IDEA Public Schools Witness Significant Drop in Special Education Referrals
IDEA Public Schools – Texas
With the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), schools across the nation were charged with ensuring students of all backgrounds and abilities were provided with an equal opportunity to access a successful educational experience. The importance of this is universally accepted, but the process of safeguarding this varies and accurate referrals to special programs can be seemingly impossible. IDEA Public Schools (no relation to the IDEA Act) in the Rio Grande Valley and Central Texas has witnessed the value of implementing a highly effective instructional program, Direct Instruction (DI), and routine data analysis.
During the 2010-11 school year, 114 students at IDEA Public Schools were considered for Special Education services. Of those, only 83 students, or 73%, qualified under the federal regulations for identifying students for services. The following year, 2011-12, IDEA Public Schools began implementing Direct Instruction programs in their schools. What they found was that through in-program data they collected each day and analyzed weekly with the help of a consultant from the National Institute for Direct Instruction, they had a considerably better grasp on students’ current skill levels and were able to meet students at their instructional level. With this information, they were able to accurately identify students who may qualify. IDEA reduced the number of students considered for Special Education to 27 -- a 76% decrease in referrals -- and found that they were far more accurate in the students they identified as having a suspected learning disability. Every student the school referred qualified for Special Education.
The quality of instruction provided to students through the implementation of DI has significantly improved student outcomes and teacher performance. One IDEA principal agrees, saying, “The teachers are all on task and know exactly what to teach”. This improved level of instruction has significantly attributed to increased student performance and decreased number of referrals. “Students are met at their level and their instructional needs are being met, so it has lessened referrals overall,” says Instructional Coach Michele Peckinpaugh, adding that “DI is a specific, structured program that helps guide students and teachers in a very logical sequence for student success.”
Staff and students see the difference in instruction, too. JoAnn Gama, Chief of Schools and Co-Founder of IDEA, says, “My kindergarten students in the past were never able to accomplish so much. One hundred percent of my kinder students are reading this year because of DI!” IDEA students agree, “We are reading The Wizard of Oz and learning so many new words – hard words, too!” says one third grader. “We have really been practicing those fluency activities…we are getting much more fluent in our reading!” says another student.
IDEA Public Schools is a growing network of tuition-free K-12 public charter schools serving more than 13,000 students in the Rio Grande Valley and Central Texas. IDEA is committed to “College for All Children” and has sent 100% of its graduates to four-year colleges and universities for six years. Learn more about IDEA at www.ideapublicschools.org.
 26 students qualified. The one student that did not quality was a parent-initiated referral.