Maine falls short of new federal criteria for special education

Posted June 24, 2014, at 2:43 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Maine’s special education programs do not meet federal requirements, according to new guidelines announced by the U.S. Department of Education on Tuesday.

Jan Breton, the Maine Department of Education’s director of special education, said Tuesday the state also did not meet requirements last year because of how post-secondary transition plans for special education students are created.

“Schools are doing better, but we haven’t quite met the benchmark yet,” she said.

As of Tuesday, Breton had not yet analyzed the data to determine why Maine did not meet the requirements this year.

Maine is one of 32 states designated as “needs assistance” by the U.S. Department of Education. Three states and the District of Columbia were given a lower designation — “needs intervention.” Only 15 states, including Vermont and New Hampshire, meet the requirements under the new criteria.

Under the new measure, the U.S. Department of Education will use students’ scores on standardized tests to determine how well the state is educating special education students.

In the past, the federal agency only looked at whether states were meeting procedural requirements to evaluate their performance. Under the old criteria, 41 states met the requirement.

“This change in accountability represents a significant and long-overdue raising of the bar for special education,” the agency’s statement said.

Breton said the federal government’s new benchmark is one of several changes to the way special education students are taught in Maine.

Breton was speaking from a conference where superintendents from across the state are learning about proficiency based education, a new system school districts will be required to implement in the coming years.

Under the new system, all students, including special education students, are required to meet the state’s education standards in order to graduate.

“In order to do that, they need to have increased access to the general education curriculum,” Breton said. “[Qualifying for special education services] can change the means by which they demonstrate proficiency, but it can’t change the standard.”

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan also spoke about the importance of providing special education students access to the general education curriculum in his statement released Tuesday.

“We know that when students with disabilities are held to high expectations and have access to the general curriculum in the regular classroom, they excel,” he said. “We must be honest about student performance so that we can give all students the supports and services they need to succeed.”

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