Test scores for Liberty County School System students with disabilities increased considerably in the 2010-11 school year, according to data released last week.
The district exceeded state target performance on enhanced math 11 scores, where 51.6 percent of students with disabilities met or exceeded the target of 45 percent in 2010-11. In 2009-10, 26.8 percent met or exceeded the standard.
It also inched toward the target of 56 percent with third- through eighth-grade mathematics scores, up to 55.3 percent compared with 50.4 percent the previous year. In reading and English language arts grades 3-8, the district was up from 64.4 percent to 68 percent, just shy of the state’s 70 percent target. In enhanced English language arts, the special education subgroup jumped from 53.1 percent to 59.4 percent, falling short of the 63 percent target.
“The scores have gotten so much better,” said Rebecca Kelly, executive director of the district’s Division for Exceptional Learning. “Better than 50 percent of our kids. Our kids are never going to be where everybody else is because they have a disability — but that’s phenomenal, and when you looked at maybe 32 percent of our kids were passing those classes when I first started out.”
DEL serves slightly fewer than 1,000 students, she said.
Though preliminary scores were released in July, the newly released score sheet factors in summer retakes, Georgia Alternative Assessment and the CRCTM, which is modified for special education students.
In 2010-11, LCSS exceeded the state target percentage for students with disabilities in general education classes with 78.7 percent, compared with the state average of 62.9 percent.
Though the topic of “mainstreaming” has been met with some resistance, Kelly said placing students with disabilities in regular classrooms is a large factor in the children’s success — and the higher scores.
“If you never get exposed to the standards, how are you going to pass the test?” she said. “So by putting them in those regular classrooms — that was a hard fight to fight — but now that the scores have gone up, my principals would die first before putting them back in resource classes.”
Kelly attributed much of the success to a program the district launched in which instructional coaches co-taught in classrooms and worked with teachers on how to engage special-education students.
Four instructional coaches were funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, she said. Three of those teachers have moved to different capacities, but one, Christine Danser, still holds her position in DEL.
Danser, current DEL teacher of the year, dedicated one summer to analyzing the district’s weak points and pinpointing areas where students needed to improve their performance.
She then developed pre- and post-standard assessments based on an online database of former CRCT tests, which were administered year-round as internal benchmark assessments.
Danser also helped teachers plan and teach their lessons and identify ways to differentiate them for the special-education students.
Now, Kelly said, other departments are interested in implementing the testing in a wider array of courses, such as math. She attributed these tests to the district’s overall rise in math scores.
Another sign of DEL’s accomplishments: In 2005, nine special-education students graduated with regular-education diplomas; in 2011, 32 did the same, Kelly said.
Still, Kelly said, there are performance indicators the department likely never will meet, such as graduation rates, where two competing federal regulations are at play.
For the sake of performance tracking, students who do not graduate high school within five years do not count toward the graduation rate, even if they do graduate in six years or more. In contrast, the state requires that schools provide educational opportunities for students with disabilities until they are 22 years old.
“You can’t have it both ways; it’s eight years,” she said. “It’s more important to me for kids to get a regular-ed diploma whenever they exit than it is to get rid of them in five years with a special-ed diploma.”
She said the difference is that a regular diploma opens the doors to colleges and vocational schools and is more valuable in the world of work.
It also arms students with the skills they need to operate independently beyond campus.
“We have to follow them for two years after they graduate,” she said. “And our data for that shows that better than 75 percent of our kids are either in vocational schools, full time or part time, colleges full time or part time, or in job placements — they’re not just sitting at home drawing Social Security checks.”