Education Assessment and Accountability Review Subcommittee


Minutes of the<MeetNo1> 2nd Meeting

of the 2016 Interim


<MeetMDY1> August 16, 2016


Call to Order and Roll Call

The<MeetNo2> 2nd meeting of the Education Assessment and Accountability Review Subcommittee was held on<Day> Tuesday,<MeetMDY2> August 16, 2016, at<MeetTime> 10:00 AM, in<Room> Room 129 of the Capitol Annex. Senator Mike Wilson, Chair, called the meeting to order, and the secretary called the roll.


Present were:


Members:<Members> Senator Mike Wilson, Co-Chair; Representative James Kay, Co-Chair; Senators Alice Forgy Kerr and Max Wise; Representatives Linda Belcher, John Carney, and Mary Lou Marzian.


Legislative Guests:  Representatives Derrick Graham and Arnold Simpson.


Guests:  Bob Roland and Wayne Young, KASA; Erin Klarer, KHEAA; and Mardi Montgomery, EWDC.


LRC Staff:  Joshua Collins, Janet Stevens, Avery Young, and Chris White.


Chairman Wilson called the meeting to order and recognized Co-Chair Representative James Kay and Co-Chair of the Interim Joint Committee on Education Representative Derrick Ramsey.


On a motion by Representative Marzian and a second by Representative Kay, the minutes of the December 1, 201,5 meeting were approved.


On a motion by Senator Wise and a second by Representative Kay, the minutes of the June 21, 2016 meeting, were approved.


Acceptance of 2016 Annual Report

On a motion by Senator Wise and a second by Senator Kerr, the 2016 Office of Education Accountability (OEA) Annual Report was accepted as presented at the June 21, 2016 meeting.


Special Education Update 2016

The OEA Director, David Wickersham, said the presentation would update two OEA reports published in 2008 and 2011 regarding special education. He introduced two members of his staff, Bart Liguori, Research Division Director, and Brenda Landy, Analyst, to present the Special Education Update 2016.


Ms. Landy said special education is designed to meet the unique needs of exceptional children, defined as a person under age 21 who differs from same-age peers in physical, mental, learning, emotional, and/or social characteristics and abilities to such a degree that the child needs special educational services to benefit from education. The statute and regulation define 13 categories of disability that may require special education.


Ms. Landy said the study updates several issues raised in previous studies completed by OEA regarding special education while at the same time identifying new and emerging issues of interest. For ages 3 through 21, there are 99,000 students in special education. For the purposes of SEEK funding for ages 5 through 20, there are about 89,000 students. These figures represent 13 to 14 percent of the population.


Ms. Landy said the OEA study analyzed student, personnel, and financial data from the United States Department of Education (USED), the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) and the Education Professional Standards Board (EPSB). OEA spoke with KDE personnel who monitor and provide support to special education programs.


Special education and disabilities are defined in KRS 157.200 and 707 KAR 1:002(9), which mirror the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Federal and state laws require that students with disabilities be educated in the least restrictive environment possible, preferably integrated with same-age peers in general education settings. Ms. Landy said that, in addition to special education, students often receive related services from specialists such as psychologists and physical therapists. To ensure instructional services are tailored to each child’s unique needs, federal and state laws require a detailed Individualized Education Program (IEP), which must be reviewed and revised annually. The IEP is under the direction of the child’s Admissions and Release Committee (ARC), whose members include the child’s teachers, parents, a district representative, and others depending on the child’s unique needs. The ARC has a gatekeeping role in determining whether evidence shows the child has a disability and whether the disability has enough adverse effects to require special education.


Ms. Landy said school districts must provide special education to children with disabilities, ages 3 through 21, who reside within their boundaries. This free and appropriate public education extends with some limitations to those not attending public schools, such as private schools, residential facilities, correctional facilities, and to those students suspended or expelled.


Ms. Landy said school and public health officials find children who need services through outreach efforts. Districts receive state and federal funds targeted to special education in addition to the local, state, and federal funds districts received for general education and other targeted programs.


