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Evanston CASE provides community, advocacy, support and education services for Evanston families whose children have disabilities.  As part of our mission, we advocate for improved policies and programs in our school systems to ensure that students with disabilities have a chance to meet ambitious objectives commensurate with their general education peers.

Thirteen percent of students in District 65 receive special education services through Individualized Educational Plans (IEPs) or over a thousand students.  Moreover, a significant portion of the District’s budget is devoted to special education. Despite this investment, Evanston residents may be surprised to learn that more than 85% of Evanston students with disabilities failed to meet benchmarks for English Language Arts and Math on standardized testing.

It is clear that students with disabilities in District 65 are not achieving academically.  This is disappointing and is certainly unacceptable, notwithstanding the fact that caring staff work hard to provide students with a sufficient education.

CASE has reviewed statistical data from the 2018 State of Illinois (Illinois State Report cards) as well as data shared by the District itself (including the annual Achievement and Accountability Reports from 2017 and 2018) to provide a larger picture of how students with disabilities are faring in the District.  We reported on this data at the District 65 School Board meeting on Jan. 28.  

Unfortunately, our findings identified many areas of deficiency. On virtually all measures of achievement, as evidenced in English Language Arts and Math Assessments between 2015 and 2018, students with disabilities are not meeting standards.

• In 2018, 9.6% of District 65 students with disabilities taking the PARCC English Language Arts test met or exceeded benchmarks.  (2015 – 11.2%; 2016 – 6.6%; 2017 – 6.6%)

• Only 12.2% of District 65 students taking the PARCC Math assessment met or exceeded benchmarks.  (2015 – 10.4%; 2016 – 10.8%, 2017 – 10.7%)

The picture for students in middle school is even more disturbing.  For example, at Haven 0% of its 8th grade students with disabilities met or exceeded standards on either the Math or ELA portions of the PARCC.  At Chute, 3.8% of 8th grade students with disabilities met standards on the Math portion, but 0% met or exceeded standards on the ELA portion.

There is no reason this should be the case.  Students with disabilities receive special education to provide them with services and supports to ensure their success in school.  If these interventions were effective, the picture would improve. This begs the question, why is there a predictable pattern of poor achievement for these students?

This question cannot be answered because the Administration does not provide an annual report on the performance of the special education department. As a result, the particular challenges and inequities weighing upon this population go unexamined.

The School Board is missing an opportunity to look for data trends, to analyze systemic issues impacting students with disabilities, and to evaluate the effectiveness of various special education programs.  One part of this analysis should include disaggregating the data, as some Board members have requested, to look at the intersection between race, language, low income and disability.

Students with disabilities carry a heavy, overburdened “backpack” when they enter school each day, loaded with their developmental, learning, emotional, and behavioral challenges that cause them to work harder to learn than other students.  Layering race, language and low income on top of that, the “backpack” becomes even heavier.  The District must look at the full range of complex factors that contribute to the poor achievement of students with disabilities. And they must identify strategies and solutions to address the unique curricular and programmatic insufficiencies that negatively impact all students with disabilities.

If this pattern of poor achievement persists, many students with disabilities are likely to struggle in high school and beyond; they will have difficulty succeeding in college, finding jobs and living on their own.  Unless the Board and the Superintendent broaden their thinking, intentionally focus on the achievement of students with disabilities, and take bold action, the data will continue to tell the same unacceptable story.

Ms. Levin is Executive Director of Evanston CASE.