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California among states failing to comply with special education standards

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The Obama administration today released a ranking of all states and territories complying with federal special education standards under the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The Act governs how states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education and related services in the least restrictive environment for children diagnosed with learning disabilities, including, but not limited to, autism spectrum disorder, deafness, emotional disturbance and developmental delay.

Forty one states and territories were ranked as compliant under prior standards which emphasized compliance with due process and expediency of evaluations for students with special needs. However, under the new federal standards which incorporate outcome measures as determined by math and reading scores, only 18 meet standards under the new requirements.

Among the states and territories ranked as "needs intervention" are California, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Texas, the Bureau of Indian Education and the Virgin Islands. States and territories ranked as "needs assistance" are Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Washington, West Virginia, American Samoa, Commonwealth of Northern Marianas, Guam and Puerto Rico. States and territories determined to meet requirements are Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and Palau.

Between 2006 and 2010, the number of students with learning disabilities who received expedient evaluations rose from 85% to 97%. On the other hand, minimal gains were reported of students ranked at a basic reading level, which only rose from 36.2% to 36.7%. Similarly, basic math levels only rose from 34.7% to 35.2%. Integration of students with special needs into mainstream classrooms did increase, although graduation rates of those students still remains far below their typical peers.

Additionally, there is some inconsistency across some states who provide varying levels of support during state testing, as well as states who exempt special needs students from testing altogether. The new ranking system will seek to balance outcome results and compliance with procedures. Furthermore, school districts can be penalized, sanctioned, lose federal funding or even shut down as a result of poor achievement by learning disabled students. Previously there were no negative consequences for low performance under these domains.

While the overall goal for any early intervention program is integration into a mainstream classroom with typical peers, it's essential that school staff, including teachers and teaching assistants, collaborate with support staff, such as behavioral interventionists and speech and language pathologists. Furthermore, in order to maximize the probability of success for a child with special needs in school, collaboration with parents and caregivers in all domains, from academic to behavioral is imperative. State officials have expressed that they are in the process of reviewing this report and will make changes accordingly for the coming school year.