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UFT: Special ed reform ‘pilot’ had weak results

Students with disabilities in schools that piloted the Department of Education’s new special education reform actually showed less improvement in performance over the last two years than their peers in other schools, a UFT analysis has found.

Under the reform, which is being rolled out to all schools this year, students with disabilities are supposed to be taught in their neighborhood schools and moved aggressively to less restrictive settings. But when 150 “Phase One” elementary and middle schools scattered across the city tested out the reforms between 2010 and June 2012, their special education students’ test scores showed significantly less growth than schools that did not try out the reforms, according to the analysis.

The DOE has made the reform a centerpiece of its Children First strategy this year without ever reporting on the Phase One results.

“These reforms don’t work for everyone,” said Carmen Alvarez, the UFT vice president for special education. “That’s clear from the results. So we question the DOE’s decision to move ahead. Is this really an instructional reform that will narrow the achievement gap? Or are they just trying to save money?”

The UFT also found that there were large differences among the 10 networks that piloted the reform, with some able to reduce their numbers of Level 1 students — the weakest performers — at a much faster pace than others. Again, the DOE has not offered any findings on what the more successful networks did to improve.

Using publicly available data from the DOE’s own website, the UFT found that in English language arts, both groups — the non-Phase One and Phase One schools — started with about 15 percent of their special education students at proficiency, scoring at Levels 3 and 4 But by 2012, 18.1 percent of students in the non-Phase One schools were proficient while just 16 percent of students in the Phase One schools were.

Both groups started with about 40 percent of their students with disabilities at Level 1 in ELA in 2010, but two years later non-Phase One schools had cut their Level 1s to 33 percent while 35.4 percent of students with disabilities in Phase One schools were still at Level 1.

In math, the pattern was even stronger [see chart]. Non-Phase One schools started lower but increased their percentages of Levels 3 and 4 students above the Phase One schools. And they started with more of their students with disabilities at Level 1 but cut them by 3 percentage points, from 26.1 to 23.1 percent, while the Phase One schools, with fewer Level 1 students, cut their percentage a tiny 0.2 percentage point over the two years.

The UFT is continuing to monitor the special education reform.

uft-special-ed-reform-pilot-had-weak-results-2In Phase One schools that piloted the DOE’s special education reforms, students with disabilities started out higher-performing but ended up below their peers in other schools. They showed less growth in proficiency (Levels 3 and 4) and more stubborn percentages of low-performers (Level 1s) between 2010 and 2012.

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