The federal government has raised expectations requiring that special education students be instructed and assessed on the same content as their peers resulting in lower assessment scores with special education students.


Ms. Landy reviewed three main issues raised by the OEA’s 2008 analysis of special education data: identification, personnel, and funding.


Ms. Landy said the appropriate identification of special education students is important to ensure the students receive services which benefit them and to ensure the most efficient use of resources. In 2008, the percentage of students identified for special education in Kentucky was well above the national rate and was increasing. Rates varied widely among Kentucky districts in the prevalence of disabilities, the categorizing of disabilities, and the availability of qualified personnel to evaluate student needs. Variations between Kentucky and the nation, and even among districts in Kentucky, could reflect unintended consequences of funding mechanisms for special education. Students who require additional help to overcome learning difficulties have extra funds available if the student qualifies as a special education student. These funds are not necessarily available within the general education setting.


In response to identification concerns, OEA recommended that KDE provide more written guidance and a high identification rate should be a criteria considered when deciding which districts to audit. KDE audited IEPs in 39 districts and found that less than half of the 600 IEPs reviewed contained evidence of the nature and impact of the student’s disability. While this does not imply the students did not need assistance, it raised questions about the type of assistance needed. Districts lacking the required evidence were given corrective action plans (CAP).


Regarding personnel, OEA recommended in 2008 that personnel and services should be based on the child’s unique needs. The report suggested the student’s learning difficulty may be better addressed by non-special education personnel, such as reading interventionists. Ms. Landy reported that most special education teachers are certified for all grades and many types of disabilities. Because teacher preparation programs do not ensure the necessary content knowledge and skills, ongoing training is essential. As for personnel issues, KDE issued more written guidelines and recommended consolidated monitoring on statewide issues, rather than targeted monitoring.


The 2011 OEA study pointed out that many districts spend more on special education than received in targeted revenue. The report discussed both the financial impact of a student requiring expensive services on a district and the inconsistencies in the effects of Kentucky’s preschool funding and SEEK funding. OEA recommended issuing more written guidelines on identification. However, instead of targeted audits and monitoring, KDE continued to follow federal guidance, choosing districts at random for consolidated monitoring of all federal programs, and focusing on statewide issues and trends.


In 2012, the EPSB formed a task force to improve teacher preparation and certification; however, there was no consensus on recommendations.


Other areas in OEA’s previous reports continue to be ongoing concerns. The percentage of Kentucky students identified as having disabilities requiring special education is higher than the national average for ages 3 through 5, though it has fallen in recent years. For other age groups, Kentucky’s rates remain close to national rates. KDE attributes the drop in identification rates, in part, to new requirements using three tiers of interventions within the general education setting before referring students to be evaluated for special education. While this may be a better option for students, districts receive less special education funding and are provided no extra funding to support extra interventions conducted in general settings.


Program approval and certification processes have not been revised, so it is likely that special education teachers do not have all of the necessary content knowledge for all grades taught nor skills for all types of learning difficulties.


While some new and emerging issues have arisen, most are so new that full implications are not yet known.


In 2014, USED’s monitoring of special education shifted focus from compliance only to both compliance and student outcomes. Even with this change, Kentucky continues to meet IDEA requirements. The new focus raises the importance of closing achievement gaps. OEA will present a full report on achievement gaps to the subcommittee this fall.


Ms. Landy said at least three notable changes relate to assessment and accommodations. First, in 2011, Kentucky discontinued two accommodations: the use of a reader during reading comprehension tests and the use of a calculator during non-calculator sections of math tests. These changes better align Kentucky’s policies with those for the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which may allow more students with disabilities to be able to participate in this assessment in the future.


Second, in 2015, the US Department of Justice said that students taking the ACT and SAT must be granted their usual accommodations and have their results reported in the same way as those of other students, hoping this will encourage more special education students to attend college.


