States Failing Special Ed Requirements

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Over half the states in the U.S. aren’t meeting federal requirements for their students with disabilities.

Every year, every state is judged on whether it’s met the requirements and improvements set forth by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) for students with disabilities ages 3 through 21. The designations given are “meets requirements,” “needs assistance,” “needs intervention,” and “needs substantial intervention.”

For 2018, only 21 states received the “meets requirements” designation.

For the “needs assistance” designation, 28 states got flagged; 6 states had met requirements the year prior and so were on their first year needing assistance, while 26 states were on their second year or more under the designation. One state, Michigan, slipped down to the designation of “needs intervention” for 2018 (it was designated as “needs assistance” the year prior). No state received the lowest designation of “needs substantial intervention.”

Photo: Adobe Stock/Aleksei Potov

To evaluate each state, the Education Department looks at a variety of factors, such as student performance, functional outcomes for students with disabilities, and appropriate follow-through of the IDEA’s procedural requirements (like completing special education evaluations).

If any state gets a designation below “meets requirements” for two or more consecutive years, the Education Department must step in. For states marked as “needs assistance” for two or more years, the Education Department can mark the state as a high-risk grantee, give technical assistance, or funnel more money to the areas the state needs it most. For states marked as “needs intervention” for three or more years, the Education Department may create an improvement plan or actually withhold funds. If a state needs substantial intervention for even one year, action is swift, and the Department can withhold funds or pass the case along to the inspector general or the Department of Justice.

Photo: Adobe Stock/Art of Success

For the 2016/2017 school year, Michigan was the only state that was marked as needing intervention. That means Michigan schools won’t get extra funding — and if things don’t improve over the next couple of years, they could very likely lose funding.

How does less funding help special ed students? It doesn’t.

More importantly, the reports that designate which states need help don’t actually explain what isn’t working. States therefore don’t know what they did well and what they failed.

So how can a state improve a broken system when they don’t have additional funds, could potentially lose funds, and don’t even know where the biggest flaws are?

Photo: Adobe Stock/dglimages

These scores are based on one annual assessment, where students are picked at random all over the state. They take an assessment, get a score, and that score along with how well the state complied with the guidelines originally set forth are what informs the entire report.

There are roughly 7 million children in America with disabilities, and more than half of the country isn’t meeting their needs.

We need to do better.

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C. Dixon likes to read, sing, eat, drink, write, and other verbs. She enjoys cavorting around the country to visit loved ones and experience new places, but especially likes to be at home with her husband, son, and dog.
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