Call to Order and Roll Call
The meeting of the Education Assessment and Accountability Review Subcommittee was held on Tuesday, November 15, 2011, at 1:00 p.m., in Room 131 of the Capitol Annex. Senator Jack Westwood, Co-Chair, called the meeting to order, and the secretary called the roll.
Guests: Keith White, Office of Education Accountability; Jim Thompson, Education and Workforce Development Cabinet; Clyde Caudill, Kentucky Association of School Administrators and Jefferson County Public Schools, and Patty Dempsey, The Arc of Kentucky.
Adopt Minutes of October 11, 2011, meeting
Senator Winters moved to adopt the minutes from the October 11, 2011, meeting and Representative Farmer seconded the motion. The minutes were adopted by voice vote.
Office of Education Accountability’s Report “Appropriate Identification and Service of Students with Disabilities in Kentucky: Issues Associated with Special Education Eligibility, Funding, and Personnel Training”
Ms. Deborah Nelson, Research Analyst, Office of Education Accountability (OEA), said the process of determining a student’s eligibility for special education, known as identification in OEA’s report, has substantial consequences for students and fiscal consequences for states and districts. She said the report includes data indicating substantial differences among states and districts in the percentages of students identified for special education; results of the Kentucky Department of Education’s (KDE) 2010 audits in 39 districts; recent declines in the number of students identified for special education; and OEA interviews with district staff.
Ms. Nelson said that at the preschool level, apparent differences exist among districts in the manner students are identified with disabilities which raise concerns about the equitable allocation of preschool funding to districts and to individual children. Reliable identification of young children with particular disabilities is challenging, especially in broadly defined categories such as developmental delay, which only applies to students up to age eight. The KDE has recently taken steps to improve the identification practices at the preschool level. She said further attention may be needed to ensure that preschool eligibility requirements are applied consistently.
Ms. Nelson said that at the elementary and secondary level, it is likely that some students with learning difficulties are identified for special education when they might be assisted more effectively and efficiently through existing support in general education. KDE is addressing this concern by supporting districts in the implementation of research-based interventions and by monitoring district eligibility determinations. She said the department could supplement these efforts with guidance documents that clarify specific terms used in determining disability and the level of training recommended for special education evaluators.
Ms. Nelson said that students with disabilities or learning difficulties who are assisted through special education services or supports in general education need access to personnel trained to recognize and address their specific needs. Special education teachers are not necessarily prepared with these specific skills in preservice training. She said districts should ensure the ongoing training of personnel to support students with learning difficulties or disabilities whether through special or general education. The Education Professional Standards Board (EPSB) and KDE might offer guidance on recommended training through professional development or ongoing education for rank change.
Ms. Nelson said districts are required to ensure that students with disabilities receive necessary services, regardless of cost. Districts may need additional funding to support the costs of educating students with disabilities whose needs can only be met through special education programs, especially those students who require unusually intensive supports. However, districts should also be encouraged to examine special education expenditures, which have reached record highs in Kentucky, to ensure that funded services are targeted directly at student needs. She said that, by increasing supports in general education, districts may reduce the need for special education and serve some students more effectively and efficiently. Wealthy districts may have greater fiscal flexibility than less wealthy districts to examine the relative merits of investments in general versus special education programs.
Ms. Nelson concluded that the OEA report identifies issues associated with the methods used to fund special education through the Support Education Excellence in Kentucky (SEEK) system and state preschool funds. These include a lack of alignment between funding weights and costs of educating some students and possible fiscal incentives to identify students for special education. At the preschool level, in particular, the funding method may lead to inequities in the distribution of funds among districts, uncertainty in annual funding, and cumbersome processes required for district staff, parents, and children in the determination of preschool eligibility. She said the General Assembly may wish to request further study of both the SEEK and the preschool funding systems. The report also included seven specific recommendations that are included in the meeting folder in the Legislative Research Commission (LRC) library.
In response to questions from Senator Westwood, Ms. Nelson said some special education teachers may have adequate training to identify and support students with disabilities. However, she noted that adequate teacher preparation varies greatly by school district.
Ms. Nelson said 58 percent of special education students in Kentucky receive testing accommodations. She said that percentage is comparable to other states for the number of students receiving testing accommodations, but Kentucky permits the reader accommodation on the reading assessment, which differs from most other states. Ms. Marcia Ford Seiler, Director, OEA, said an administrative regulation was reviewed in the School Curriculum Assessment and Accountability Council (SCAAC) meeting that will be forthcoming in regards to testing accommodations.