The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), passed in December 2016, set a one percent cap on use of the alternate assessment, which is designed for students with the most profound cognitive disabilities. Policymakers across the nation have raised concerns, but it will have no immediate affect for Kentucky, which is already under the one percent cap.


Legislation on bullying, physical restraint, and seclusion is relevant to special education because students with disabilities are more likely to be involved. Increased awareness might lead to an increase in reporting even if the actual number of occurrences does not change. On the other hand, Kentucky’s implementation of positive behavioral interventions may reduce the number of incidents of bullying, restraint, and seclusion. OEA studying school safety and will present the report in the fall of 2017.


The USED is proposing new rules which would require all states to use a standard measure of racial or ethnic disproportionality in disciplinary actions and the identification of disabilities. Kentucky has an above-average percentage of districts with significant disproportionality in the percentages of African American students suspended, expelled, and identified as having emotional-behavioral disturbances.


The Dyslexia Task Force established this year will study dyslexia and develop recommendations on policy and personnel, and will outline the instructional and fiscal resources needed to identify and support students with dyslexia.


Ms. Landy discussed  federal and state monitoring of Kentucky’s special education programs. IDEA requires states to report data on many aspects of programs, including students, educational settings, personnel, how students exit special education programs, suspensions and expulsions, assessment participation and results, maintenance of fiscal effort, and early intervening services.


Regarding how Kentucky compares to the nation with respect to several measures that are collected in federal monitoring, Kentucky’s special education students are more likely to be integrated into regular educational settings and assessments. Although the 3 through 5 age group has fewer special education teachers per student than average, the 6 through 21 age group has more teachers per student. Fewer formal written complaints and mediation requests were made on behalf of Kentucky’s special education students. Even fewer special education students were suspended and expelled, and more graduated with a regular high school diploma. Finally, when the USED looked at all available information, it determined that Kentucky was among the half of the states that met IDEA requirements. Kentucky scored 100 percent on compliance and 75 percent on student outcomes.


Ms. Landy said that the report summarizes some specific issues emerging from federal and state monitoring. OEA analyzed data from state monitoring of formal written complaints; most of these are filed by parents but some are filed on behalf students by educators or others. Over the most recent three-year period, the number of complaints fell by almost half. This indicates improvements in programs and communications with parents. More research is needed to reach a conclusion, as the lower complaint rate could also reflect negatives, such as people becoming discouraged by responses to previous complaints.


      KDE’s audits of 26 elements in just over 400 IEPs found that most required elements were in place. The elements missing in about one out of four IEPs were evidence of consistent, significant adverse effects of the disability on the student’s learning; annual goals that are measurable and tailored to the student’s present level of functioning and achievement; and data on the student’s progress toward those goals.


Ms. Landy said there is room for improvement in the percentage of students with disabilities who participate in the NAEP as well as the scores students achieve on the tests.


Ms. Landy said the report shows trends in the percentages of the population receiving special education. The 3 through 5 age group is where Kentucky is higher than the national average. In 2014, Kentucky’s rate was ten percent compared to the national rate of six percent, which was lower from the higher 2005 percentage, when Kentucky’s rate was more than double the national rate. Ms. Landy stated it would be difficult to be sure whether this represents over-identification by Kentucky or under-identification by other states. Regardless, even small differences in identification rates can have substantial implications for revenue, staffing, and expenditures. Ms. Landy said rates can reflect not only differences in the prevalence of disabilities but also other factors. For example, since the 1990s, Kentucky has offered free preschool for 3- and 4-year olds with disabilities. Kentucky has the 10th highest preschool enrollment for 3-year olds. Another possible factor might be Kentucky‘s slightly higher rate of low birthweights, which is associated with developmental delays.


The 6 through 21 age group rate slightly exceeded that of the nation for most years, but only by one percentage point at most. In 2014, it fell slightly below the national rate for the first time. In discussions with OEA, KDE attributed the declining rate to the implementation of response-to-intervention, the program that uses three tiers of increasingly intensive interventions to help students in the general education setting. Students are supposed to be referred for evaluation of a suspected disability only if those interventions do not help with their learning difficulties. This shows the variations among districts in the percentage of students identified as needing special education. As seen in the study, the identification rate ranges from a low of 6 percent in one district, to a high of 27 percent in two districts. Most districts are in the 12 to 16 percent range.


