Special-ed programs get mixed report card

A new report on special education in Bainbridge schools points to ongoing problems with the program.

But the district actually fared better than many of its peers in an assessment that all Washington public school districts undergo once every three years. The study was based on self-reporting and a day-long visit by state monitors last spring.

“I was a little bit surprised that we had findings,” said Clayton Mork, Bainbridge director of Instructional Support Services, “because the exit interview was quite positive. But we will take this new information and work with it.”

The report gave Bainbridge schools high marks in most areas of analysis, but monitors concluded there were “significant findings” related to the development and implementation of the education plans that are custom-tailored for each special education students. An auditor found deficiencies in the programs of more than half of randomly selected students, the report said.

In several files, services that had been recommended were not documented as having been delivered. In others, services were dropped without supporting documentation to justify the change.

In 11 of 18 files, educational goals set for the special education student were not stated with enough specificity that progress could be measured. The problems identified on Bainbridge are apparently common; the state said that 34 of 35 local districts monitored had similar findings.

“These are systemic issues that are a problem statewide,” said Mark Anderson, program supervisor for compliance monitoring for special education for Washington public schools.

The state monitors listed district strengths as well as weakness.

Strong points included dedicated teachers and para-educators supported by administrators, and the district’s wide array of placement options to serve the broad spectrum of disability.

Bainbridge Superintendent Ken Crawford, who headed special education for the Battle Ground School District, believes the range of placement options the state identified as a strong point is the key element of special education.

“That is the most important component – is the district providing services to kids, are all the options available?” Crawford said. “Some of the other issues are mechanical processes. You’ll have a child that meets the goal and the teacher has a test that shows it – but the report of that standardized test isn’t entered into the file.”

Mork, who standardized paperwork and procedures for special education programs last year, said the state based its analysis on files that, in many instances, predate the reforms. Completing those reforms will correct long-term problems, he said.

The district also plans an internal audit in the spring of 2003 to re-evaluate the effectiveness of the new practices and paperwork. Mork said.

Bainbridge, like other schools, has 30 days to craft a plan to correct problems. Mork said that Bainbridge will begin to address issues immediately, in a workshop for Bainbridge special education teachers to be led by compliance coordinator Holly Keenan.

The Bainbridge district two years ago was the subject of litigation by various parents of special education students unhappy with programs. Since then, the district has undertaken a review and reform of programs and policies.

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