POINT PLEASANT — The Mason County Schools Board of Education’s Special Education Department presented a report to the board recently regarding the department’s annual program evaluations and overall standing in the state.
Special Education Director John Lehew explained the four different categories that a school district’s special education program can be placed into, based on their overall scores.
“Each year, the (West Virginia) Department of Education does an annual determination on our special education programs,” he said. “The four areas you can be at are: ‘Meets Requirements,’ which is 85 percent, ‘Needs Assistance,’ which is below 85 percent, ‘Needs Intervention,’ which is less than 75 percent and ‘Needs Substantial Intervention,’ which is below 60 percent.”
The Mason County Schools Special Education Department received an overall score of 23 points out 30, which puts the district at 77 percent, in the ‘Needs Assistance’ category. These results are based on 2012 data and show an improvement for the district compared to past years, Lehew said.
“When I first came here, we were in the bottom 14 schools in the state, which means we were in ‘Needs Substantial Intervention,’” Lehew said. “So we have moved up from the bottom. We’re closer to the top. We need to get some more points so we can get out of ‘Needs Assistance.’ This year we’ll get another (evaluation) that will be based on 2013 data and I expect us to improve.”
Lehew explained the various areas on which the special education programs are evaluated, which determine a district’s overall score and category placement.
“Special ed used to be all about compliance only,” he said. “At the bottom are all the compliance indicators, and those are all the indicators that the county office is responsible for, and (in) all of those indicators, we got a perfect score. We met every expectation for compliance.”
The programs are also judged on graduation and achievement indicators, which Lehew also explained.
“Indicator-wise, for graduation, the state performance target is 85 percent. The statewide average is 62 percent. Mason County’s average was 73.18 percent, so we got one point there, out of a possible two (points,)” he said. “Indicator 2 is the dropout (rate.) State performance target is 2.75 percent , the statewide average is 1.89 (percent), and our dropout rate was 1.42 percent of students in special ed. So we got two points for that category. We got all the points possible there.”
Test taking rates and student achievement are the primary areas which Lehew said the school district is looking to improve upon.
“In reading and math, everyone is tested at 95 percent. Nineteen of our students with disabilities were not tested in reading and math in 2012, so we fell below 95 percent. They don’t care why they weren’t tested — sometimes it’s absence — they just want to make sure they’re all tested. So we had 19 students that weren’t tested that year,” he said. “Indicator 3-C is assessment data, and the state-wide (reading) target is at 25.9 percent of mastery. The statewide average is at 17.8 percent, and in Mason County the reading average was 17.7 percent at mastery. So we didn’t get any points there because we were way below (the statewide target.)”
Special education students preformed better in the math assessment portion, based on the 2012 data.
“In indicator 3-C in math, the state performance target was 29.1 percent, the statewide average was 20.6 percent and Mason County was at 21.3 percent. We were above the statewide average, so we got one point for that,” Lehew said.
Another factor that is evaluated each year is the educational environment for special ed students.
“In educational environment, the target is 61.5 percent of students (that) are out in a regular classroom — they’re in full-time regular class. State-wide average was 64 percent. We were at 68 percent. So we got one point there because we were better,” Lehew said.
Surveys are also sent out to special ed students after they have graduated regarding what they have been doing since graduation, and the return rate of these surveys also contribute to the district’s overall score.
“Every year, after a kid has graduated for a year, we have to call them and do a survey with them and find out if they are employed, working or going to a vocational school,” he said. “The target was 50 percent. (The) statewide average was getting 20 percent of them back. We got 29.03 percent of them back in 2012,” Lehew said.
Overall, Lehew said that achievement and testing are the areas in which the special education department is aiming to improve.
“So all that adds up to a score, and out of 30 possible points we got 23 points. We were at 77 percent. So we’re still in the “Needs Assistance” (category.) And the areas that we need assistance in is up in the achievement area and testing area. So we’ve got to move those kids. Those are the kids that are in the bottom 25 percent, so we got to move them up.”
Some ways in which Lehew said the department is working to improve student achievement and testing involve co-teaching, a project called “Blended Learning” and tracking individual students to ensure they are taking the assessment tests.
“Two years ago we started co-teaching. And we had a lot of training with co-teaching. This year in our self-contained classrooms we started a project called “Blended Learning,” where the kids have a special education teacher, and then they also have an online teacher — an on-target (teacher) to enhance what’s happening in the special education class. So they’re getting more, and we make sure they’re being exposed to the core,” he said. “For every area that we had a one or a zero, we had to submit a plan. Our plan is to track those kids and make sure they’re testing because it’s basically, ‘Did I take the test or did I not take the test?’ We had 19 students county-wide in 2012 that were not tested.”
Board member Paul Sayre asked why the state uses two-year old data to asses special education programs throughout the state.
“Why is the state department lagging behind two years? What’s the deal?” he said.
Lehew said the time it takes to collect the statewide data is the primary reason why the scores and category placements are two years behind.
“Because they don’t have all this data collected. So they use two-year old data. It takes a while,” he said. “The whole state of West Virginia has to do this for the federal government, and they’re in the same category that we’re in, the ‘Needs Assistance.’”
For now, Lehew said the special education department is continuing to implement their improvement strategies.
“So we’re working on this. The county’s working on it. We’re making sure the kids have more instruction so that their achievement scores go up,” he said.