Ms. Landy said random variation is to be expected, especially in small districts where rates can change dramatically when students move in or out. However, a district’s rate can also be affected by other things, such as the availability of qualified personnel to accurately evaluate students and the quality of a district’s services can affect parents’ decisions about where to live.


Kentucky regulations mention unusually high or low identification rates as a cause to audit a district. In 2015, 52 districts had rates over 15 percent, a level mentioned specifically in the regulation. The regulation doesn’t provide a specific example of an unusually low rate; however, 29 districts averaging less than 12 percent were reviewed.


Comparing Kentucky to the nation for each category of disabilities and impairments reveals that Kentucky has above-average percentages of children ages 3 through 5 identified with speech-language impairments and developmental delays. Ms. Landy said better access to state-funded preschool may allow these difficulties to be identified and addressed more often than in many other states.


The same information for older students (ages 6 through 21) covers a broad age range and there may be variations within this range. The study illustrated that speech-language and developmental delays are identified at a lower rate than for the 3 through 5 age group, possibly because these issues were addressed for many students. For developmental delays, differences between age groups are also affected by differing definitions and practices. IDEA makes this category optional and restricts it to ages 3 through 9. Some states don’t use the developmental delay category for students over age 5; however, students in Kentucky use this category for students ages 3 through 8.


Ms. Landy said looking at other categories, Kentucky has a lower identification rate for specific learning disabilities, which could be, in part, because school districts do not all have access to specialized personnel to carry out the rigorous tests required for this category. Possibly, some students with undiagnosed specific learning disabilities are in other categories where Kentucky has above average rates, such as developmental delay or intellectual impairments.


Autism is another category that has shown a rapid increase in diagnoses across the nation. It is still a smaller percentage of the total population than some other categories and Kentucky’s rate is still below the national rate. However, in the past five years, Kentucky’s count of children with autism increased from about 3,500 to about 6,300, which is a 79 percent increase. Again, differences and changes in identification rates often reflect not only differences in the prevalence of a disability but other factors, such as the availability of experts who can evaluate children.


Ms. Landy said that the OEA also identified personnel who can provide special education and related services. IDEA requires that states report the types and full-time equivalent number of employees and contractors that provide special education and related services. The report reviewed total personnel counts and calculated student-staff ratios.


Instructional staff are reported by the age group of students they serve. Unlike the 6 through 21 age group, schools rely more on instructional aides than on special education teachers for the 3 through 5 age group, which was found to be especially pronounced in some districts. Previous OEA reports suggested that such unusual levels of reliance on less-trained personnel might warrant a closer look to ensure students have the needed support.


OEA also looked at the reported full-time equivalent of employees and contractors providing related services. When reviewing the district level, many districts that did not report any data for some types of services. When a district reports no personnel of a given type for IDEA purposes, it does not always imply that there are none in the district. As an example, although over 80 percent of districts did not report a physical education (PE) teachers for IDEA purposes, it is known that all districts have PE teachers. Because most personnel serve all students, many of their activities should not be counted as special education related services. Still, many of these low counts indicate shortages. As mentioned in other meetings, special education cooperative directors report difficulty in finding enough speech therapists, physical therapists, psychologists, orientation and mobility specialists, and interpreters.


Ms. Landy said the report describes types of nonstandard certifications held by some teachers. Of course, the standard way to be certified is to complete a four-year college degree in education; pass the basic teacher exam; complete the teacher internship program; and pass exams for the content areas, grades, and student populations for which the teacher wants to be certified. However, to help ease the shortages of teachers, several types of temporary nonstandard certificates allow people teach while working on completing requirements for a permanent certificate.


