Data from the 2008 administration of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) examination reveal an alarming 84% of districts did not meet Adequate Yearly Progress for the "special education subgroup" in both subject areas. In addition, 53% of Grade 10 special education students failed to earn a passing score on the MCAS in all three subject areas (ELA, math, science and technology).
In light of these findings, the Rennie Center's recent report, entitled Seeking Effective Policies and Practices for Students with Special Needs, highlights schools making progress in educating students with special needs. The Rennie Center's study features four districts, two vocational technical high schools and one additional K-8 school that is "beating the odds" in serving students with special needs. The report examines the status of special education in the Commonwealth including legislation surrounding special education, the incidence of students receiving special education services and the distribution of students by disability type in different types of districts. These include the state's ten large urban districts, the 50 most demographically advantaged districts, charter schools and vocational technical schools. Among the findings, vocational technical schools educate more special education students (23%) than all other types of districts yet spend less on special education students and get solid results. Out of the 25 districts with the lowest percentage of special education spending, 23 are vocational schools.
The report identifies the core practices of districts ranking in the top 5-10% for growth in the performance of students with special needs. Districts that are making progress no longer isolate students with special needs in separate classrooms; instead they adapt their general education classrooms to accommodate the needs of all students. These districts have adopted a culture in which faculty view "all kids as my kids" and in which general and special education teachers collaborate to design curriculum that meets the needs of all learners -- including those with special needs.
In a series of recommended next steps, the report offers several considerations for district leaders and state policymakers. It highlights the importance of data, including the use of ongoing formative assessment to provide teachers with timely feedback. The report recommends that schools and districts adapt their instructional practice and curriculum to best meet diverse students' needs.
The Rennie Center report also pushes for further study of effective practices found within the state's thirty vocational technical schools. Finally, the report urges the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and districts to work together to disseminate effective practices in educating students with special needs.