Date: 09/15/2009

CDE Presentation - Special Education


Votes: View--> Action Taken:

09:15 AM -- CDE Presentation - Special Education

Dr. Ed Steinberg, Assistant Commissioner for Special Education at the Colorado Department of Education (CDE), provided committee members with a packet of information pertaining to Response to Intervention (RtI) (Attachment A) and reviewed its contents. He introduced Charm Paulmeno, also of the CDE.


09:19 AM

Dr. Steinberg explained that RtI is an early intervention model for students who are at-risk for academic and behavior failure, and that it is used within the special education and general education curriculum. He explained that RtI began as a special education initiative that focused on learning disability identification, and was an effort to move away from the "wait to fail" model which had governed special education policy. The "wait to fail" model was based on waiting until a student was far behind in academic achievement before intervening.

09:23 AM

Dr. Steinberg noted that developing reading skills is the primary educational achievement barrier for special education students. He further noted that close to 40 percent of students in Colorado have a specific learning disability and 26 percent have a speech or language disability. He discussed that boys are in special education at a 2:1 ratio to girls. He explained the controversy in the field on whether students are properly classified as special education or if there is an issue with the delivery of reading education.

09:26 AM

Representative Middleton asked Dr. Steinberg to clarify the deficiency he identified in reading education. Dr. Steinberg replied that there is a science, not a philosophy, to teaching reading. He explained that both phonics and whole language instruction are imperative components to reading education, but that the field has strayed away from the science and more toward a philosophy of teaching reading. He noted that his concern with this is the effect it has on high-needs populations and whether higher education is teaching teachers how to effectively deliver reading education.

09:28 AM

Dr. Steinberg continued his presentation on RtI, noting that he would focus on the special education aspects of the model. He discussed how RtI is implemented in schools, explaining that a school has a problem-solving team, which includes the parent and educators, and is tasked with understanding why the student is not achieving in school. He further explained that the team tries different interventions to see what might be the effective solution to improve the student's success. He noted that another task of the team is to identify potential disabilities.

09:32 AM

Representative Merrifield asked if every student is evaluated in the RtI model. Dr. Steinberg responded that not every child is evaluated, based on the assumption that most students will achieve at grade level, and that it is appropriate for students who show signs of being at-risk for academic and behavior failure to be evaluated. He noted the difference between being screened and evaluated. Representative Merrifield asked if the model includes evaluation of high-achieving students. Dr. Steinberg replied that these students are also evaluated because children who are not challenged are also at-risk to fail.

09:35 AM

Representative Scanlan explained that Summit County uses a program called Response to Instruction for every student, and said there are best practices that can be translated district-wide to all students. Senator Hudak asked how the RtI program is funded since it is not directly tied to special education dollars. Dr. Steinberg responded to Representative Scanlan's comments and explained that he would address Senator Hudak's funding question in a moment. Representative Merrifield sought clarification regarding the RtI model, specifically raising concerns about the lack of evaluation of every student. Dr. Steinberg responded to his concerns, noting that a full-blown evaluation is not necessary for every student. He explained that there is a continuum of diagnostics that can be used to assess students.

09:41 AM

Representative Middleton also addressed some of the concerns presented by committee members regarding student evaluation and current district programs. She explained that currently there is insufficient funding for such programs and she would like the committee to discuss how this may be incorporated into the school finance act funding. Representative Stephens asked about the funding structure and whether parents are asked to cover costs for program participation since it is outside of the special education program. Dr. Steinberg responded that the crux of the issue is that RtI is no longer used solely for special education students, which has muddied the funding structure. He noted that he is not aware of any school districts that assess fees on parents in order to participate in RtI. Representative Massey shared that discussion is occurring around early childhood education, specifically regarding early assessments as a tool to identify student needs at a young age. Dr. Steinberg explained that he agrees that there should be evaluation of students, but should be done to varying degrees.

09:47 AM

Representative Scanlan noted that, from her experience in Summit County, she has seen the school culture change to a student-centered model when an RtI program is implemented. She discussed that in Summit County, the RtI program is used in every grade, including throughout high school. She further stated that she believes the school district will realize savings over time due to the implementation of the program. Dr. Steinberg concurred with Representative Scanlan's comments, and noted that using RtI in high school is ground breaking and a culture change. Senator King asked which disabilities might be eliminated with the implementation of the RtI program. Dr. Steinberg explained that he believed the reduction would occur in the disabilities with the highest incidence, that being specific learning disability and speech or language disability. Senator King asked if the RtI model is successful, would the state be able to shift more money to the highest need special education students. Ms. Paulmeno responded to the question, and explained that while the department would not recommend a decrease in the lower tier, it would free up more money for all children. Representative Middleton clarified that there is a memorandum in the packet (see Attachment A) that provides an explanation of the impact of RtI on state special education funding.

09:54 AM

Dr. Steinberg responded to Senator Romer's comments regarding Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), specifically noting that RtI is designed to sort out which students truly have ADHD, instead of misdiagnosing students as ADHD who are just restless and distracted. Dr. Steinberg continued his presentation, discussing special education funding. Senator Hudak asked if school districts may use Title I funding. Dr. Steinberg responded that there has been some loosening of funding restrictions at the federal level, but that, on the whole, Title I funding may not be used for RtI. Senator King asked how stimulus funding may be used for special education. Ms. Paulmeno responded that the stimulus funding provides a unique opportunity for administrative units to apply the funding to early interventions. She noted, however, that there are certain restrictions on the funding regarding the maintenance of effort. A discussion ensued on the topic of how stimulus funding may be used in school districts.

10:02 AM

Representative Stephens stated that in the school district she represents, the incidence of autism has increased 150 percent, so the funding need for Tier B students has risen as well. She asked if there is a benefit to identifying these children earlier as a cost savings measure. Dr. Steinberg concluded his remarks by reviewing a memorandum in the packet prepared for Representative Middleton, specifically noting how funding for general education might be used to support RtI. Representative Massey presented concerns regarding the ability of small and rural districts to designate a separate pool of money for RtI due to their limited resources. Dr. Steinberg responded that he agrees with his statement on one level, but also provided an example in Crowley County where the leadership has changed the culture of the school to adapt traditional educator roles. He noted that there are challenges in doing this, but that there are examples of small districts making these changes. Representative Massey responded that some of this could be achieved through the BOCES and asked that he have a list of small school districts that are implementing RtI. Representative Scanlan explained that the biggest issue Summit County faced was finding more time for the teachers. Dr. Steinberg responded to Representative Scanlan's comments on time.

10:10 AM

Senator King sought clarification regarding a bullet point in the memo regarding the expelled/at-risk categorical. Dr. Steinberg clarified that it is currently a competitive grant program. Senator King asked about the continuity of funding for the current program. Dr. Steinberg explained that it is an annual application for the grant funding, but that the application must include a demonstration to build capacity at the district level, so that the district does not remain dependent on grant funding. Representative Middleton explained that a school district may need funding for implementation, but that it may be sustainable past the transition. Representative Middleton also noted that the federal government has not yet recognized RtI as an education model. Senator King asked if there is flexibility with the stimulus funds to create an RtI categorical by enacting state legislation directing that stimulus funds be used for such a purpose. Ms. Paulmeno replied that it is too late to do so. Senator King asked if the Exceptional Children's Education Act (ECEA) program funding can be reduced and put into RtI. Ms. Paulmeno explained that the special education federal funding would be reduced by that amount, so that would not be an option. Representative Middleton addressed Senator King's questions about new funding models by noting that there could be future flexibility with Title IA dollars that could be used to fund such an effort.

10:17 AM

The committee took a brief recess.