Based on these findings, a number of assessment tools are used to evaluate students' abilities and the most appropriate level of participation in general educational settings (A Parent's Guide, 2002).
Early childhood education programs in District 75 have been affected by other federal mandates, including the Governmental Performance Reporting Act (GPRA) and the Program Assessment Rating Tool (PART); both of these initiatives require that all federal programs (e.g., Head Start, childcare, and programs for children with disabilities) must provide performance data concerning the progress that has been made toward meeting the goals of the program, which in turn are used to formulate federal budget allocations (Rous et al., 2007). Current performance data for District 75 is presented at Appendix A.
Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP). In those cases where the District 75 assessment committee finds that children require services and a special education setting, they are provided with an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) to determine placement and to make sure that services are provided in the least restricted environment. As part of this process, students aged 3 to 21 years with disabilities may qualify for a wide range of associated services and supports as part of their education in District 75. These associated services include, but are not limited to, the following:
1. Assistive technology for communication help;
3. Haring and vision education services;
4. Occupational therapy;
5. Paraprofessional services in the classroom or bus,
6. Parent training and counseling;
7. Physical therapy;
8. School health services;
9. Speech therapy; and,
10. Transportation, including an air-conditioned bus (Parent's Guide, 2011).
The individualized family service plan (IFSP) is also used to identify opportunities for improving social interactions with peers and participation in developmentally appropriate activities for District 75 students. In addition, District 75 pupils under the age of 5 years enrolled in special education Pre-K or Early Intervention programs, are eligible for curb-to-curb yellow bus service as reflected in their IFSPs (Individualized Education Program, 2001) or Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) as discussed further below.
Individualized Education Program. The individual education program (IEP) in District 75 is used to keep track of students' progress in their educational programs. This document sets forth all of the goals, objectives, current levels of performance as well as related services that have been advised for the student (Individualized Education Program, 2011). The District 75 Office of Instruction is responsible for supporting the District 75 IEP Coordinator by sending out legal and instructional information to all concerned stakeholders involved in developing the school-based Individual Education Programs for the district. Educators in District 75 pay special attention to the effect of ongoing educational trends as well as Central Board initiatives such as promotion policy and standards-based instruction in the development of IEPs (Individualized Education Program, 2011).
In District 75, the IEP development process must take into account the following factors:
1. The child's strengths;
2. Parental concerns for their children's education;
3. The results of the child's individual evaluation;
4. The results of any state or district-wide tests or assessments; and,
5. Any unique needs related to the child's disability (such as communication needs, behavior, etc.) (Parent's guide, 2011).
Are all mandated services being rendered to the child?
There were no exceptions identified in the research and all mandated services are being provided in Special District 75. For example, in response to the mandates of District 75's students' Individualized Educational Programs (IEP's), a broad-based array of services are provided including speech, counseling, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and nursing that are tailored to the individual needs of each student; these services are also provided in small group settings and/or one-to-one formats (District Information, 2011). To help assess the current progress of District 75 schools in satisfying its mandated services, the report grades assigned to each school are replaced with a corresponding number (A=4, F=0) in the tables shown at Appendix A.
As can be seen from the performance data at Appendix A, despite some modest gains by some schools, most of the schools in District 75 are struggling to meet the individualized needs of their special education students, with several declining in the quality of their educational services from academic year 2009-2010 to 2010-2011. The year to date ratings in Table 2 at Appendix A indicate that the status quo is being maintained, but there is little substantive progress evident. Despite these trends, there are some stellar performers in District 75 that are modeling the way for others concerning optimal ways to deliver the mix of services needed by disabled children. For example, as shown in Table 1 and 2 at Appendix A, The Children's School in Brooklyn has consistently achieved superior performance results. According to Lief, "The Children's School in Brooklyn, New York is a school worthy of study. The leadership is superb; teachers know their students and fellow educators well; parents genuinely feel part of their children's education" (p. 705).
There are clearly some positive outcomes being achieved at The Children's School that set is apart from its other District 75 counterparts and their programs have been used as models for other school districts across the country seeking to improve their delivery of special education services (Lief, 2001). For instance, according to this educator, "The [Children's School] is also a model for understanding how to successfully educate children with disabilities. These lessons are important for understanding how to provide a standards-based education to the ten to twelve percent of students in special education nationally" (Lief, 2001, p. 706). Part of The Children's School's success to date may be attributable to its highly inclusive approaches to special education services delivery (Lief, 2001).
Does the program offer parents support?
Educators in District 75 are faced with some tough problems to be sure, and they understand the need to get parents involved in the education of their children. Given the challenges that are involved in developing and administered a broad-based, multidisciplinary approach to the delivery of educational services for special needs students, the active involvement of parents and family members is essential and District 75 makes a special effort to enlist the assistance of parents and this issue is mentioned several times in the district's information literature. For instance, under "Goals," District 75 states that, "To accomplish its mission and to support Children First, District 75 provides extensive staff and parent education programs as well as administrative leadership training" (District Information, 2011, para. 4). Likewise, District 75 notes that it is "committed to working with students and their families to afford them an opportunity to maximize their potential, become contributing members of society and develop the tools to ensure maximum personal independence and self-esteem" (District Information, 2011, para. 3). District 75 also maintains an Office for Family Engagement (Parent Services) that provides school- and district-based parent leadership associations and parent coordinators as well as ongoing professional development to parent coordinators within the district (Family Engagement, 2011).
District 75 also sponsors a Parent Coordinators resource as well. According to District 75's informational material concerning the role of the Parent Coordinators, these individuals focus on the following:
1. Creating a welcoming school environment for parents;
2. Working with the principal to address parent issues and concerns at the school;
3. Conducting outreach to engage parents in their children's education; and,
4. Strengthening parent involvement in their children's education (Parent Coordinators, 2011, para. 1).
Parent Coordinators are regarded as being actual members of the school staff who are accountable to the school principal and collaborate with their respective Parent Association/Parent Teacher Association, School Leadership Team, community groups and parent advisory councils (Parent Coordinators, 2011).
The research showed that with more than one million students in its public school systems, the New York City Education Department is tasked with delivering high-quality educational services to more students than the population of many major cities in the United States (with a budget to match), and a significant percentage of these students are challenged by severe learning or physical disabilities, or both, creating profound challenges for educators, parents and students alike. In response to numerous federal and state mandates, the New York State Education Department has implemented a broad-based evaluation framework that provides timely feedback concerning the progress or lack thereof being made in any indicator area of interest. Among the more salient findings that emerged from the research was that the New York City District 75 is satisfying the majority of its mandates taking the shortage areas of achievement into account, and it has come close to satisfying indicators in others. Even the progress that has been cited in various indicator areas of interest, though, must be taken with a grain of salt since the progress is based on abysmally low benchmarks from the outset and there remains a lack of transparency in the manner…