Senator Westwood said he was delighted with the last report from the National Association of Educational Progress (NAEP) that showed Kentucky exceeding other states in its student reading growth. However, he would like to know how many of those students were allowed to use accommodations in their reading assessments, and if this skews the progress demonstrated.
Responding to Senator McGaha, Ms. Nelson said there could be a relation between an increased number of children enrolled in special education and drug abusing mothers. She said the children of drug abusing mothers may not need to be served in a special education program even if they require some special supports in the general education program. Senator McGaha said there should be specific requirements for a teacher to refer a student into a special education program.
Representative Farmer said some children may lack maturity because of age, and not necessarily need special services. He asked if districts might over-identify the younger students to get extra money. Ms. Nelson said school district expenditures for preschool exceed revenue, and therefore she does not see how districts are using the special education referrals to gain revenue. The policy varies by district, but some schools report that parents push to identify their child with a disability in order to get free preschool. She noted some children can be a year behind other students depending on their birthday and school enrollment cutoff dates. A larger issue is that the category of developmental delay is broad and hard to apply consistently. She noted preschool is a phenomenal expense and it can be a critical need for children living in poverty. If fewer exceptional children were identified for free preschool, more money would be available to serve students living in poverty.
Senator Westwood said changes need to be made to broaden the definition of dyslexia. He noted that it can be very difficult, even for trained personnel, to diagnose a student with dyslexia. Ms. Nelson said the report addresses dyslexia specifically.
Senator Winters said he wants students diagnosed and identified correctly. He is not comfortable with the fact that students are placed in special education programs so that the school district can obtain additional money for teacher aides and/or transportation needs.
Responding to Representative Belcher, Ms. Nelson said it is correct to assume that there has been a push to identify students for special education even if the identification of the disability is unclear. She said an increasing number of students that fall into this gray area have been identified. She also noted that the federal definitions are very broad and there are states that identify children at a higher rate than Kentucky.
Ms. Nelson said many districts are leery of identifying children as needing special education after the audit conducted by the KDE. Representative Belcher noted there were 3,200 fewer students identified the year after the audit. Ms. Nelson said this closer look by school districts is important as students are set up for failure if not diagnosed and placed correctly.
Ms. Nelson said school districts vary greatly on practices for identifying students for special education. Representative Belcher suggested that instead of auditing the entire state, that assistance should be given to school districts not following the guidelines. Ms. Nelson emphasized that the audits should be viewed as a support for school districts instead of as a challenge.
In response to Representative Farmer, Ms. Nelson said the KDE uses multiple indicators to identify school districts for audits such as a disproportionate identification of minorities or a low graduation rate. The most recent change has included auditing districts that have high identification rates of special education students. However, KDE is looking at the method used to audit districts in the future due to personnel resources. She also said a problem cannot be identified just based on a number. One school district had a 20 percent identification rate and was audited and found to be completely in compliance.
In response to a question from Senator Neal, Ms. Seiler said OEA is directed by the Education Assessment and Accountability Review Subcommittee (EAARS) to provide a study agenda that identifies research topics for the next year. She said preschool funding could be identified as a study topic at the EAARS December meeting. It could also be directed as a study topic through legislation or by directing the KDE to report upon it.
Senator Winters moved to accept the OEA report “Appropriate Identification and Service of Students with Disabilities in Kentucky: Issues Associated with Special Education Eligibility, Funding, and Personnel Training” and Senator Neal seconded the motion. The report was adopted by voice vote.
Senator Winters moved to accept the OEA reports “Kentucky State Testing for Education Accountability: An Examination of Security-related Threats to Valid Inference Making and Suggested Best Practices” and the “Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship” and Representative Farmer seconded the motion. The reports were adopted by voice vote.
Office of Education Accountability’s Report “Compendium of State Education Rankings, 2011”
Brenda Landy, Research Analyst, OEA, said this compendium of state education rankings is intended as a reference tool that compares Kentucky’s education indicators to those of the nation and selected peer states. While rankings are based on all 50 states and the District of Columbia, the data presented focus on Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) member states and other states adjacent to Kentucky.
Ms. Landy said rankings should be used with caution. A ranking on one measure is affected by state differences in other measures, such as student characteristics and costs of living. It is essential to examine the measures on which a set of rankings is based because rankings do not indicate how far apart states are from each other. When many states cluster closely together on a measure, small fluctuations can cause significant changes in rankings.
