Report: Special ed in 2 area districts falls short

By Sheila G. Miller / The Bulletin

Special education students graduate in higher numbers than state goals in three Central Oregon school districts, according to an Oregon Department of Education report released Wednesday.

But in other districts, like Jefferson County and Redmond, special education students aren’t graduating at high enough levels to meet the state targets.

The report, which measures various ways in which special education students are being served, is required by the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Many districts are meeting state targets in some areas, but not others. This year, the federal requirements for the report changed, making it difficult to compare the information with previous years.

According to Patti Craveiro, director of special programs for Bend-La Pine Schools, the district has about 2,300 special education students.

The district last year gave out regular diplomas to 54 percent of its special education students. Those students can also receive modified diplomas or become too old to attend school before graduating.

“We want to be higher than that,” she said. “But we’re going to continue to celebrate our district’s report card, because it’s telling us in terms of including students in core content, we’re doing a fabulous job.”

Sisters, Culver and Crook County school districts were the most successful in graduating special education students, according to the state report. Those districts have a 3 percent dropout rate for those students, and all exceed the state target for students who graduate with regular diplomas.

Jefferson County’s special education students aren’t nearly as successful, according to the report.

Only 39 percent of special education students graduated with regular diplomas last year, and 10.2 percent of special education students dropped out.

Redmond gave out the fewest regular diplomas to special education students, with 38 percent graduating last year.

A big improvement

Martha Hinman, the student services director for the Redmond School District, said it’s still a big improvement for the district. There are nearly 900 special education students in the Redmond schools.

Just 23 percent of special education students graduated with regular diplomas in the 2005-06 school year, Hinman said.

“We are celebrating this, because once upon a time we were at 6 percent,” she said. “We’ve made huge, huge gains.”

Hinman believes the numbers will continue to rise because special education students are participating in general education classes more and are being accommodated in new ways. Special education students are still held to the same curricular standards for what they learn as mainstream students, but they can use alternative assessments to demonstrate they understand that content.

“We’re really doing a lot of support in the general education classrooms,” Hinman said. “We’ve changed our model at ninth grade to make those classes fully inclusive, so they have much more access to general education than they did in the past.”

Hinman said the district is also working to help special education students get ahead at earlier ages.

“They have access to the same curriculum … they’re getting that core content in reading and writing at the elementary level before they get supplemental services,” Hinman said. “So we’re double- or triple-dosing at an early age.”

Redmond’s dropout rate for special education students is 7 percent, above the state’s target of 5.4 percent.

State assessments

While half of area districts are succeeding at graduating their special education students, most failed at getting them to meet state assessment standards.

In Sisters, special education students did better than the state average in meeting state standards in language arts and mathematics.

Bend-La Pine Schools met the state average for students achieving standards on state tests.

Craveiro said the report would be more accurate if the data were collected differently.

But even though she doesn’t believe the report tells the whole story, she said the district will try to improve.

The first step is already happening, as the district includes the students in mainstream education classes at higher rates than the state target.

“We’re pleased, but we’re also digging in,” she said. “We take this really seriously, and we look at the data regularly.”

While Culver and Crook County school districts succeeded in graduating their special education students, they did not score well on the state tests.

And it was worse in Jefferson County, where only 17 percent of special education students met or exceeded grade-level standards in language arts. Fourteen percent met those standards in mathematics. The state averages are 42 percent for language arts and 38 percent for mathematics.

Thirty-one percent of Redmond special education students met those grade-level standards.

And the report noted that the Jefferson County School District suspends and expels special education students at higher rates than other students in the district.

Barbara Garland, the director of special programs for the Jefferson County School District, didn’t return calls for comment.

Graduation rates

Special education students graduating with regular diplomas in 2006-07:

State target: 72 percent or higher

• Culver School District: 85.7 percent

• Sisters School District: 77.8 percent

• Crook County School District: 73.3 percent

• Bend-La Pine Schools: 54.2 percent

• Jefferson County School District: 39.1 percent

• Redmond School District: 37.8 percent

Source: Oregon Department of Education