Over time, a small but increasing percentage of special education teachers retain nonstandard certificates. The percentage rose from less than eight percent in 2012 to over 14 percent in 2016. At the same time, nonstandard certificates for other types of teachers have remained around one-half percent. Therefore, most growth was attributed to alternative routes to certification, whereby a person could obtain a temporary teaching certificate while working on teaching exams and completing an internship.


Many special education teachers are broadly certified for all grade levels (K - 12) and several types of disabilities. OEA’s 2011 study looked at requirements of several teacher preparation programs and concluded that many do not ensure that special education teachers have the content knowledge to teach challenging content and the skills to help with all types of learning difficulties. This concern was also raised in OEA’s 2009 math study.


To address this issue, the EPSB established a task force in 2012 to recommend revisions to its teacher preparation program approval and certification processes. However, according to EPSB, the task force seemed unclear about its objectives and ultimately did not come to a consensus to make recommendations.


Professional development is available through regional special education cooperatives but local leaders should ensure that staff take advantage of opportunities and develop a full range of skills.


Ms. Landy explained that most special education revenue comes from the SEEK exceptional child add-on, but districts also receive a substantial amount of federal IDEA funds. Additionally, schools may receive Medicaid funds for medical services provided in schools, as well as funding for any extra transportation costs.


Ms. Landy said revenue and expenses were almost equal in 2004. Both increased and peaked in 2010, when federal stimulus funds were available. Afterwards, revenue fell slightly and expenses leveled off. Throughout the period, expenses increased almost twice as fast as revenue, increasing by 59 percent while revenue grew by only 34 percent. Expenditure growth reflects increases in salaries, benefits, and transportation costs. The report provides revenue data for special education from both state and federal sources. Ms. Landy said that while districts have access to local funds to cover additional costs, some districts are able to collect more local funds than others.


In 2015, district variations confirm how much revenue is received for every dollar spent. On the low end, the more affluent districts received less than 75 cents in revenue for every dollar spent because they are able to spend general fund dollars. On the high end, less affluent districts received $1.25 or more in revenue for every dollar spent on special education. These variations possibly indicate disparities in the quantity and quality of services students receive.


Ms. Landy then went on to discuss student assessments, graduation rates, college and career readiness, and trends in national and state assessments. Every two years, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) measures the reading and math proficiency of samples of 4th and 8th graders in every state. The report shows trends from 2009 through 2015. Ms. Landy advised that observers should view NAEP results with some caution because Kentucky has an above-average exclusion rate for students with disabilities, especially on reading tests. The most frequent reason for a student to be excluded is because the student’s usual accommodations are not allowed by NAEP. Ms. Landy indicated that Kentucky’s recent realignment of accommodation policies with those of national tests should lead to higher participation in the future.


Looking at the NAEP results, Kentucky’s students with disabilities have higher proficiency rates in 4th and 8th grade reading and in 4th grade math, when compared to all students with disabilities in the nation. Eighth grade math proficiency was equal to the nation except in 2011, when it was lower. Kentucky’s gaps between students with disabilities and all students were about the same as those of the nation. The exception was 8th grade math, where Kentucky’s gaps were smaller but only because scores were lower for those without disabilities.


Ms. Landy explained that trends in graduation rates appear to be skewed because of changes in how graduation rates were calculated, but there is a general upward trend in graduation rates for students with disabilities. Kentucky’s special education students have higher graduation rates than the national rate for special education students, however, a gap remains between special education students and others. Although Kentucky’s graduation rates are encouraging, there remains a wide gap in college and career readiness between students with disabilities and all students. Moreover, while college readiness has increased, the gap has increased slightly each year, from 33 percent to 41 percent. Kentucky is one of the few states that measure college and career readiness.


Ms. Landy said the previous OEA study was completed five years ago, and efforts have been made to address the issues raised. With monitoring and improvement efforts, OEA expects students to be correctly identified as needing special education and related services, thereby ensuring that teachers have the knowledge and skills they need, helping districts identify which specialists students need, and finding ways to help districts provide more interventions in general education settings.


