New Report on LAUSD's Special Education Reorganization Shows Promising Results

August 8, 2013

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In January 2011, the LAUSD Board of Education voted unanimously to restructure the existing Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) SELPA to provide charter schools a new option with full responsibility, flexibility and autonomy for serving students with disabilities. The Charter Operated Program ("COP") became operational on July 1, 2011 with 47 participating charter schools, representing every local board district.

The board detailed several areas for measuring the success of the program, with a particular focus on increasing the number and range of students with disabilities served in the participating schools. To this end, LAUSD and the California Charter Schools Association have worked together to create a comprehensive analysis of the first year of the COP, including a detailed analysis of COP demographics and student outcomes based on all available data.

While the program is still in its development phase and there is only one year of data available to date, the initial results are very promising.

"This shows the power of partnership. We believe that because charter schools are designed to offer innovative educational strategies, they are uniquely situated to provide individualized support to meet the needs of students with disabilities and other unique challenges. As a result of the flexibility and autonomy offered under this innovative structure, the COP has shown itself to be successful model that should be supported in its continued growth," said Jed Wallace, President and CEO of the California Charter Schools Association.

One of CCSA's priorities is increasing the number and range of students with special needs in charter schools across the state. This includes advocating for new structures giving charter schools autonomy and flexibility in this area, as well as providing support and resources to make sure charter schools can effectively serve a wide range of students with varying levels of need.

"We believe all students should have a range of educational options. Through this partnership, students with disabilities are having the opportunity to be educated in their school of choice," said Sharyn Howell, Executive Director, Division of Special Education for LAUSD. "The COP member schools have embraced developing supports and services for students with disabilities, sharing best practices with District schools, and collaborating with District staff to provide quality educational experiences for all students. This partnership ultimately benefits students with disabilities in both charter and district schools."

Highlights

The flexibility and autonomy offered to the COP schools has resulted in an increase in the number of students and the range of disabilities represented in the participating schools:

  • The percentage of students with disabilities enrolled in COP schools increased from 8.09% to 9.01% after the first year, which was greater than a similar increase across all charter schools in the district. (Based on data from California Basic Educational Data System (CBEDS) and Welligent)
  • The percentage of students with moderate to severe disabilities at the COP schools grew by 21.9%, which is disproportionately greater than the overall student enrollment growth of 11.2%.
  • COP member schools added more than 100 new students with moderate to severe disabilities after their first year in the COP.

API and AYP scores have both increased across COP member schools for the subgroup of students with disabilities.

  • API: The analysis revealed that the API of students with disabilities subgroup increased at all schooling levels. The biggest increase, 23 points, was at the elementary and middle school levels. High schools increased by 14 API points.
  • AYP: Overall, the percentage of students with disabilities scoring proficient or above in ELA increased from 34.1% to 39.4%. In mathematics, the overall percentage increased only slightly, from 28.8% to 30.9%.

COP charter schools are attracting more students with disabilities. Between 2011-12 and 2012-13, COP charter schools gained a net of 8,201 students, 10.6% of those students were students with disabilities.

COP schools are contributing to progress on the Modified Consent Decree (MCD). The annual district-wide target for 2012-2013 was for 67% of students with disabilities to participate in the general education program at least 80% of the instructional day. The COP founding schools are already exceeding this target with 73% of students with disabilities served in general education classrooms for 80% or more of the instructional day.

The COP has made targeted efforts to increase the capacity of its members to serve more students with disabilities:

  • 230 charter school teachers were subsidized through the COP to gain an added credentialing authorization in Autism through the Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC).
  • Charter schools in the COP are responsible for all non-public school and non-public agency costs. Those costs would have previously been the responsibility of the District.
  • COP schools have embraced the flexibility and autonomy in the COP and opened numerous programs for students with moderate to severe disabilities.
  • 75% of funding dedicated to COP expenditures was allocated towards developing new special education programs for students with moderate to severe disabilities.

Areas for Further Research and Improvement

Going into the next school year, these will be some of the areas of focus for LA charter schools:

The rate of suspension in Option 3 schools for students with disabilities is high. The highest rate of suspension was seen at the middle school level where rate of suspension of students with special needs is 1.8-2.3 times higher than that of students in general education.

Overall, the academic performance of SWD enrolled in COP charters improved in ELA, but declined in math. The percentage of SWD scoring proficient in ELA increased by about 6 percentage points among all SWD and the subgroup of SWD with high incidence disabilities, and increased by approximately 4 percentage points among SWD with low incidence disabilities. The percentage of all SWD scoring proficient in math declined by over 3 percentage points. The decline was under three percentage points for students with high incidence disabilities, but considerably higher among students with low incidence disabilities, at over 8 percentage points.

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