Request for Proposal to conduct an external audit of the Special Education Program



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Update on the APS Special Education Audit
December 2014 Update


Background Information

  • In 2009, APS posted a Request for Proposal to conduct an external audit of the Special Education Program.

  • The Urban Special Education Leadership Collaborative Education Development Center, Inc. was awarded the contract and completed the audit.

  • A Self-Improvement Audit of the Program for Exceptional Children Atlanta Public Schools: A Report of the External Core Team was presented to the APS Board of Education in September, 2010.


Recommendations
There were five sections of the audit that included 29 recommendations. An update on the implementation of the recommendations was provided to the APS Board of Education at the June 2013 meeting. Current updates on the recommendations are provided below.

Identifications of Students with Disabilities


1 Multi-Tiered System of Tiered Academic & Behavior Interventions and Support.
1a. Framework Atlanta Public Schools follows Georgia’s four-tiered Student Achievement Pyramid of Interventions to provide appropriate and effective Response to Intervention services, which incorporates universal screening, targeted interventions, and a team approach to decision making and the development and implementation of services. Response to Intervention Manual has been developed.

1b. Inventory & Gap Analysis. An informal inventory of reading, math, language arts, science and social studies programs and tools was conducted by the Department of Special Education (June, July 2010). In the Spring of 2013 all Content Coordinators developed a manual of interventions. At the beginning of the Summer 2013, an established set of reading interventions, math interventions were developed through the Response to Intervention office. These interventions are posted in SharePoint and made available to all school staff. In addition they were provided electronically to Charter School SST Coordinators. APS purchased the GRASP progress monitoring tools for use in all schools for the 2013-14 school year. The GRASP Universal Screener was made available to all schools beginning Spring 2014.

1c. Identification of Needed Resources. Progress monitoring tools have been developed and administrators and support staff have been trained. After review of data, the district recognized a fundamental need for research based interventions in the five dimensions of reading, math digit fluency, math concepts and applications and positive behavior supports at a Tier I level. Based on this analysis the district provided research based interventions targeted to specific areas of concerns and made these available as stated above.

1d. APS Implementation Plan Summer 2013, APS provided Professional Learning to fully implement the APS Response to Intervention Framework. Multiple trainings were provided to Principals, APs, SST Coordinators, support staff and school staff level. These trainings are ongoing. Principals, assistant principals, Special Education Lead Teachers (SELTs), Response to Intervention Specialists and Psychologists have been trained on the APS Pyramid of Interventions.

1e. School-based Implementation Plan Tier I suggestions for Response to Intervention in the areas of academics, behavior and student well-being was provided to all schools through the SST Coordinators. Response to Intervention training is ongoing for administrators and support staff. During the Summer 2014 mandatory principal training included sample improvement plan templates for Response to Intervention.

1f. Organization Strong collaborations began with The Office of Student Services and Department of Special Education in the fall of 2013. These departments have provided cross-training to Response to Intervention Specialists, Special Education Lead Teachers (SELTS), School Psychologists, and Speech-Language Pathologists on Child Find Procedures.

1g. Communication Strategy The Department of Student Services has provided training to Special Education Lead Teachers, School Psychologists, and Response to Intervention Specialists (RTIs). Training has also been provided to principals and Associate Superintendents. The Compliance Attorney for the district provided training to principals and district staff during the 2013-14 school year regarding timeline compliance requirements.

1h. Accountability A Response to Intervention Coordinator (RTI) was hired in August 2013. RTI Coordinator works directly with Response to Intervention Specialists to complete random checks of SST files. Office of Student Services reviews random SST files with the Georgia Department of Education during Active Engagement meetings.

2. Referral & Eligibility Reporting/Monitoring.

2a. Tracking Timeline data is pulled weekly for initial and revaluation timelines. Timeline data is shared with Special Education Lead Teachers, School Psychologists, teachers and administrators.

2b. Monitoring District reviews SST files and eligibility reports during monthly Active Engagement meetings with the Department of Education.

2c. Data Analysis The district monitors eligibility timelines on a weekly basis. District is not disproportionate in the eligibility areas of Intellectual Disabilities and Emotional and Behavioral Disorders.

3. Policy & Procedural Manual. (Short-term)

The Special Education Procedures Manual has been developed in collaboration with the Urban Special Education Leadership Collaborative Education Development Center, Inc. The procedures manual has been reviewed by the Georgia Department of Education.