Ms. Landy said that, with more than one-fourth of students living below the poverty level in 2010, Kentucky’s student poverty rate was the seventh highest in the nation. Kentucky had the ninth highest proportion of students enrolled in rural schools. Although the number of Hispanic students has been increasing, they still make up only about three percent of students. In comparison, African-American students total eleven percent.
Ms. Landy said because of Kentucky’s small Hispanic population, only about two percent of students received services for limited English proficiency in 2010. However, Kentucky students had high rates of services for financially needy students; almost 84 percent were enrolled in Title I schools, compared to a national rate just under 65 percent, and about 55 percent were eligible for subsidized lunches, compared to 46 percent of the nation. Both of these measures have increased for Kentucky and the nation in recent years, after the economic downturn. The percentage of students with disabilities that required an Individualized Education Program (IEP) was about 16 percent, compared to a national rate of 13 percent.
Ms. Landy said even after adjusting for geographic cost differences, Kentucky ranked 37th in revenue per pupil and current spending per pupil in 2008; however, unlike most states, Kentucky does not include school activity funds when reporting revenues and expenditures. The state’s proportion of spending dedicated to instruction mirrored the nation. As a result of mandated pay increases, Kentucky’s ranking in average teacher salary rose from 36th in 2002 to 25th in 2008, and was on par with the national average.
Ms. Landy said Kentucky’s student-teacher ratio in 2010 was 15.3 students per teacher. The slightly smaller ratio than the nation’s (15.8) suggests that Kentucky students have a few more opportunities for individual attention than students in many other states. As for other staffing, relatively high numbers of instructional aides per student are likely due to Kentucky’s high preschool enrollment and disability rates. High numbers of school administrators likely reflect the state’s small rural schools.
Ms. Landy said Kentucky’s grade four and grade eight NAEP reading scores were significantly above the national average in 2011. Kentucky was ranked 10th for grade four reading and 12th for grade eight reading. Scores did not improve significantly between the 2009 and 2011 administration of NAEP.
Ms. Landy said Kentucky’s average NAEP math scores in 2011 were statistically on par with those of the nation for both grades four and eight, and Kentucky ranked 24th and 35th, respectively. Scores did not improve significantly between 2009 and 2011.
Ms. Landy said Kentucky students’ participation in Advanced Placement (AP) exams almost doubled between 2002 and 2010, from 12.6 percent to 24.4 percent. Similarly, the percentage of students earning qualifying scores almost doubled, from 6.5 percent in 2002 to 12.2 percent in 2010. Kentucky ranked 26th in AP participation and 30th in passing scores.
Since 2009, Kentucky’s average ACT scores have been lower than in previous years as a consequence of a new policy that requires all students to take the ACT exam, regardless of interest in postsecondary education. On the composite, which combines all subjects, Kentucky’s overall rank was 48th in 2011. The highest rank was 46th for the science portion of the ACT.
In 2009, Kentucky’s high school seniors had the 23rd highest Averaged Freshman Graduation Rate (AFGR), with an estimated 77.6 percent of students graduating, compared to a national rate of 75.5 percent. While Kentucky currently reports the AFGR, a cohort graduation rate will be reported beginning in 2014.
Responding to Senator Westwood, Ms. Landy said the number of Kentucky students utilizing reader accommodations is on par with the national average. However, Kentucky has more students being excluded. She will get more detailed information to the committee that compares Kentucky’s accommodations and exclusions data to national data.
In response to a question from Senator McGaha, Ms. Landy said she will review studies that other states have conducted on how students who are eligible to receive free and reduced lunch are determined. She said there is one federal provision, the community eligibility option, that eliminates collecting data on family income and feeding everyone in the school in an effort to reduce paperwork. Senator McGaha said the system is not accurate.
Representative Belcher said special education teachers have a difficult job and have to teach students on many different levels. She suggested offering monetary incentives for special education teachers to enhance their experience through certification or specialization in dyslexia, autism, and other learning disorders.
Representative Edmonds announced that the next EAARS meeting will be held on Monday, December 12, 2011, at 10:00 a.m. in Room 131 of the Capitol Annex. He commended Ms. Seiler and her staff for the tremendous job that the OEA does. Senator Westwood commended Ms. Seiler on her leadership of the OEA and said the committee appreciates the staff’s diligent work on the research studies.
Senator McGaha moved to accept the OEA report “Compendium of State Education Rankings, 2011” and Senator Westwood seconded the motion. The report was adopted by voice vote.
The meeting adjourned at 2:50 p.m.