Action plans needed to meet state standards in several areas of special education
The Upper Perkiomen School District must work to improve upon several aspects of its special education programming, but overall, the district received positive feedback from a recent state assessment.
Kim Rank, director of pupil services and special education for UPSD, presented the preliminary findings of the facilitated state assessment (FSA) at last Thursday's school board workshop. The FSA takes place every six years. State-designated monitors were onsite at the schools, talking to parents and students, May 13-15.
In the current school year (2013-2014), 17.4 percent of UPSD students, or 569 of 3,260 students, were determined to have special education needs. Last school year (2012-2013), the percentage of students with learning disabilities was 18.4 percent, or 604 of 3,251 students.
"In comparison to other districts, Upper Perk is average-fair," Rank said, adding that the data used in the assessment was several years old and some of the items requiring an action plan by the state are already being addressed in the district's three-year-plan. Rank added that school districts must be 100 percent compliant with all aspects of state special education programming guidelines, so even if the district scored high in certain areas, an action plan is still required.
According to Rank, the district will need to develop action plans to improve graduation rates and reduce dropout rates of special education students; increase the amount of time special education students spend in regular classrooms; provide additional professional development opportunities for parents and regular education staff; and create better measurements of student progress and compliance with state education standards.
Board member Dr. Kerry Drake questioned Rank about the amount of time special education students spend in regular classrooms. She said that currently the district is about 3 percent above the state average for special education students not being in regular classrooms for 80 percent of the day, "but we are making gains."
"We can't assume [special education students] won't be successful in regular classrooms," she said. "Kids cannot make gains if they're not exposed to grade-level content."
However, she added that the district will look at individual needs and collect data to determine whether increased time in regular classrooms would actually benefit students.
Rank said she also expects to see an increasing number of students entering the district with emotional disturbances in future years and spoke of the need to develop an action plan to help parents and teachers better serve such students.
To address other areas of the FSA, Rank said the district is re-evaluating its programming and trying to make improvements, as well as adopting a new electronic file management system that will make it easier for teachers and administrators to monitor progress and access information.
The district determines whether a student has special education needs by conducting a comprehensive evaluation that includes cognitive testing and psychological evaluation. There are 14 learning disabilities recognized by the district.
"By being proactive [in the disabilities screening process] we can notice things earlier and really have an impact to get students to where they need to be," Rank said on Tuesday about the district's evaluation system.
Also at Thursday's workshop meeting, the board reviewed an agreement to extend the Freedom Valley YMCA after school and summer programming for one year. The YMCA provides before and after school, as well as summer, programs for children at Marlborough and Hereford elementary schools.
Board member Reann Hoskins asked about the fee the Y pays per use of a classroom, saying that the $39 included in the agreement "seems cheap."
Acting Superintendent Francis Leskowicz said the district is working to increase that fee incrementally to $42, but added that the Y loses about $25,000 per year on the program. "We have a good relationship [with the Y], but the program is at risk because it is losing money," Leskowicz said, adding, "The Freedom Valley Y is giving the Upper Perkiomen School District a lot of allowances in anticipation of the new center generating income."
Michael Tannous will be on hand to discuss the new Y at the next school board meeting June 12 and can answer additional questions then, Leskowicz said.
Leskowicz also noted that participation in the program is lower this year than previous years. The comment sparked a discussion among board members about low participation rates in school breakfast programs district-wide.