Special ed overhaul faces BESE scrutiny next week

The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education next week will start the lengthy process of implementing a controversial law to give some special education students a new path to a traditional high school diploma, officials said Monday.

The measure, which emerged from the 2014 Legislature, was reviewed by the Special Education Advisory Panel, which advises BESE.

The committee includes parents of students with disabilities, educators and others.

Under current rules, most high school students with disabilities face the same standardized exams as their peers, which critics say poses a major roadblock to graduation.

Under the change, a special education student’s advisory team could hammer out an alternative route to graduation, regardless of how the student fares on traditional exams.

“This is a quantum leap forward for kids with disabilities,” said Mark Martin, a member of the panel.

However, officials said BESE and other officials face a huge task setting up the new system, including criteria the advisory teams will use in charting new paths to a high school diploma.

The initial work starts when BESE meets on Aug. 12-13.

The state has about 74,000 special education students.

Exactly how many would be affected is unclear.

The new rules are supposed to apply to students pursuing a general education curriculum who take standardized state exams.

Under the law the advisory panels — called Individualized Education Program teams — are supposed to help pinpoint students unable to meet minimum math and English scores who could benefit from the changes.

They are also supposed to come up with alternative “rigorous” routes to graduation, including an intensive instruction program, innovative ways to aid the student and a course of study that prepares students for college or a job.

Erin Bendily, assistant state superintendent of education, said the overhaul needs to strike a balance between consistency in what IEP teams expect of students statewide while also giving them latitude to meet individual needs.

State officials are supposed to provide local officials with guidance on the criteria, possibly in September.

The new rules won lopsided approval in the Legislature.

But critics say they give IEP teams too much authority, and officials of the U.S. Department of Education have said the changes may violate federal laws.

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