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Ohio Is Holding Districts Accountable for Educating Students with Disabilities — But There’s Still Room for Improvement

Michael Nutter

October 31, 2018

Under the Every Student Succeeds Act, states have a responsibility to provide a high-quality education to students regardless of their disability status, a mandate to which many states are struggling to adhere.

When the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) went into effect at the beginning of the 2017-2018 academic year, it promised to “provide all children significant opportunity to receive a fair, equitable, and high-quality education” — including students with disabilities (SWDs).

This promise marked a major step in the American public school system’s long and complicated history with SWD education. Prior to the 1975 passage of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (retitled the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act as part of its 1990 renewal), only one in five SWDs received adequate accommodations for their special learning needs in school.

While significant progress has been made — some six million students now receive special educational services every year — the extent of states’ responsibilities to SWDs was still under debate as recently as 2017. Fortunately, in a landmark decision handed down in March 2017, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that SWDs’ educational programs “must be appropriately ambitious in light of [their] circumstances, just as advancement from grade to grade is appropriately ambitious for most children in the regular classroom.”

Despite this clear dictum, a recent report released by the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) found that “many [states] are failing to set high expectations or invest in improving outcomes for students with disabilities.”

Many States Struggling to Provide High-Quality Education to SWDs

While acknowledging that it’s still too early to issue any withering indictments — the report only covers the first year of ESSA implementation, after all — the NCLD believes that not enough states have taken meaningful steps to capitalize on the opportunities presented by ESSA.

The report broke down all 50 states’ (and the District of Columbia’s and Puerto Rico’s) ESSA plans into 15 components — from long-term goal-setting for SWDs and rapid intervention plans to harassment mitigation strategies and SWD-inclusive stakeholder engagement — which were subsequently grouped into three categories: accountability, support, and inclusiveness.

The report then posed a single key question to summarize each category. First, “Do state accountability systems under ESSA include students with disabilities in meaningful ways?” Second, “Are support systems for struggling schools aligned to meet the needs of students with disabilities?” Finally, “Did states meaningfully include students with disabilities throughout their ESSA plans, and coordinate effectively with ongoing efforts under the Individuals with Disabilities Act?”

Instead of settling for a simple “Yes” or “No,” the report graded states on a 100-point scale covering the spectrum of possible responses to each question. States scoring between 75 and 100 were color-coded green, those scoring between 50 and 74 were color-coded yellow, and those scoring below 50 were color-coded red.

In terms of their willingness (and ability) to hold school districts accountable for equitable SWD education, only six states were coded green, with the rest split fairly evenly between yellow and red (25 and 21, respectively). The report found that only 18 states maintain identical long-term academic goals for SWDs and students without disabilities, and that the English language arts and mathematics goals set for SWDs in 32 states are at least 40 percent lower than those set for their non-disabled peers.

As a whole, states are slightly more adept at creating inclusive educational environments and supporting schools that are struggling to educate SWDs effectively. In terms of school support, 15 states were coded green, 28 were coded yellow, and only nine were coded red. In terms of inclusiveness, 10 states were coded green, 16 were coded yellow, and a concerning 26 were coded red.

Ohio Performing above Average, but Challenges Remain

Despite a series of high-profile complaints, compared to other states, Ohio is doing a fairly good job providing SWDs with a high-quality education. Along with Arkansas, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Minnesota, and New Jersey, Ohio is among the six states that were coded green for holding districts accountable for equitable SWD education.

While Ohio was coded yellow for the other two categories, it received a score of 62.5 in both, indicating that the state need only make modest improvements in order to secure a green rating. What’s more, of the 15 components the report evaluated, SWD-inclusive stakeholder engagement was the only one for which Ohio received a red rating (the state’s ESSA plan does not include a description of how districts are to engage with the disability community at large).

Of course, like nearly every state — only Minnesota and New Jersey were coded green for accountability, support, and inclusiveness — Ohio still has many areas in which it needs to improve the education it provides to SWDs. However, doing so will take a great deal of resources, as educating a student with a learning-impairing disability costs more than twice as much as educating a non-disabled student.

Securing these much-needed resources can be difficult — especially in the face of steep state-level budget cuts — which is where a tool like Vinson’s CheckPoint EMIS Platform comes into play. CheckPoint helps Superintendents and Treasurers streamline their data collection, organization, validation, and submission processes, helping them ensure that their schools receive the maximum amount of funding to which they’re entitled.

Ultimately, while ESSA’s vision for American public schools is undoubtedly ambitious, it’s a vision we at Vinson believe is very much within reach. Many Ohio schools have already shown that they have the will to provide “a fair, equitable, and high-quality education” to all, and it’s our goal to help them secure the resources they need to take the next step.

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