Report finds MCPS in compliance with special education laws, but identifies areas for improvement
An external review of special education in Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) finds that the district is complying with federal laws and expectations, but identifies areas where the district can improve its procedures to better serve students and collaborate with families.
The Montgomery County Board of Education had requested the special education review, which was conducted by WestEd, a non-profit educational research firm. The review centered around three key areas:
- The development of Individualized Education Programs (IEP) for students who receive special education services;
- The implementation of IEPs by the schools; and
- The resolution of disputes between parents of special education students and the school system.
The report was made public Friday (October 9, 2015) and will be discussed by the Montgomery County Board of Education at its regular business meeting on Tuesday, October 13, 2015. (Read the report)
“We appreciate the thorough nature of this report and thank everyone that provided honest feedback throughout the review process,” said Patricia O’Neill, Board president. “The report demonstrates that, overall, our schools are doing a good job providing special education services to students, but that there are certainly areas for improvement.”
Following Tuesday’s meeting, an action plan will be created to determine how the recommendations in the report will be reviewed and implemented.
“I look forward to the Board’s discussion on Tuesday and how we can use the findings in this report to improve our special education programs and services,” said Rebecca Smondrowski, chair of the Board’s Special Populations Committee, which will monitor progress on the action plan.
Special education services in MCPS, and all public school districts, are guided by the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which outlines procedures for identifying and serving students with disabilities and the involvement of parents in the process. WestEd used multiple methods to review whether MCPS was complying with IDEA and to determine parent and staff satisfaction with the district’s special education procedures and processes. These methods included parent and staff focus groups, interviews, student, parent and staff surveys, classroom observations, document reviews including IEPs, and analysis of available data.
“Overall, the study found that MCPS is largely compliant with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act,” the report states. “In some areas, going beyond minimum legal requirements would help ensure that the system is meeting the culturally diverse needs of parents in understanding the complexities of the special education process.”
The report finds that, overall, a majority of MCPS parents of special education students feel like they are equal partners in the IEP process and have adequate information on their child’s progress. However, some parents expressed concern that decisions about their child’s IEP are made prior to their involvement. The study also found that MCPS has reduced the number of disputes that end up in mediation and/or due process hearings. Among the recommendations in the report:
- MCPS should further enhance the information available to parents related to the IEP development process and ensure that IEPs are complete;
- MCPS should further enhance parents’ understanding of their roles and rights as equal partners during the IEP development process; and
- MCPS should develop mechanisms to monitor the implementation and success of its interventions and gain insight on parental experiences in the IEP process in a more frequent and user-friendly way.
- MCPS should develop a systematic process to review and improve the special education and related services provided to students as specified in their IEPs as well as staffing models;
- MCPS should provide training to parents, as well as to school staff, on the development and implementation of measurable IEP goals; and
- MCPS should foster collaboration and discussion among general education teachers, special education teachers, and paraeducators.
IEP dispute resolution
- MCPS should collect more comprehensive information about the dispute resolution processes and experiences of parents;
- MCPS should issue public reports on the outcomes of its dispute resolution processes to increase the accountability of the processes; and
- MCPS should provide professional development to staff and parents on collaborative dispute resolution.