In explaining funding for special education, Ms. Landy said that the SEEK exceptional child add-on is the primary source of special education revenue for districts. Each district’s SEEK special education funding is calculated based on the number of special education students reported by the district in each category. Each student identified is associated with an increase in revenue.


Ms. Landy said it is important to note that SEEK base funding is made up from both state and local revenue. The lowest wealth districts receive a far greater percentage of the SEEK exceptional child add-on from state funding than do the highest wealth districts. In the highest wealth districts, much of the SEEK exceptional child add-on is generated from local revenue.


In response to Chairman Wilson’s question, Ms. Landy said exclusions address assessments for NAEP regarding students turning 22 in the middle of the school year. Ms. Landy said students with disabilities can attend school until they are 21, until their 22nd birthday. Ms. Landy said the regulations vary but as long as long as they turn 22 within the year, they are allowed to finish the school year. If the student turns “22” and “ages out of the system”, they are not considered a graduate unless they completed a regular diploma within four years or they completed a regular diploma within five years if stated in the student’s IEP. She confirmed that 24 percent of special needs students are not graduating. Ms. Landy said the goal set by NAEP is to include 85 percent of special education students and while the national average is 87 percent, Kentucky’s students with disabilities have a graduation rate of 77 percent.


In response to a question by Representative Kay, Ms. Landy said revenues were lower when the stimulus money was no longer available. The exceptional child add-on has been the same since the 1990s. She said funding levels have also been affected by the percent of students identified for special education. The revenue went down partly because the number of students who are identified for special education has decreased over time. She said that the per pupil expenses leveled off because the number of special education students has decreased while costs have increased, due to teacher salaries, benefits, transportation costs and other expenses. Ms. Landy said one-fourth of funds come from federal money, roughly two-thirds from the SEEK exceptional child add-on, with the remaining coming from Medicaid services. Representative Kay suggested in the next budget cycle that these programs need to be looked at to see if the funding of these programs can be improved, thereby resulting in better outcomes.


In response to Senator Kerr’s question, Ms. Landy said bullying, restraint, and seclusion are being addressed by the school safety study, which will be covered in more detail in a subsequent meeting.


Mr. Wickersham said that at the next meeting, OEA is expected to present the district data profiles and a two-year school safety study in collaboration with the KDE and the Kentucky Center for School Safety.


In response to Senator Kerr’s question, Ms. Landy said the newly established Dyslexia Task Force will be conducting a study and offered to provide the committee with a member list of the task force.


In response to Senator Wilson’s question, Ms. Landy said the IEP requirements are generally part of the audit process. She said that if there is more than one systemic non-compliance, they are provided with a CAP.


Mr. Wickersham said the department is also on a campaign of trying to improve guidance around the writing and implementation of IEPs, which specifically lays responsibility for both the implementation and the origin of the idea at the local district level, with KDE having an advisory role.


In response to Representative Graham’s question, Ms. Landy explained that the reason for the number of children in special education between ages 3 through 5 (3.5 percent) and ages 6 through 21 (15 percent) could mean a student was misdiagnosed as special needs, but in actuality could be culturally deprived. She said the many factors can determine a misdiagnosis and there can be a lot of variation in the determination. Ms. Landy said if a student is identified as having a suspected disability, the student should be evaluated on an ongoing basis. She said there is an increasing awareness of differentiated instruction throughout the system. Ms. Landy said there is a huge range of student issues, from mild autism to much more severe developmental or speech disability, and reminded the subcommittee that Kentucky is one of the few states that offers state-funded preschool.


In response to Representative Graham’s question, Ms. Landy said that there are 20 different certificates in the field of special education, which can vary in quality of teacher training. Special education certification is in the process of being reviewed. A certificate for K-12 special education requires learning a great deal of content knowledge. KDE will be able to provide criteria for earning these certifications.


On a motion by Representative Kay and a second by Senator Kerr, the Special Education Update 2016 report was accepted by voice vote.


On a motion by Senator Kerr, the meeting was adjourned at 11:15 a.m.