RD166 - Assessment of Virginia’s Disability Services System: Education

Executive Summary:
Virginia’s educational outcomes for students with disabilities have improved in some respects (see Table 1 on page ii of the report). The proficiency rates of students with disabilities in the Commonwealth, as measured on standardized assessments, have been slowly, but measurably, improving in recent years. Many students with disabilities are also spending more of their school day in general education classrooms.

However, opportunities remain to improve educational outcomes for students with disabilities (see Table 1). Fewer than half of students with disabilities are achieving academic proficiency, and nearly half are not graduating with a regular high school diploma. Fewer than three-quarters of students with disabilities are entering higher education, entering some other education or training program, or obtaining competitive employment within one year of graduating high school. More students with disabilities are being educated in separate schools or facilities.

The Virginia Board for People with Disabilities offers 19 recommendations to address these shortcomings in educational outcomes for people with disabilities in Virginia. The recommendations are grouped into five main approaches:

1. Improve rates at which students with disabilities receive educational services in general education classrooms in their neighborhood schools and receive meaningfully inclusive educational experiences throughout the Commonwealth, especially in districts identified as including students with disabilities in regular education classrooms at exceptionally low rates.

a. Realign Virginia’s funding of special education services, including Children's Services Act funding, to eliminate incentives to segregate students with disabilities and ensure that schools have adequate funding to provide supports to students with disabilities in general education settings;

b. Increase targeted technical assistance and training for schools with high rates of students with disabilities served in segregated settings to increase the capacity of these schools to serve students with developmental disabilities in general education settings;

c. Work with stakeholders to develop an inclusion implementation plan that addresses the barriers identified by stakeholders in the Virginia Department of Education’s Inclusive Practices Work-group.

2. Decrease the use of overly harsh discipline and harmful behavioral interventions in the Commonwealth and minimize the disparate impact that these practices have on students with disabilities.

a. Develop a school quality survey to capture data on the frequency of exclusionary disciplinary practices used in Virginia’s schools, and include discipline use and discipline disparities in the online School Quality Protocol;

b. Pass legislation to decrease the use and duration of exclusionary discipline practices for students with disabilities in the Commonwealth;

c. Continue to provide technical assistance and training targeted to schools with excessive rates of exclusionary discipline and/or law enforcement referrals, which should include an emphasis on positive behavior interventions and supports (PBIS) and other alternatives to exclusionary discipline;

d. Adopt regulations that ensure restraint and seclusion are used only as a last resort and only when necessary to prevent serious bodily harm, injury, or death to students or others;

e. Adopt regulations that ensure schools that choose to employ third party School Resource Officers (SROs) adopt MOUs that explicitly define the appropriate roles of SROs and school personnel with respect to student discipline.

3. Ensure that students with disabilities and their parents receive clear and accurate information about the future impact of current educational decisions.

a. Continue to develop and continuously update information for parents to understand the long-term impact of educational decisions made early in a child’s educational career;

b. Develop written material that can be provided to parents at critical decision points during the Individualized Education Program (IEP) development process to ensure that they understand the potential impact of a present decision on the student’s ability to graduate with a regular diploma, and coordinate this with decision-point reminders in the statewide IEP system;

c. Continue to provide ongoing technical assistance and training to implement the state systemic improvement plan to increase the number of students with disabilities who obtain a standard diploma.

4. Increase the number of students with disabilities who have access to employment-related education and real-world experiential employment opportunities, both during and immediately after high school.

a. Develop guidance on the development of effective employment-related IEP goals, which should include a non-exhaustive list of employment-related skills matched with potential activities to aid in developing those skills, as well as information on the appropriate points in the transition process to address these skills;

b. The Virginia Department of Education and Department of Aging and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) should continue to collaborate to support and expand upon Project SEARCH and Start on Success and to invest in other innovative employment programs;

c. Review Virginia Board of Education (VBOE) approved state-issued professional licensure, industry certification examination, and occupational competency assessment requirements to identify practices that unnecessarily screen out otherwise capable students with disabilities, and ensure that students with disabilities are afforded necessary testing accommodations to provide them an equal opportunity to participate in these programs.

5. Increase postsecondary educational opportunities for students with disabilities, including students with significant developmental and other disabilities.

a. Review postsecondary community college and vocational education program eligibility criteria and testing requirements to ensure that they are narrowly tailored to the skills requisite to completing the program and do not unnecessarily screen out students with disabilities;

b. Fund pilot program(s) to provide inclusive college experiences to students with significant developmental and other disabilities at community college(s) in the Commonwealth;

c. Invest in a postsecondary education scholarship fund for students with developmental disabilities to attend integrated college programs for students with disabilities;

d. Develop easily accessible information about postsecondary educational opportunities for students with disabilities, including success stories that highlight how individuals with disabilities have successfully participated in integrated postsecondary college and vocational educational programs;

e. Develop guidance and/or training for college administrators and professors at two- and four-year institutions of higher education about integrating individuals with disabilities into college classrooms, specifically focusing on the types of accommodations that can help students with disabilities succeed.