Dear Board Members and District 65 Administrators:
Evanston CASE would like to express our sincere gratitude to Dr. DeCristofaro and the Special Education Department for producing these reports and presenting this important work to the Board this evening. For years, CASE advocated for annual reporting by the Special Education department so that the Board and the community could set aside dedicated time to focus exclusively on the needs of special education students – students who make up 14% of our student body. We are grateful that Special Education is on the agenda for this evening.
We appreciate the thorough analysis Dr. DeCristofaro is presenting and her emphasis on the need to reduce the disproportional identification of students of color in Special Education. This is critical – and long overdue – equity work. Additionally, we support a careful analysis of whether special education students are in overly restrictive settings and might be better served through placement in more inclusive settings. Finally, we agree that it is critical to provide special education students, including EL students, the opportunity to access the educational and language supports they need in their neighborhood schools.
There are two areas that we would have liked to see addressed in more detail in these reports. First, we would have liked to see reference to baseline information (beyond MAP scores) about the academic performance and well-being of students in Special Education in the District.
Parents and guardians are looking to understand how their students are faring, as well as goals and benchmarks for improvement. As the Board has examined the achievement data for students with IEP’s over the years, we have all been concerned by the predictability of poor academic outcomes for these students. Providing families with this kind of information about students in Special Education is especially important since the new format of the Achievement and Accountability Report excluded much of the detailed information that had been historically been reported and that had informed parents/guardians about the performance of students in special education relative to students without IEP’s. (See Attachment A)
The second area of concern is that the reports do not present a plan to improve the Special Education system so much as a focus on moving students away from it. The slide entitled, “What does the research say?”, posits that special education status in and of itself leads to poor academic outcomes. While this perspective is cited as credible, we should wholeheartedly reject that conclusion and endeavor to erase that prediction for Evanston students.
The Priority #1 work of correcting the clear problem of racial overrepresentation must be paired with a Priority #2 that focuses on improving the system for those students who require specialized services and instruction. As the report points out, one would expect students who have additional interventions and specialized instruction to make greater gains than other students. If this is not the case, we need to ask “why”? If Special Education in our district is less rigorous, does not promote growth, and is not evidenced-based, we should all troubled and motivated to act. It appears that this will be probed through the WestEd Consulting Group evaluation. If so, we encourage this process to move ahead as quickly as possible. There is no time to waste in undertaking efforts to better the Special Educational system for all District 65 students with disabilities.
Special Education does not have to be a failing institution. We have talented staff and substantial resources in our district to commit to a robust and effective set of services, supports and placements for our students. Increasing inclusion in student’s home schools as appropriate should be the goal, but can only be achieved with adequate funding and staffing. The Board must ensure this.
We look forward to future reporting on plans for improvement and a budget to implement it. Please accept this feedback in the collaborative spirit in which it is intended.
Cari Levin, LCSW, Executive Director, Evanston CASE
Evanston CASE is a nonprofit organization providing advocacy and support services for Evanston families whose children have disabilities.