3a. Supplemental Documents. Special Education web site lists relevant parent information (i.e. Parent rights, IEP facts, discipline, transition information).

3b. Web-Based Application. Procedures manual has been developed. The manual has been disseminated to appropriate personnel.

3c. Differentiated Professional Development. Central Office and school based staff have been trained on Child Find Procedures, IDEA and 504. Professional learning has also been provided on the following topics: Discipline and Students with Disabilities, Co-teaching models, Development of FBAs and BIPS, Writing Compliant IEPs, etc. Parent training has been provided at parent community meetings and parent coffees.

Achievement of Students Receiving Special Education Services

4. Clear Message.

There has been a strong emphasis placed on shared ownership and consistent messaging on inclusive practices for students with disabilities. Professional learning has been provided on effective co-teaching instruction. Principals and support staff have received trainings on improving outcomes for students with disabilities. The district has provided support to and messaging to schools on the elements of providing special education and related services in compliance with federal and state laws, rules and regulations.



5. Crosswalk Reform Models to Interventions & Support.

The district is no longer implementing school reform models, therefore there is no need to analyze those specific models. Special education teachers are fully involved in school improvement efforts such as the implementation of the Common Core Georgia Performance Standard and school improvement activities for Priority Schools/Focus Schools.



6. School-Based Planning.

Schools are not implementing different reform models as they have in the past. School Improvement Plans that are submitted by each school include instruction and interventions that will positively impact the achievement and learning of all students, including students with disabilities.



  1. Accountability. See Section V, Accountability for Results, Recommendation 23.

  • March 12, 2014 the APS district was cleared of non-compliance for pre-referral interventions, discipline, and evaluation/re-evaluation by the Georgia Department of Education

  • The APS district MEETS requirements for performance on indicators for FY15-November 2015 Georgia Department of Education

  • Department of Special Education staff and C & I team members participate in monthly Active Engagement meetings with the Georgia Department of Education. Discipline procedures and SST files are reviewed for compliance. Manifestation determination and discipline files are also reviewed for compliance.

  • Monitoring Tools and Protocols have been created, implemented and refined. Weekly reports on In-school and Out-of-school suspensions are provided to Associate Superintendents and principals. Weekly reports are also provided to Coordinators, SELTs, school psychologists on timeline data.

  • There has been significant progress in the number of students who are educated in the general education environment. During the 2011-12 school year 48.3% of students with disabilities spend at least 80% of their school day in the general education settings. During October of the 2012-13 school year, that percentage increased to 54.3%

  • There has been an increase in the grad rate for APS students with disabilities over the past 3 years. 2012 grad rate was 14%; 2013 grad rate was 14.9%; the 2014 grad rate is 18.9%.

  • There has been a decrease in the dropout rate for APS students with disabilities past two years. 2012 drop-out rate was 10.2%; 2013 drop-out rate was 8.9%

  • Stakeholder Special Education Advisory implemented fall 2014 to educate advise, and guide stakeholders on matters related to special education.




Provision of Specialized Instruction

8. APS Vision for Inclusive Schools

A top priority was placed on increasing the inclusion of our students with disabilities across the district. Starting in May 2012 and proceeding throughout the 2012-13 school year, Principals received training sessions that discussed increasing inclusionary practices at their schools. Focus was placed on effective co-teaching, which includes classes in which the general education teacher and special education teacher share the responsibilities of teaching students with and without disabilities. There has been significant progress in the number of students who are educated in the general education environment. During the 2011-12 school year 48.3% of students with disabilities spend at least 80% of their school day in the general education settings. During October of the 2012-13 school year, that percentage increased to 54.3%.



9. Comprehensive Districtwide Plan

9a. Expertise to Support Plan Development. A comprehensive district-wide approach for increasing inclusive practices was implemented during the 2012-13 school year. The district created an Inclusion Manual in June 2012. Training was provided to Principals, Assistant Principals, and Instructional Coaches during the 2012-13 school year. In addition, school faculties received training upon request. Special Education Lead Teachers participated in weekly training sessions that included discussions about effective co-teaching practices. During the 2013-14 school year, district staff participated in the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) conference on effective co-teaching practices. Training was provided by Marilyn Friend, expert on effective co-teaching models. During the 2013-14 school year, PL Specialists provided training to Special Education Lead Teachers (SELTs) on preferred models of co-teaching. SELTs redelivered these trainings to staff at their schools. PL Specialists and Coordinators completed walkthroughs of special education co-teaching classrooms.

