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Change in Federal Monitoring of States’ Special Education Programs

The U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan announced this week that the U.S. Department of Education, through the Office of Special Education Programs (“OSEP”), is changing its oversight/monitoring criteria for state special education performance.  The U.S. Department of Education is responsible for $11.5 billion dollars in annual funding to the states to pay for special education services.  As part of that funding, the U.S. Department of Education monitors state performance.  Previously, the monitoring, called “accountability framework,” was based on “compliance data,” such as whether children were evaluated in a timely manner.

Under the new accountability framework, OSEP will look at both compliance data and performance outcomes/results.  It is based on a matrix which weighs several factors, including performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (“NAEP”), which is a standardized test the federal government administers to a sample of students every two years.  States are placed in four categories for this purpose: (1) meets requirements; (2) needs assistance; (3) needs intervention; or (4) needs substantial intervention.  Under the old accountability framework, California was listed as “meets requirements.”  Under the new accountability framework, however, California is listed as the second to worst category, “needs intervention (one year).”  (With regard to students aged birth through two years, California has been at the “substantial intervention” level for four years, even under the old accountability framework.)  In fact, under the old standards, 41 states were classified as “meets requirements.”   Under the new standards, only 18 are classified as “meets requirements.”

According to the U.S. Department of Education, “If a State “needs intervention” for three consecutive years, the Department must take one or more enforcement actions, including among others, requiring a corrective action plan or compliance agreement, or withholding further payments to the State.”

This new focus on “results” is part of a general trend in which the U.S. Department of Education has focused on test scores.  California’s status as “needs intervention” is something that will be addressed, initially, at the State level by the California Department of Education.  On June 23, 2014, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services sent a letter to Tom Torlakson, notifying him of California’s status as “needs intervention.”  School districts can assume that this will trickle down to them as the State attempts to meet the federal compliance standards.

Specific information about the accountability framework and the matrix utilized by OSEP can be found here: http://www2.ed.gov/fund/data/report/idea/sppapr.html

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