Special Education committee report highlights needs of disabled students
The group’s top priorities include ensuring Loudoun County Public Schools provide consistency in its special education programs, giving more support and services to children with dyslexia, enhancing autism programs and having transition services available to prepare students with disabilities for life after school. Highlights of the report include:
-Having stability and consistency in the way students with disabilities receive services is the group’s top priority. Ensuring special needs programs aren’t cut or moved due to space issues, having fidelity in the way programs are implemented across the county and improving staff and parent awareness of school policies are among SEAC’s recommendations.
-Making sure every school in the division offers an inclusive environment for students with disabilities is another priority for SEAC. The group recommends LCPS offer teachers and administrators professional development courses that will give them training on how to use new methods for teaching students with disabilities.
-Making sure students with disabilities can succeed independently after they graduate is another SEAC priority. The committee recommends hiring a full-time transition supervisor and a full-time independence instruction specialist. They also recommend LCPS provide transportation to community-based transition programs, expanding work experience programs for students with disabilities ages 18 through 22 and life skills training in each high school.
-Getting more support for students with dyslexia is another main goal of SEAC. The group told the School Board there needs to be a universal screening tool to identify students with dyslexia. The SEAC report also asks the board to hire a dyslexia specialist for the next school year. The group also believes teachers and staff should receive training on dyslexia including the symptoms, warning signs, appropriate interventions, accommodations and effective assistive technology.
“Reading specialists and special education staff who will be working with dyslexic students to remediate academic deficits must be highly skilled in multisensory, structured language approach to include effective progress monitoring with diagnostic tools,” reads the SEAC report.
In October the Times-Mirror first reported about a large group of parents advocating for systemic change in the way LCPS serves dyslexic students. The group complains it is difficult to get the schools to evaluate their kids when they see the first signs of the learning disability and when children are diagnosed with dyslexia, their teachers don't have the full certifications in programs that scientific research has found to be the most effective. Parents often have to pay out of pocket for pricey screenings and tutoring sessions for their children to get the instruction they believe they desperately need.
The SEAC report also lists needs for the district’s students with autism. The group recommends LCPS fund an autism supervisor in fiscal 2018. According to SEAC, staff training in instructional and behavioral techniques needs improvement.
The report also listed specific concerns with LCPS, including the disproportionate likelihood of students with special needs to be disciplined and the large achievement gap between those students and the rest of the student body.
“SEAC continues to be concerned about discipline disproportionality for our special education students,” reads the report. “We support discipline decisions that use evidence-based practices that allows students to have clear, developmentally appropriate and proportional consequences for misbehavior.”
The achievement gap between special education students and the general student population needs improvement, according to SEAC. There was a gap between 51 and 57 percent for LCPS students with disabilities on the Standards of Learning (SOL) testing in the 2015 through 2016 school year.
“While the Virginia Department of Education division report indicates student achievement is steady, with 84 to 88 percent of students proficient in the core content areas of reading and math, this is not the case for students with disabilities,” reads the report. “When looking at students who receive special education services, large achievement gaps of 25 to 30 percent still exist.”
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