The 'Big One', in my view, has been introduced. OCDSB staff have proposed a new Special Education Framework to take us through 2011. It is explicit in wishing to relocate congregated classes to suburban locations where this makes sense to do based on travel times and given a concern with travel times and equity of access to services. The Framework likely will be discussed and decided on at Committee level on Wed Oct 22nd.
The Framework document was couriered to Trustees the Friday before last week and hit September's Education Committee meeting last week. It is the product of the three-year Spec Ed Visioning group which now will stand down. Debate did not conclude on it at the September meeting and a decision, and possible amendments, therefore are put off until October's Ed Cmtee meeting of Wed Oct 22nd. This is the Special Education Framework.pdf document presented at the Sept 2008 Education Committee
To my knowledge Trustees have never been asked to pronounce so explicitly on a new direction for special education delivery at the OCDSB. Some parts of this Framework are already implemented or in implementation. Some parts arenít yet really. Approving this Framework would provide the Board's clear blessing of the proposed changes and correctly will be the formal decision referred back to for years to come in my view. This is more important the Getty motion (rf. Ed News #14) formally speaking in my view and may be on a par with it re practical impact as well. Over all I see this Framework as the product of a lot of discussion and angst and planning and debate at the OCDSB for some years. There have been staff reports and 3rd party consultant reports but nothing tangible the Board actually was asked to approve re a new clear direction in spec ed delivery. This Framework document does not suffer from much vagueness (though actually some) and this represents a possible watershed blessing moment.
It proposes the establishment of new entry criteria to spec ed programs. It calls for the establishment of clear exit criteria also and for most exceptionalities these have not existed before. Note that these criteria will be set by staff and will not by default require Trustee approval. It calls effectively for a heightened valuing of equity of access to service for spec ed needs in suburban areas and would assign and administer spec ed supports by Superintendency (there are 5 superintendents of schools currently at the OCDSB).
I will note an important error in the Framework document. On PDF page 7 at the link above (document appendix page 3) the allimportant 7th belief statement is importantly misstated. These guiding belief statements were passed by the Board last year after several raucous debates at Committee and at Board and most of the focus was on the 7th belief statement. It had read, and in the linked doc reads, as "Education that meets a studentís needs should be delivered in the studentís home class or home school." Ö it was directed by the Board last year however to be changed to read instead as "Education should be delivered in the student's home class or home school when it meets a student's needs." I hope that the reader can see how significantly different these two versions are. Staff have however assured that the oversight will be corrected and that the Visioning group was aware of and sought to comply with the Board's direction in this area even though the group Chair has stated publicly they did not agree with the change. Anyway, simply to take note of if you happen to review the belief statements in the published Framework document draft.
I have some concerns with the Framework. One is that the focus of performance measures proposed is a new parent satisfaction survey to be developed. Parent satisfaction is valuable to me also but I have to be blunt: demonstrated improvement in actual student achievement and capacity is far more important to me. The Framework as it stands does not propose any psychometric or other tracking or monitoring to ensure that what we think is good and proper to implement re spec ed delivery really is working or not. I've asked staff for more this way. For the Ed Cmtee meeting they drafted some quick additional measures which might help allay this concern which could be added in perhaps later on to the Framework. They are not prepared to publish them or to have people generally look at them at this time as they say that they would need refinement first. I have been able to look at them and my assessment is that while one or two ideas there might be helpful with respect to my concern most of the performance measures being proposed to date are essentially administrative in nature (assessment wait time reduction sorts of measures and not actually objectively based measures which are student focused to determine if they are really improving).
