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Reorganized Special Education Gets Results

One year after major reorganization of the Long Beach Unified School District's Office of Special Education, some remarkable breakthroughs are happening here for thousands of students. Special education students here are graduating at a significantly higher rate than in comparable large urban districts. For example, in 2000-2001, 65 percent of eligible LBUSD special education students graduated, compared to Los Angeles Unified's rate of 47 percent and San Diego's 55 percent the previous year. Also, many more special education students are taking the SAT-9 tests than ever before. Of the special education students tested this year, 91 percent took the SAT-9. Not only is participation up, but far fewer of those taking the SAT-9 require non-standard accommodations to take it. Only 28 percent of the special education students this year required test accommodations, a dramatic improvement from last year when the figure was 97 percent. "This change reflects teachers and Individualized Education Program (IEP) teams doing a better job at providing, during instruction, those accommodations that students truly need and use," said Judy Elliott, assistant superintendent for Special Education. Most visibly, the reorganization of special education divided the district into eight administrative clusters, with one cluster serving pre-school students, three for elementary, two for K-8/middle school and two for high school. These clusters of schools allow Administrators for Teaching and Learning to oversee a more manageable number of schools. Their service to and communication with those schools, parents, and students has grown far more rapid and responsive than before. "I can see the changes and more cooperation in the classes," said Annette Stewart, parent of a special education student. "The cooperation is better between parents and special education administrators. My concerns are being addressed more directly." Reflecting the district's commitment to bridge the gap between special education and general education, many of those in the reorganization now have a general education background. Bringing a different perspective, those with general education training are able to observe and examine current practices in special education classes and suggest ideas that allow access to the district's educational curriculum or teaching practices. Those with special education training provide insight on how to modify curriculum and instruction as well as how to address legal or compliance issues. Other outcomes of the reorganization: • Helpful feedback about services provided to special education students now comes from monthly status reports by school administrators, and parent and teacher surveys. These surveys provide opportunities to pass along specific suggestions, compliments, and requests for help as well as concerns about services. • There are several new ways for people to learn more about the activities and current events of the Office of Special Education. A new special education web page has been developed and is available on the district's home page. Other communications include "School Zone," a monthly newsletter delivered to more than 10,000 district employees, and "SPED RED" - a more specialized newsletter for school site personnel. Published bi-monthly, it informs administrators, teachers, support personnel, and staff about hot topics in the field. • Special Education has increased services and reduced costs for students who require occupational therapy or physical therapy by offering many of those services in-district. "When we started this two years ago, 100 percent of students needing occupational therapy or physical therapy were required to get these services outside of the school district," said Elliott. Instead of parents continuing to transport their children to cities such as Redondo Beach or Fullerton for therapy, these services have been brought home to the district. Not only does this service change save the district a significant amount of money; we are serving children better, and working more closely with teachers of these students. • A federal grant in collaboration with CSULB now helps LBUSD paraeducators earn a teaching credential free of charge in three years. This opportunity will ultimately accommodate 60 aspiring special education teachers. • Teacher support forums are being held. These informal teacher forums give educators the opportunity to support and help each other, sharing ideas and problem-solving situations. Also new for this school year: • Fall literacy training is being conducted for middle and high school special education teachers. • A program for Special Education English Language Learners is being piloted at MacArthur Elementary School. A bilingual special education teacher and paraeducator works with students who have English acquisition and special learning needs. • Marshall Middle School is hosting a pilot program for Emotionally Disabled students where content classes are being taught by general education teachers and reinforced by the special education teacher. In this manner, special education teachers can work fully with students on their behavior while general education teachers deliver the instruction. • Much planning and program development is underway in preschool. Currently, LBUSD has 49 preschool classrooms on 29 campuses. Preschool assessment teams are planning to assess more than 350 youngsters for services this year. With more than 400 preschool special needs students, this program is the first experience of the district for many parents. The Office of Special Education is working hard to make that experience the best possible. • Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) provides a safe forum for district personnel and parents to agree to disagree and move to resolution without due process/attorney involvement. ADR is available to all sites for any issues that cannot be resolved successfully at an IEP meeting. These changes represent only a few of the recent major developments taking place in the Office of Special Education. "We're finding better ways to serve children," said Elliott. "It's encouraging to see all of these efforts coming together to help more kids succeed. This is what good education and good schools are all about for all students, including students with disabilities."