special needs

More students with disabilities got required services last year, but large gaps remain

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

Significantly more students with disabilities received the services they were entitled to last year, according to new data released Wednesday, though over a quarter still only received partial services or none at all.

Last school year 73 percent of students received all of the services required by their individual learning plans, which can include services like counseling or physical or behavioral therapy. That represents a significant increase from the 2015-16 school year, when just 59 percent of students received all mandated services.

But the 14 percentage point jump comes as the city is revamping its notoriously glitchy special-education data system, which officials have previously blamed for inaccuracies in their own statistics. As a result, it is unclear how much of the increase stems from better data collection and how much reflects a boost in services.

“If it’s true, that’s amazing,“ said Lori Podvesker, a disability policy manager at IncludeNYC, referring to the rise in students receiving services. However, the city’s data-reporting challenges make her skeptical, she said.

“If they’ve already conceded that this data may not be completely accurate,” she added, “what makes us think that [the year-to-year increase] is 100 percent true?”

An education department spokeswoman could not say what portion of the increase resulted from better data collection. However, officials said they have worked to close gaps in services by sending schools weekly reports on each student with disabilities, and providing technical assistance through borough-based support centers.

“We have made major investments to meet the individual needs of students with disabilities,” schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña said in a statement. “We are building on this work and improving our data tracking capabilities to ensure we deliver for students and families.”

Wednesday’s report marks the third year the city has been required by law to release comprehensive statistics on how well it is serving its roughly 200,000 students with special needs — a group that dwarfs most entire school districts.

The city made scant progress on several indicators.

Roughly 28 percent of students had to wait longer than the two months allowed under law to be assessed for special education services, a one point improvement over the previous year.

The share of students who received none of their mandated services shrank by four percentage points, dropping from 8 to 4 percent. However, that represents only a one point improvement from the rate in 2014-15.

Advocates acknowledged that the data shows more students receiving all of their services. But that still leaves over 48,000 students, or 27 percent, getting partial support or none at all, the advocates noted.

“That’s really significant,” said Maggie Moroff, a disability policy expert at Advocates for Children. “That’s an entire school district somewhere else.”

The report also sheds light on how often school personnel recommend that students with disabilities take classes with their general-education peers.

About 70 percent of students with disabilities were recommended to spend at least 40 percent of their day in a general-education classroom last school year — essentially the same percentage as in 2014-15.

An education official said there has been an increase in students being recommended for “less-restrictive settings” when their special-education plans are rewritten, and that the number of students with intensive needs has increased.

Officials also pointed to the graduation rate for students with disabilities, which increased to nearly 45 percent in 2015-16, a 14 percentage point bump since the 2011-12 school year.

They also noted that 95 percent of students received their “related services” — which include physical therapy, certain medical services and counseling. But a report from the public advocate’s office earlier this year found that thousands of families still don’t receive related services because they are sometimes forced to find them on their own.

What's Your Education Story?

Tips for teaching poetry in a women’s prison. ‘Remember, you are not allowed to hug anyone.’

PHOTO: Lwp Kommunikáció, Flickr CC
Inmates at the Indiana Women's Prison.

Adam Henze was one of seven educators who participated in a story slam sponsored by Chalkbeat, Teachers Lounge Indy, WFYI Public Media and the Indianapolis Public Library on Sept. 5. Every teacher shared stories about their challenges and triumphs in Circle City classrooms.

A poet and educator, Henze read a poem about a day in his life as a poetry instructor at the Indiana Women’s Prison. Henze recounts the painful struggle to reconcile his experiences with the crimes for which his students were serving time — some life sentences for murder

It’s a story full of darkness, but it also offers hope that, as Henze said, “we are the sum of the things that we have done, but we’re also the sum of the things that we have yet to do.”

Check out the video below to hear Henze’s story.

You can find more stories from educators, students and parents here.

Future of Schools

IPS students have made their high school choices. Here’s where they want to go.

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy

High schoolers across Indianapolis Public Schools have made their choices for next year, and some schools are proving far more popular than others.

