrees and certifications suggest.

I don't know that the principals can do much to remedy this dilemma especially when there is a SHORTAGE of resource teachers ---- in particular MATH experience. Content area teachers consistently ask NOT to teach an inclusion class; not because of the students, but because of the resource teacher...... perceived as dead weight.

Teacher said...

We are all helpers. We are helping students learn. We are helping each other. Unless one thinks that paras, Resource teachers, and the classroom teacher all have the same level of responsibility for all 28 students, then the paras and resource staff are, indeed,helping the content teacher (who by the way, isn't just teaching content--s/he should be teaching skills and modeling a learning atmosphere, as well). But hopefully, the content teacher helps back, as well, enabling the paras and resource teachers to realize their goals.

The principal sets the tone for the whole building. If the norm is "it's OK to sit at the side of the class and do your nails", then that's what will happen. If the norm is "I expect to see everyone engaged with students during class time", then there's a good chance that nails will go untended. And, if principals don't help staff improve their knowledge of the subject they teach and their level of comfort teaching it, then the principal is at fault. Teachers listen to principals, and principals have a big role to play in establishing the school "culture".

Anonymous said...

The box under the article says "o comments", even though there are some. Not sure why this is but that might keep people from opening and reading the comments. Can this be fixed? Could it be because it is an "o" as in letter "o" and not a "0" as in zero? Thank you!

Cerebration said...

That's over my head, Anon, sorry. I have no idea how to fix that...

Anonymous said...

This has been occurring for a while on a number of other posts. I think since the new look. It's probably a software glitch in the blog software.

Anonymous said...

"The principal sets the tone for the whole building. ... Teachers listen to principals, and principals have a big role to play in establishing the school "culture"."

Oh my gosh, truer words were never spoken, Teacher Said 2:52.

What a big responsibility to get it right, to be willing to listen rather than be a know it all, to improve morale, to show appreciation, to not be a dictator but a team player, to encourage others to speak up, to support his/her staff above all else, to not buckle under County pressure. Now that's a good leader.

Principals, are you listening? Congratulations to all who fall in this category! The schools and teachers need your support. Thanks for being there for us. We always know we can count on you to keep your word and to have our backs. We appreciate you!

Anonymous said...

DCSS underwent some intense scrutiny (maybe an audit or some fed scrutiny) regarding its provision of Special Services to students. We regular ed teachers received some emergency professional development sessions regarding the county's services earlier this last academic year.

I've been so overwhelmed with schoolhouse issues since then, I don't even remember the specific problem the county was having or even the subject of the prof development session. Maybe someone else here can enlighten us on this.

Anonymous said...

Anon 5:73 again: I believe the professional development sessions were on the SST process.

Anonymous said...

To teacher @ 2:52

ok, I get it we are all helpers, all part of the circle of life that we call education.

But let's be real: A parent volunteer is a helper. A paraprofessional has limited responsibilities but works alongside the professional to facilitate instruction(no disrespect to parent volunteers or paras).

A resource teacher is a certified, degreed, trained, paid as much as I am, responsible PROFESSIONAL EDUCATOR who shouldn't need to be "enabled" to realize their goals. Their goals should be the same as mine---- to educate every child that walks through the door to best of my ability,in spite of their disability.

I know that this goal entails so much more than providing content related instruction comensurate with the county pacing guide.(...Again , I teach High School Mathematics.) However, this task of teaching becomes frustrating when you as a content teacher must manage the 25 "regular" students plus up to 7 "resource" students plus 1 resource teacher who may or may not be willing to put forth 100% effort in enabling the STUDENTS to realize their own goals.

..... at what expense do we keep sanctioning this in DCSS without really addressing the needs of these students ...(including smaller classrooms, content competent resource teachers, revised/restructured curricula along with up-to-date technology, and putting an end to what seems to be an automatic pass for these and other students that are consistently recognized as underprepared when they enter high school).


Anonymous said...

Maybe my situation is unusual. I have been a special education teacher for twenty years. It has been my experience that too many of my general education counterparts do not know the content well enough to teach with the depth of knowledge required by the GPS. Many of my GE colleagues assume that I come to provide them with a "break". I must make clear that I am in the room to serve children, all children. Moreover, I expect to work collaboratively to that end. Because I travel from room, I have had the opportunity to work with many general education teachers and I can aassure you that the ability of general education teachers should not be taken for granted. Nor should one assume that all special education teachers are less qualified, dedicated and capable. In fact, it is commonly understood that the most qualified teachers are needed for the students at-risk for failure.

