How to more effectively monitor IDEA while data drives improvements

State education leaders must understand in greater detail what's happening at the district level.
Andrew Henry
Andrew Henry
Andrew Henry is the president of Red Cedar Solutions Group and the creator of Stepwell, a solution that manages all aspects of IDEA Parts B and C. Before founding Red Cedar Solutions Group in 2006, Andrew served as a teacher; school district technology coordinator; education technology researcher; state director for educational data; and chief officer for research and development at a national education laboratory.

More than half of the 50 states and the District of Columbia failed to comply with IDEA Part B, the federal law that requires states to provide free and appropriate education for students with disabilities between the ages of 3 and 21. Of those states, 23 failed to meet compliance for two consecutive years, according to a 2021 U.S. Department of Education report.

IDEA Part B requires states to report on several special education indicators, including graduation rates, participation in statewide assessments and the percentage of students over the age of 15 with Individual Education Plans that include post-secondary transition goals. It can be challenging for state education associations to pinpoint where their special education program falls short if they lack data. For example, most states collect up to eight of IDEA Part B’s 20 indicators.

To understand how they can better support their special education programs, state education leaders must understand in greater detail what’s happening at the district level—and that data is typically collected by different people and stored in different systems. The processes leading up to the data capture are often unrecorded, and districts do not follow the same process.

There is a better way for states to meet IDEA compliance indicators while improving special education services, district programs and statewide performance. Here are some ways our collaborative, browser-based technology platform can help schools and districts meet their special education goals.

Begin by establishing common workflows

Most schools gather special education data in various ways, through email, disparate reports and even paper documents. Collecting and monitoring activities related to IDEA compliance in the same way, in one place, can reduce manual labor, ensure that critical activities are noticed and provide a more complete data picture.

By further automating the process, districts and states can ensure consistency and simplify a complex process in these ways:

  • Define timelines for each activity, including parent, staff and administrative interviews.
  • Configure workflows that meet the needs of staff and schools.
  • Assign tasks and deadlines to staff and provide alerts and notifications to individuals when reports or activities are due.
  • Facilitate coordination of the monitoring process to address issues identified by both your LEA and SEA.
  • Ensure review protocols are applied.
  • When review time arrives, program monitors can quickly assess timely and relevant data, history, individuals engaged in the work, process and status related to timelines in case of a finding.

Identify and define best practices

When you can see what’s working, it makes it easier to replicate those practices throughout your educational system. It’s helpful for LEAs and SEAs to identify indicators of quality service delivery so they can repeat them. For example, by monitoring something as straightforward as the effort required for educators to conduct timely evaluations after student referrals, leaders can identify any patterns and bottlenecks that may be getting in the way and take action.

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The question parents and educators most want to answer is, “Is the program captured in an IEP benefitting my child?” We can begin to answer these questions if we have a complete picture of the student, illustrated by data gathered over time.

For example, in a data platform, educators can review an individual student’s IEP goals and determine whether that student’s goals have changed from year to year, and if they haven’t, ask “why not?” Is that student any closer to attaining that goal? Is it time to move on to a new goal? This information can give parents and educators insights into the impact of a particular program on that child. By aggregating student information, district and state-level educators can better understand how impactful their programs are and where changes could be made.

Use insights to make data-driven decisions

Today’s educators are already asked to be excellent teachers, curriculum developers and psychometricians—we cannot expect them to also serve as data analysts. Often, they are expected to make sense of a lot of data and may not use it to its greatest effect. By tapping into a tool that allows them to collaboratively enter, share and report key information, district and state leaders can quickly identify trends, make comparisons and uncover root causes.

The right data and data visualization tools can transform data points into information districts and states need to ensure federal compliance. This data can also help teachers and parents make critical educational decisions that affect students’ lives. A data-driven approach to special education allows educators to shift their focus from compliance to what they do best—delivering quality education to all.

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