School Report Cards Reveal Special Education Challenges

Article excerpt

Byline: Anne Williams The Register-Guard

School district "report cards" released Wednesday indicate many local schools struggle to educate special education students as well as the state expects.

In the Springfield district, for instance, fewer than one in three seniors receiving special education services graduated with a regular high school diploma in 2007-08 - a number far short of the state's target of 58 percent, and the state average of 63 percent.

And Springfield wasn't alone. Among Lane County districts with at least 1,000 students, only Eugene and Fern Ridge met the state target.

Several districts - including Creswell, Eugene, Junction City, Siuslaw, South Lane and Springfield - also exceeded the targeted 6 percent dropout limit for special education students. The Eugene district surpassed it by a hair, while Springfield posted a dropout rate of 14.5 percent.

This was the third year the Oregon Department of Education issued the report cards, a requirement of the Individuals with Disabilities Act. Districts must track and report special ed graduation and dropout rates, reading and math test results and participation, as well as the amount of time spent in programs specifically for students with disabilities.

For the first time this year, districts also had to survey and report on "post-school outcomes," detailing how many students are working in the competitive labor market or are completing course work at colleges or through vocational training.

The state wants to see at least 74 percent of students in one or both of those categories - and most Lane County districts met that goal, or came very close. In the Eugene district, for instance, 72 percent of students were; in Bethel, 82 percent.

Several districts also fell short of targets aimed at greater integration of students with disabilities in mainstream education. The state wants no more than 11 percent of a district's special ed students spending more than 60 percent of their day in a pullout class or program, and no less than 69 percent of those students spending less than 21 percent of their day in such programs.

Districts had a more difficult time meeting the second of those targets. Springfield, Bethel, Fern Ridge, Junction City and Creswell all had fewer than 55 percent of students spending less than 21 percent of their time outside of regular classes.

Rob Hess, Springfield's assistant superintendent for achievement and process, said it's become clear in recent years that greater integration - and thus more exposure to standard, core curriculum and regular-ed peers - pays dividends for most special ed students, so long as they have the support necessary to succeed.

To that end, his district will make sweeping changes after this year, significantly reducing the amount of time most students spend in pullout programs. …