NEWBURYPORT — It’s been said that parents know their kids best, but in the case of determining whether or not their child needs the extra supports of the special education program, local schools are finding that’s not the case.
In response to high numbers of parent referrals for special education testing that yield non-eligible findings, Superintendent Marc Kerble is sending a message out to the school community urging parents to curb their requests for testing. Instead of making the referral for their kids, he wants them to go through their child’s classroom teacher as a first line of action, which he said triggers a response to intervention (RTI) process that’s more effective in determining eligibility for special education services.
“If there’s no finding for Special Education, then what we have done is invested a tremendous amount of time and energy, testing and meeting, and it’s a resource zapper,” said Kerble. “We should have pretty close to a 100% finding between a referral and eligibility. And when I looked at the stats from last year, we had 69 parent referrals and only 23 were found eligible for special education.”
That means when parents come to the conclusion their child’s difficulties warrant inclusion in the program, they are mistaken 67% of the time. And in the process of coming to that conclusion, Kerble said the schools are spending time and money that could be allocated any number of places.
This year the district came under fire from parents of special education students for its inconsistent services and failure to meet some of the supports outlined in their child’s individualized education program (IEP). An informal audit of the department and its structure, performed by an interim director taking over after Karen Brann resigned from the position, has led to recommendations that are currently being implemented across the board. They include laying out descriptions of services offered in the program, drawing up a firm set of criteria for admission to the program, and creating service grids that determine what kind of help should attach to a student’s IEP.