9b. Core Elements. During the 2012-13 school year, a large investment was made regarding Assistive Technology for students with disabilities. The number of Assistive Technology Specialists increased from 2 to 5 for the entire school district. There has been increase in computer software and equipment curriculum materials for students with disabilities. District special education staff reviews IEPs for all students with disabilities to ensure that all services recommended in the IEPs are provided. SELTs work closely with school administrators in scheduling of classes for students with disabilities.

9c. Planning Considerations. During the 2013-14 school year, PL Specialists provided training to Special Education Lead Teachers (SELTs). SELTs redelivered these trainings to staff at their schools. PL Specialists completed walkthroughs of special education classrooms. Training was provided to Principals and other personnel at the school level on the development of the master schedule to maximize the opportunity to provide co-teaching classes during the 2012-13 and 2013-14 school year. District-wide protocol for lesson planning was developed to include a section on co-teaching.

9d. School-based planning. Training provided to Principals and other personnel at the school level on development of the master schedule to maximize the opportunity to provide co-teaching classes during the 2012-13 and 2013-14 school year. District Master Scheduler is training administrative teams on scheduling for the 2014-15 school year. Special Education Lead Teachers (SELTS) are encouraged to participate in these meetings to ensure that student schedules for students with disabilities are appropriate.

9e. Expanding System of Service Delivery to Students with Significant Disabilities. APS is currently partnering with the Marcus Autism Center to provide ongoing training and support for special education teachers of students with Autism. Focus during the 2012-13 and 2013-14 school year was on effective instructional practices for students with Autism in pull out special education. Dr. Ron Leaf, licensed psychologist with more than 30 years of experience in the field of Autism, trained special education teachers and paraprofessionals that work with students with Autism during the summer of 2014. A Special Education Coordinator has joined the APS Department of Special Education. Coordinator has expertise in the field of Autism and Emotional and Behavioral Disorders. Training has been provided to SELTs, special education teachers and general education teachers on completing Functional Behavior Assessments (FBAs) and Behavior Intervention Plans (BIPS).

10. Incorporating GNETS Support in Regular Schools

South Metro Georgia Network for Educational and Therapeutic Support (GNETS) classes (5) were merged with the North Metro Oglethorpe site for the 2014-15 school year. Additional GNETS outpost/transition classes were opened at Miles Elementary School and North Atlanta High School for the 2014-15 school year. GNETs outpost classes are still in place at Sylvan MS and South Atlanta High School. The district has met the recommendation of APS being served by a single GNETs unit.



  1. Effective Teacher in Every Classroom Initiative

Special Education Teachers are fully involved in district initiatives regarding effective teaching. Special Education teachers are fully involved in: professional development on the Common Core Georgia Performance Standards, the implementation of the TKES evaluation process, and support from school leaders and instructional coaches. The Department of Special Education works closely with the APS HR division to recruit highly qualified special education teachers. Department of Special Education Staff has participated in MRESA and APS job fairs. Special education teachers must meet highly qualified status in order to be recommended for hire.

  1. Effective Transition Services to Reach Post-Secondary Goals

The Department of Special Education will continue to train Special Education Lead Teachers on writing meaningful and goal-oriented Transition Plans and Individual Graduation Plans (IGPs). During the 2012-13 and the 2014-15 school year, the Georgia Department of Special Education determined that 100% of APS Transition Plans for students with disabilities were in compliance. Special Education Lead Teachers work collaboratively with Guidance Counselors to analyze transcripts of students will disabilities and identify barriers to students being successful in passing courses. Training is provided on the administration of Transition Assessments. The district has developed a Transition Manual for parents and students. This manual will assist parents and families with information regarding post school services, SSI and Medicaid and other post school supports. Middle school and high school students with disabilities participate in monthly Community Based Instruction trips in the community. Career Technology Instructors work with students on job sites in the community via the Curriculum Based Vocational Training (CBVT) program. APS has a contract with the Marriott Bridges to Work Program which locates jobs for select students with disabilities and provide support during initial phases of employment.

13. Inclusion Handbook.

The Department of Special Education Inclusion Handbook was developed in June 2012. Professional development is provided on co-teaching models. Special Education Coordinators provide training to general education and special education co-teachers. The Department of Special Education has developed co-teaching modules on co-teaching (2013-14 school year). A co-teaching classroom observation tool was developed and implemented during the 2013-14 school year.