Anonymous said...

Frankly, I'm shocked that this didn't occur sooner. It's long been common knowledge that parents of special education students in DeKalb County are their children's "IEP Enforcers." I have a friend who had two children with IEPs--both very bright but learning disabled--who spent a LOT of time from the beginning of the process until the family moved making sure her kids were getting the services they needed. And I mean the beginning of the process---the STT process takes FOREVER in DeKalb County and I've heard this happens in many other Georgia schools.

My sister teaches special ed (using assistive technologies with autistic children) in Massachusetts--a state that funds education at the proper levels. That said, she still has many obstacles to overcome in order to provide her students with the services they need.

Anonymous said...

Is NO ONE concerned that Mor(of-the-same; will-this-never)cease Beasley, the interim DCSS superintendent -- handpicked by our crack (or, possibly on crack) BOE is using his position in his e-mail address to get more questionable sideline business?

Anonymous said...

Sorry - I posted this to the wrong artcle:

We really need to be getting a lot from our Special Ed teachers. After all, they are pushing DCSS class sizes up by about 8 students per classroom. In other words, every classroom of 32 could be a classroom of 24.

DCSS has approximately 4,000 content and grade level teachers (out of 15,000+ employees).

We have 1,369 Special Ed teachers. If each one of those teachers were available to teach a regular education class of 24 students, this equals 32,856 regular ed students served or 32,856/4,000 teachers = 8 students more for each regular ed teacher.

I'm not saying do away with special education. I'm just saying that if you ask regular ed teachers to have 32 every period in their classrooms rather than 24 those special ed teachers need to be doing something extraordinary for these students.

A special education student in a classroom of 24 has a very different experience than a special education student in a classroom of 32.

Anonymous said...

I am a Special Ed teacher. For two summers in a row myself a general ed teacher and two administrators on staff were required to attend training on inclusion, with special sessions on modifying for math.

In EVERY training I have attended and in every current textbook the best practice for inclusion is TWO teach, not one teach/one assist. Both gen ed and sp ed teachers are supposed to plan together and teach together. This was redelivered to our school as a brief staff training that was kind of "well we have to do this." No one in our building truly co-teaches and I suspect that's how the whole county operates because, despite warnings that we were in violation of Federal law, the only step taken was to offer a class. There was no follow up or monitoring and the teachers (or administrators)probably did not get support to implement.

I have also seen resource teachers burnt out by having 23 kids on a caseload (take data, attend meetings, move around bldg, make lesson plans...)

My other thought is that it is such a double edged sword. The SST process is so long and involved that teachers don't even want to put kids in it to get them qualified for services. In early elementary I suspect many teachers just "put up" with a child's disability and try and make it through the year. Only the most severe kids will get referred. Because to ensure FAPE you have to jump through many, many levels of documented hoops just to get them in...All the while teaching the rest of the kids...The county needs to support teachers, not take away resources, so they can follow the law.

Anonymous said...

My experience as a former high school teacher:

1. Most special education teachers are just awesome people, and awesome teachers, as are most teachers. The dirty secret is that there are bad teachers, and the system to weed them out isn't good. As we saw by this round of layoffs, the systems couldn't even use that to their advantage to weed out some of the weaker ones.

2. Some para-pros are just down right awesome...some are just awful, and there's a few in between. But the one thing I saw was that the co-teaching/co-planning - rarely happens. And that lays at the feet of administrators who just don't get it. The resources aren't there - especially time. No common planning - means no planning - leads to no co-teaching.

SST - a lot of teachers give it lip service, but it really can be and should be the team that works together for the child. The parents shouldn't have to fight to find out what the options are for their child, that should come from the special ed teacher, and the other members. And then the teachers should carry it out like it's the letter of the law - because it is.

Anonymous said...