For an example of the sort of thing which can be conceived of this way please refer to the appendix to the Tor Cath DSB 2005 Spec Ed Plan which I came across last year when trying to find some semi-decent research on Arrowsmith program outcomes for students: http://www.tcdsb.org/curriculum/special education/FINAL Sp. Ed. Plan NOV 2005.pdf Go to PDF page 189 (numbered page 186) and following pages. Here we have a real analysis of learning disabled student outcomes by intervention type. Rolling random samples using one or more psychometric measures could be used to monitor or track OCSDSB progress with respect to our interventions with LD students for instance. No Board probably has the resources, or the desire, to closely test every spec ed student with a battery of tests all of the time. However some sort of assessment and tracking of improvements in actual student achievement could be devised for each exceptionality. The study compares how LD students fared in integrated classes versus selfcontained i.e. specialized or congregated) classes versus two sorts of special program (Arrowsmith and Sick Kids). Incidentally you will note that specialized classes helped better than integrated and that the Sick Kids Program seemed to beat them all pretty much hands down by my untutored read of it all. The point in this reference though is that the tools exist for Boards to track how well samples of spec ed kids really are objectively improving or not, if we want to.
I have other concerns as well. One is whether, by dispersing more kids of different sorts to the suburbs and rural areas we will make it harder to form specialized classes than before and those formed will be more multi-grade than before. I even wonder if we will be able to rationalize specialist itinerant support to a school if there is only one kid there. Even assuming the new criteria for admission and exit are excellent and adhered to and the new pro-integration focus on itinerant and in class supports reweights the delivery mode spectrum for exceptionalities, generally works for kids, there will be kids for whom it is agreed that intensive all-day specialist supports maybe for years are required and also those for whom solid slices of itinerant support are needed if not agreed to be recommended to a specialized class. We have had to cancel specialized classes last year and the year before as the numbers did not warrant keeping them open though certainly some students were recommended to the class. What will be the impact of dispersal therefore and can we be sufficiently reassured that we donít have more problems than before delivering the appropriate supports to kids we agree they need.
I certainly do not want to sign off on anything which may lead to more and not fewer kids falling between the cracks. It was disturbing to hear at the first SEAC meeting of this year for instance that staff did not believe that they could administratively determine or track the actual average specialist staff contact hours for integrated learning disabled students. I find this concerning and especially now as the Province deprecates or does not insist on formal spec ed student identification as much now. How will we know if we are improving and how will we know what resources we currently apply to an exceptionality?
Another concern has to do with the exit criteria. What is a student is released from an intensive support class too early or does not thrive with lesser supports in the regular classroom. Will there be another lengthy waiting period before they are referred back to the intensive support? Is there a revolving door risk and what about school attachment for kids? Maybe these concerns can be allayed with careful attention in implementation but as yet they are concerns of mine. Also, under the superintendency model will superintendents be able to share resources or agree to transfer them? Maybe these are details.
There is the weightier general question in my mind as to the balance between valuing transport times and equity of access concerns to spec ed services and the quality of those services if we go to a dispersed model with more itinerant supports and more training for regular teachers. At what point do kids who need a service not get to access it due to travel times and access issues? At what point do we risk exalting home school access too highly and denying kids the service they need as they are too dispersed? The Framework points the direction towards a more dispersed system geographically and across more programs and regular classes also within a geography. Note also the consistency with the call in the FSL ad hoc recommendations to stop streaming spec ed kids out of FSL but to service them there instead. It all seems to be very attractive in many ways at one level but the bothersome piece for me here is a seeming dependence on ideology re the benefits of integration and also perhaps of service dispersal it may go hand in hand with and a certain lack of research - I've ever been presented showing better outcomes for the same students and support levels this way. The problem is greatly heightened re risk management for me when we propose to make these changes without actually monitoring objective changes in student achievement.
Maybe this is for the best but I do have a lot of concerns and see a risk that we are jumping into another 10 year long edu-fad sweeping the province based on pretty thin research gives me the willies. Even the defining touchstone Education for All teacher resource document starts out with belief statements and not with a clear research foundation. I refer readers to a raft of concerns and my general position statement and paradoxical natural alignment with these belief statements in Ed-News #14 in case of interest.
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