14. Meaningful Parental Involvement

The Department of Special Education employs two part-time hourly parent mentors that provide support to APS parents of students with disabilities. Ongoing training is provided throughout the school year to parents. Parent mentors network with appropriate community, state and national agencies to provide parents, teachers, and administrators with up to date information pertaining to special education strategies and resources. Parent trainings/meetings held during the fall and spring of the 2012-13 and 2013-14 school year. The Department of Special Education Coordinators are hosting parent coffees at local schools for parents of students with disabilities. (2014-15 school year) Special Education Advisory Committee in place for the 2014-15 school year. Twenty-six Special Education PTA Committees formed for the 2014-15 school year to provide support to families for the 2014-15 school year.



Organizational Structure and Resource Allocation

15. Change Name of PEC.

The name of the department was changed from the Program for Exceptional Children to the

Department of Special Education during the 2011-12 school year. This name change is in alignment with the respective department within the Georgia Department of Education. The Department of Special Education is one of the divisions in the Office of Student Support Services. The Office of Student Programs and Services (OSPS) has been renamed the Department of Student Services. Special Education Liaisons (SEL’s) and Program Assistants (PA’s) have been renamed Special Education Lead Teachers (SELT’s)


16. Coordinate APS Resources to Leverage Maximum Impact

Special Education teachers are fully integrated into initiatives from the Office of Teaching and Learning. The Department of Special Education has provided training to Principals and Assistant Principals (2012-13, 2013-14, 2014-15) school years. Training is provided to Special Education Coordinators, SELTs, Response to Intervention Specialists and School Psychologists. Cross-training was provided during the 2013-14 school year and the 2014-15 school year.



17. Intervention & Support for Positive Behavior.

Eleven APS middle schools are participating in PBIS for the 2014-15 school year. The district has hired two Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBAs) during the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school year. Special Education Lead Teachers and teachers receive training on completing Functional Behavior Assessments (FBAs). The Department of Special Education currently has four Behavior Specialists that support students with disabilities that have behavioral needs. Professional learning is offered on discipline and students with disabilities and Crisis Prevention Intervention (CPI). Training is also provided on FBAs and BIPs.



18. Maximize Alignments Between PEC/OSPS and SRT Structures

The organizational structure for APS has changed. The SRTs were replaced with 4 regions, inclusive of high schools. Special Education Coordinators have been assigned to provide district support for every school. Additional support staff include: Assistive Technology Specialists, Board Certified Behavior Analysts, and Adapted Physical Education Teachers. District is currently organized by clusters.



19. Improve Support for Students with Significant Instructional and Therapeutic Needs.

A Special Education Coordinator hired with expertise in Autism. Coordinator is also a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. The Marcus Institute has provided training to Autism teachers and paras during the 2012-13 and 2013-14 school year. Marcus Institute collaboration will continue for the 2014-15 school year. Marcus staff provides training and consultative support to classroom teachers and students. Social Skills Curriculum was implemented during the 2014-15 school year. Autism teachers and paraprofessionals received training from Ron Leaf, Autism expert during summer 2014. MOID/SID/PID classrooms have received additional AT equipment. Unique Learning Solutions curriculum is being implemented this school year in Autism and ID units. Currently, iPads have been deployed for Preschool, Autism, MOID and SIP/PID classrooms (on-going) Additional classroom supports for these units include touchscreen computers, hatch computers, Smart boards (select classrooms), switch devices, AAC devices and communication software (Symbolstix). 



20. Roles & Responsibilities of SELs/PAs and School-Based Staff Persons.

The Special Education Lead Teachers (SELTs) provide school-based support to every school. Their teaching load was reduced to one period a day which enables them to provide more school-wide support. Bi-monthly training is provided to the SELTs so that they can provide current and accurate information to their schools. SELTs support quality classroom instruction and curriculum implementation for students with disabilities in general and special education settings. SELTS communicate on a regular basis with school administrators regarding staff concerns, student achievement, LRE, discipline, etc.



21. Ensure Equitable Access to Resources.

21a. Equitable Staff Ratios. During the 2012-13 school year, a more substantial leveling process was completed in order to analyze the staffing patterns at each school and move toward equity among schools. This analysis resulted in the leveling of special education teachers to ensure that personnel were assigned based on the needs of students and were provided equitably across the district.