As a parent of a child whose SST accommodates a medical disability, I have to say "exactly" to Anon 12:32. My son has had a 504 and IEP since 6th grade and each year of high school we have to BEG teachers to accept his accommodations. They "forget" about the extended testing time when he's sick, they tell me he doesn't look sick (he has an incurable disease that sometimes goes into remission), they refuse to answer his questions (so I have to "helicopter"), they don't bother to read his paperwork (handed in person to them by the special ed liaison). We have met some wonderful, gifted, well organized special ed coordinators and teachers at the middle school level. But that has most definitely been the exception at the high school level. His case manager is warm, caring, and knowledgeable. Most of the teachers . . . not so much.

Anonymous said...

ANON 12:37, from school police officers to paras and everything in between, seniority is everything when determining who to keep and who to lay off. Seeing this firsthand, how well they do their jobs doesn't seem to matter. Last one in is always the first one out. I think DCSS HR, or whoever does the laying off, would actually confirm this.

Anonymous said...

Do any regular ed teachers have ideas as to how we could get our Special Education program to be more productive? Obviously, the 2 Special Education Directors (combined over $285,000 in salary and benefits) are not able to do this.

Anonymous said...

I have posted several comments previously regarding the role of paraprofessionals and classroom instruction. My last comment wasn't published...wonder if it was because of the lack of respect paraprofessionals get. But as an reminder, the crisis in special ed has many variables.
One is the lack of full funding, training, and professional development made available to certified and classified staff. As an example paras were required to attend during last year's pre-planning a session at Shamrock MS about inclusion. It was awful and for the most part a waste of time. Then a few months later we sat through the same session in our bldg with different presenters and it was even worse.
Staff development and training seems to be an after thought. When provided it is usually canned and presenters are unfamiliar with the topic and lack effective skills themselves. So taking away our professional development days may have little impact.
Wake up people. Paraprofessionals and other classified staff play a trmendous role in the classroom. In some cases the para's represent a substantial part of a student's learning experience. Especially in special ed.
Many para's are highly trained and motivated and should stop being under-appreciated and under-valued.

Ella Smith said...

I am a firm believer in having highly qualified teachers in the classroom who understand about all learners and their diversity. I also do believe in having paras shadow special needs students in regular education classes verses team teachingn in many instances. It is important that the para is trained in understanding about 504 accommodations and that can work well with a qualified teacher. However, a good para can do an excellent job in shadowing special needs students and the amount of money saved in unbelievable.

I think we need to look at what we are doing and evaluate what is working and see what we can improve on and save money when money is so tight.

As an individual who is disabled and an individual who has been a special education advocate for years I know exactly what these teachers are talking about. I also have seen the same thing and I also believe things need to change.

Anonymous said...

I am a para in a special ed setting and have worked in the elementary and middle school programs. I have witnessed inclusion classes and resource classes and the lack of planning between special ed and general ed is a problem. I have yet to see a great team doing an excellent job.

One problem with inclusion is that typically they are lumped in with the level 1 students who are also at risk. The problems with behavior and teaching in a classroom like this is nerve racking. I believe special ed students should be put in an inclusion setting with a level 2 class. Some teachers do not modify classwork for students as stated in their IEPS and this goes for our ESOL students, too.

I blame LTSE's (lead teachers of special ed) of not coming in to observe and make recommendations. I also know therr is not adequate training for the general ed teachers on how to do collaborative teaching. Also as a para, it is generally up to me to take the reins to train myself on subject material to help my students or asked to be part of the planning period.

It is sad to say that in middle school I saw students who could not read or know their multiplication tables or division. The basis of everything. We need to do a better job as a county of making sure basics are mastered before sending any student forward. It is a crime and saddens me when I see this and this frustration by students also causes behavior problems.

I agree that for teachers last in, first out needs to stop. Maybe if we did, the ones on the borderline would bring up their game.

Cerebration said...

Good news from the state that will effect special education students

Georgia school board adopts ban on seclusion

y Associated Press
For the AJC

ATLANTA — Georgia schools are no longer allowed to put students in solitary confinement under a ban approved by the state Board of Education.

The ban, voted this morning, also limits the use of restraint to calm misbehaving students in the classroom. And for the first time, it requires schools to notify parents when their children are restrained by teachers and other school officials.

The new rule marks the first time the state has addressed the controversial practices, which can lead to injuries in teachers and students and, in some cases, death.

The state has been working for two years to draft policy on the disciplinary tactics.