Special Education Presentation
COMMITTEE ON JOINT EDUCATION
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07:34 AM -- Special Education Presentation
Katy Neas, representing Easter Seals, shared information about Easter Seals and discussed the federal Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), providing the history of both and how the two laws work together. She discussed the recent reauthorizations of each law, noting that NCLB expired in 2007, but it is unclear when it will be reauthorized, and that the program will continue in its current form through regulation and funding.
Ed Steinberg, representing the Colorado Department of Education (CDE), shared a packet with committee members (Attachment A). He noted that students with disabilities comprise 10.4 percent of total student enrollment in the state. He also reviewed the breakdown of students by disability, including: hearing and vision disabilities, which he noted is low incidence, but high impact; physical; emotional; speech and language; traumatic brain injury; specific learning; autism; and preschool children. He noted that the cutbacks in funding in human services programs has put increased pressure on schools who, even with funding cuts, must provide a free and appropriate education to students.
Dr. Steinberg continued discussing the different student populations with disabilities in Colorado schools. He also noted that sometimes students are misdiagnosed as having a learning disability when the real problem is not providing the students with the appropriate reading training. He also shared that many students with dyslexia are treated as having a medical condition and the department would like to see dyslexia treated as a learning disability. He discussed the prominent rise of the incidence of autism in Colorado and across the country, and how that has become a major impact on public schools. He discussed some of the additional services that students with autism need, and that the cost per student can be $40,000 to $60,000.
Representative Solano asked Dr. Steinberg about Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in young boys, and whether the medical community is working with the education to better understand ADHD. Dr. Steinberg discussed the advantages and challenges of stimulant medicine for students with ADHD. Ms. Neas also noted that in IDEA there is a provision prohibiting schools from requiring ADHD students to take medication in order to attend schools. She also noted that it is a health insurance issue where the medicine is covered but not the behavioral therapies. Senator Bacon shared the issues raised around inclusion, and how certain groups of parents of children with disabilities are asking for exclusion. Dr. Steinberg explained that the full inclusion movement hit full swing in 1990's in Colorado, but that promise has not been fulfilled. He further stated that full inclusion needs to go beyond the general education classroom, and should include extracurricular activities, other school programming, and school culture.
Ms. Neas also responded to Senator Bacon's question about inclusion, noting that the student's individualized education plan (IEP) should assist the student in finding the best school placement for his or her success. She shared examples of how a student could attend a school for the deaf for a limited amount of time and then return to the traditional school. She further noted that it is important that parents work within the IEP framework with the school. She discussed the challenges of students going to private schools where students are not afforded the same protections under federal law.
Dr. Steinberg continued his presentation and discussed the components of teaching reading: phonics, phonemic awareness, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension, and that bringing this understanding to school districts is a major part of the implementation of House Bill 08-1223. Dr. Steinberg also addressed choice and innovation in special education, and noted that more parents are opting for charter schools and online education for their children with disabilities. He stated that he believes this trend will continue.
Representative Todd asked how much is being done for teacher preparation program to provide training on special education. Dr. Steinberg replied that there is active dialogue between CDE and the Department of Higher Education (DHE), but there is a long way to go before the general education teachers are sufficiently prepared to teach reading and include students with disabilities in class planning. Representative Todd noted the University of Northern Colorado (UNC) Innovation Institute could be a location for this training to happen. Ms. Neas noted the federal stimulus money could be used to provide professional development to teachers.
The committee discussed funding for special education, which Dr. Steinberg noted is 65 percent at the local level.
Bill Brown, Patty Howley, and Faith Bowman, representing School District 11 in Colorado Springs, presented on Response to Intervention (RtI). Mr. Brown noted the 6 components that schools utilize to implement RtI:
- school climate and culture;
- curriculum and instruction;
- assessment and use of data;
- problem solving process; and
- family and community engagement.
Ms. Bowman noted the specific learning disability areas focused on in RtI. Mr. Brown noted that a key part of RtI is utilizing a team approach. He also explained that part of the system change is being solution-focused instead of problem-focused. He discussed that the school culture and climate is critical to RtI. Ms. Bowman noted the importance of interventions occurring within the core curriculum.
Ms. Bowman provided a sample schedule, which includes a floating intervention period during the day. Mr. Brown discussed the problem solving team process, noting the specific steps in the process:
- set goals;
- brainstorm on interventions;
- implement plan;
- collect data; and
- evaluate data.
He shared who are the members of the problem solving team: student, parent, classroom teacher, special educator, and specialists. Senator Hudak asked if the parent is required to be there for RtI meeting. Ms. Bowman explained that it is required for the IEP but not for the RtI. Mr. Brown noted that they started at 25 percent parental involvement and now they are at 50 percent.
Mr. Brown noted the importance of family and community engagement as a mechanism for improving success of the intervention. Ms. Bowman noted the benefits and challenges of RtI. Representative Benefield asked how they increased parental participation. Mr. Brown replied they increased parental involvement through home visits, letters home, and teacher contact by phone, but noted that home visits were the most significant aspect affecting the parental participation level. Senator Bacon asked if there are volunteers that participate in RtI. Ms. Bowman said that there are, and that they are trained. Representative Solano asked what they would do if they had more funding. Ms. Howley replied have more interventionists, and Mr. Brown replied he would like to hire a district level interventionist that can deliver the specialized interventions, because they currently use tutoring funds to provide funding for the program. Ms. Howley noted that staff development, and coaching and training would also be a funding priority.
The committee adjourned.