21b. Paraprofessional & Behavior Aide Support. Class size and staffing patterns are analyzed for every special education teacher and paraprofessional each school year. IEPs are reviewed to ensure that services match schedules. Paraprofessional allotments are assigned based on state caseloads for maximum class sizes.

21c. Student Placement. April 2013, a thorough analysis of regional classes was conducted. The Department of Special Education conducted a survey of school facilities and regional classes were re-mapped across the district. Classes were remapped so that most students with significant disabilities would be educated in their respective regions. Re-mapping resulted in reduced bus rides for students and placements closer to their home schools.

21d. The Department of Special Education collaborates with the Office of Teaching and Learning to ensure that special education teachers receive textbooks for students and teacher additions. Beginning with the 2012-13 school year, the department has hired five Assistive Technology Specialists to support AT needs for students.



22. Significantly Improve Data Availability & Analysis.

A great emphasis has been placed on data integrity for state required reporting and program improvement. The Department of Special Education hired a Special Education Coordinator in 2012 who has expertise in retrieving and analyzing data. The Special Education Coordinator trains SELTs and administrators on FTE coding procedures. The Department of Special Education is also updating the IEP Online data system. Updates will provide improved data reporting for compliance.



23. Improve PEC/OSPS’s Website

The Department of Special Education website received updates during the 2013-14 school year. Enhancements to the website provides access to important information regarding Child Find. Resources for parents of students with disabilities are also provided.



Accountability for Results

24. Inclusive Framework to Support Accountability for Multi-Tiered Systems of Interventions for Academic Performance & Positive Behavior Support & for Special Education.

All personnel own the education of all students, including students with disabilities. The district has created a more inclusive environment for students with disabilities. During the 2012-13 school year, the district reviewed services for all students with disabilities to ensure that students were placed in the least restrictive environment. The Department of Special Education provides training on writing compliant IEPs. School Psychologists, Response to Intervention Specialists and Special Education Lead teachers receive training on completing timely initials evaluations and reevaluations for students. The district data reflects an increase in the graduation rate for students with disabilities and a decrease in the drop-out rate for students with disabilities. The Department of Special Education has met the Transition Indicator for the Georgia Department of Education at 100% for the 2012, 2013 and 2014 school years. Students with disabilities are given transition assessments in order to develop appropriate Transition Plans. The Department of Special Education provides training to teachers, SELTs and RTI Specialists on developing Functional Behavior Assessments (FBAs) and developing Behavior Intervention Plans (BIPs). Teachers receive training on implementing social skills curriculums for students with Autism.




25. High-Performing Schools

DSE trained special education teachers in Orton Gillingham (OG)reading methodology during the summer of 2014. Additional training will be provided to teachers. The Department of Special Education will observe and collaborate with the administration and teachers at Morningside Elementary School on the effectiveness of OG methodology at this school. This school has implemented this methodology for some years and it is a high performing school.



26. ETEC Initiative

As a Race to the Top district, APS is implementing the TKES teacher evaluation process. All special education teachers are included in this initiative.



27. Special Education Compliance Status

In March 12, 2014 the APS district was cleared of non-compliance for pre-referral interventions, discipline, and evaluation/re-evaluation by the Department of Education. In November 2014, APS received the district’s determination from the Georgia Department of Education for FY 15 indicators. APS Department of Special Education Meets Requirements for FY 15. FY 15 District determination percentage increased from 80% for FY 14 to 90% for FY 15.



28. Facilitating Constructive Parental & Stakeholder Involvement.

Several presentations/meetings have occurred between parental groups and the APS Department of Special Education. Parent meetings were held during the fall and spring of the 2012-13 and 2013-14 school year. For the 2014-15 school year, parent coffees have been scheduled at schools and facilitated by Special Education Coordinators and SELTs. For the 2014-15 school year, a Special Education Advisory Committee will meet monthly (24 members). The Special Education Advisory Committee will educate, advise and guide APS stakeholders on matters related to special education in order to maximize educational experiences/outcomes of students with special needs.



29. Consistent Resolution of Concerns

The Special Education Procedures Manual has been developed and submitted to the Department of Education. A high level of responsiveness to parents and school staff regarding the provision of special education services has been messaged to all district and support staff. A Special Education Advisory Committee created to educate, guide and inform the work of the department. The Department of Special Education has a protocol of a 24 hour response time for stakeholder queries and concerns. The Department of Special Education has provided timely responses to resolvable issues.



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