With all but four high schools set to close, the district is already in the midst of an upheaval. Students’ choices this year could have far-reaching implications for the configuration of the district for years to come.

Shortridge High School had the greatest increase in demand, with more than triple the 400 students enrolled there now listing it as their first choice for next year. George Washington High School, which also enrolls more than 400 students now, is not likely to grow too much. And while Arsenal Technical and Crispus Attucks high schools are both likely to grow by hundreds of students, neither saw interest grow as exponentially as Shortridge.

The final enrollment at each school will determine such critical issues as how many teachers are hired, what courses are available to students, and how much it costs to operate the buildings. Ultimately, students’ choices are likely to shape course offerings over the next several years, district officials said.

The enrollment figures are the result of a district mandate requiring students from across the district to select high schools and magnet programs this fall. More than 90 percent of 8th to 11th grade students have made selections so far. All students will be placed in their top choice program, according to the IPS spokeswoman Carrie Cline Black.

Fewer than 500 IPS students have chosen programs at George Washington so far, according to district data obtained exclusively by Chalkbeat. In contrast, more than 1,300 students have selected Shortridge, which will house the arts magnet program currently at Broad Ripple and the International Baccalaureate Programme. More than 2,300 students have chosen programs at Arsenal Tech (currently the district’s largest high school with 1,826 students) and 1,050 have selected Crispus Attucks (which currently enrolls 695).

The uneven distribution of students did not take  Superintendent Lewis Ferebee’s administration by complete surprise.

At an Indiana State Board of Education meeting on Oct. 4, state Superintendent Jennifer McCormick asked, “What happens if you don’t have a nice, somewhat-even distribution? … What if it’s very out of whack?”

Ferebee said that the district will have room to accommodate students if a school proves especially popular. In the long term, he added, IPS may have to adjust, by replicating  popular programs and discontinuing unpopular ones.

But Ferebee also said the district was hoping to persuade students to take another look at some of the programs that might not be popular at first.

For instance, he said, “We do know it’s going to take some time to educate families on construction and engineering. So we knew out of the gate, not many students may be interested, so it will take some time to build a program.”

Here is a full breakdown of the schools and programs that students chose:

In total 5,142 IPS students chose their preferred programs as part of a broad reconfiguration plan that includes closing nearly half of the seven high school campuses because of low enrollment. The district has not provided projections of how many students would enroll in each high school. But if enrollment doesn’t shift in the coming months, some campuses will be far closer to capacity then others. While the initial deadline for choosing schools and programs has passed, enrollment remains open to any students who have not yet made their selection.

If no other students enrolled in IPS high schools, Shortridge would be nearly 89 percent full. Arsenal Tech and Crispus Attucks would each be over 76 percent full. And George Washington would be about 25 percent full.

At the four remaining high school campuses, the district is aiming to “reinvent” high school by vastly expanding specialized programs in subjects such as business, engineering, and the arts, which students will study alongside their core classwork.

Next year, every student will be enrolled in specialized programs within high schools. District leaders hope that students will choose schools based on their interests, rather than their neighborhood.

Principal Stan Law will take over George Washington next year. In an interview about the school last week, before IPS released student selections numbers, Law said that it was important for students and families to get accurate information so they would select schools based on student career interests rather than neighborhood.

“Everyone has their ideas about things, but only certain people have the accurate information,” he said.

The most popular programs are the health sciences academy at Crispus Attucks and the Career Technology Center at Arsenal Tech, where students can study subjects such as culinary arts, welding and fire rescue. Each attracted more than 900 students. The least popular are the teaching program at Crispus Attucks, chosen by  104 students, and the information technology program at George Washington, chosen by 80.

Despite its apparent unpopularity with IPS students, the information technology program fits in with a state push to prepare students for careers in computer science and related fields. Gov. Eric Holcomb’s legislative agenda calls for requiring high schools to offer computer sciences classes, and the Indiana Chamber of Commerce wants computer science to be a high school graduation requirement.