Feds unveil surprising results of revamped special education evaluation system

The Department of Education released the results of its revised annual special education evaluation system on June 24. The evaluation is the first which required states to demonstrate the substantive impacts of their special education programs, as opposed to just their procedural compliance.

Graphic of the USA with states colored green yellow or red, depending on their IDEA results
Results Driven Accountability. Link to DOE website is at the end of this article.

The new data represents a significantly less rosy picture of states’ compliance with the requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

In 2013, the DOE categorized 41 states and territories as “meets requirements,” the highest of the four categories under the IDEA.

Under the new criteria, the DOE categorized just 18 states and territories in this category, while 36 states and territories fell short of this standard.

Texas, Delaware, Washington D.C., California, the Virgin Islands and the Bureau of Indian Education were ranked as “needs intervention.”

“Every child, regardless of income, race, background, or disability can succeed if provided the opportunity to learn,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a news release. “We know that when students with disabilities are held to high expectations and have access to the general curriculum in the regular classroom, they excel. We must be honest about student performance, so that we can give all students the supports and services they need to succeed.”

In grading state compliance with federal special education law, the DOE has traditionally focused on procedural requirements, such as timely evaluations, documentation requirements and transition services.

Under the new system, known as Results Driven Accountability, states must now report  students with disabilities’ results on state tests, as well as their performance in reading and math on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), according to the news release.

In addition, states must also report on the proficiency gaps between students with and without disabilities.

“Less than 10 percent of our nation’s eighth graders with (Individualized Education Plans) are scoring proficient in reading, according to the best available data. We can and must do better,” said Michael Yudin, acting assistant secretary for the DOE’s Office of Special education and Rehabilitative Services, in the news release. “RDA is about using the accountability framework to provide states with incentives and support to implement evidence-based strategies to improve results and outcomes for students with disabilities.”

As part of the initiative, the DOE will also put $50 million into a new technical assistance center, called the Center on Systemic Improvement, to help improve student outcomes.

“The approach the department has taken is a step in the right direction,” Kim Hymes, senior director of policy for the Council for Exceptional Children, told Education Week. “But we want to make sure we do something really useful with the information that was released today, and that it serves as a trigger to look deeper into the data.”

More information on the Results Driven Accountability system is available on the DOE website.