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Meeting of the Board of Regents | September 2009

Tuesday, September 1, 2009 - 9:10am

sed seal







VESID Committee



Rebecca H. Cort 



Progress on Special Education in New York City



August 28, 2009



Goals 1 and 4








Issue for Discussion


The Board will be presented information and will discuss the current status and description of special education programs and services in New York City.  Action steps agreed upon between NYCDOE and VESID and initiated to address priority areas requiring improvement will be reviewed.


Reason for Consideration


For discussion.


Proposed Handling


              The item will come before the VESID Committee at its September 2009 meeting for discussion.



Summary Information


As of January 2009, the New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE) reported that approximately 160,089 students in NYC public schools ages 3 to 21 (13 percent of the total student population) received special education services.  Special education services range from special education teacher support services to integrated co-teaching classes to more intensive services provided in special classes in community schools and specialized District 75 schools.  Currently, more than half of NYC school-age students with disabilities (55 percent) are educated in general education classes with special education supports; 32,659 are enrolled in integrated co-teaching classes.  Of the 148,401 NYC public school students who are designated as English Language Learners (ELLs), approximately 20 percent are also classified as students with disabilities.  In addition, NYCDOE serves 37,107 students with disabilities (i.e., 18,911 school-aged students and 18,196 preschool students) who attend nonpublic schools.


This report includes detailed information about the ways in which the NYCDOE supports students with special needs.  One thing to note, however, is that the NYC Chancellor recently commissioned a comprehensive review of the NYCDOE’s provision of special education services.  He charged a Senior Coordinator for Special Education, Garth Harries, with conducting a four-month review, which culminated in a report and set of recommendations.  The recommendations focus on providing more targeted special education services to individual students, increasing family involvement, and more comprehensively integrating special education into the overall school reform efforts of NYCDOE.  While the below information reflects the NYCDOE’s performance and structure to date, those structures may shift or change in response to the aforementioned recommendations.


The NYCDOE reported that it provides special education services through several entities, including:


  • Education Management

Leads and shapes strategies, policies, and structures designed to support NYCDOE’s students with special needs


As of July 15, 2009, the Chancellor created a Cabinet position to oversee special education and English language learners (ELLs).  The Chancellor appointed a Chief Achievement Officer for Special Education and ELLs, Laura Rodriguez, and charged her with improving outcomes for NYC's highest-need children.  The Chief Achievement Officer will manage the Office of Special Education Initiatives, the DOE’s District 75 and the Office of ELLs.


  • Office of Special Education Initiatives (OSEI)

Sets system-wide goals and guides policy


OSEI provides direction and support to the Deputy Executive Director of Special Education and Administrators of Special Education, Committee on Special Education Chairpersons, and Principals on all matters related to special education leadership.  The office formulates goals to achieve improvement in special education service delivery and assist school teams in implementing changes to achieve those goals.  OSEI develops ongoing policy to implement federal and State law/regulations governing special education and assists in building capacity of schools to serve a broad range of students with disabilities.


  • School Support Organization (SSO)

Delivers instructional support to schools


All principals, in consultation with their School Leadership Teams, have chosen a School Support Organization (SSO) to provide curricular and instructional support, consultation and training to their schools.  SSOs help schools use data to identify student learning needs, identify best practices and programmatic strategies to improve learning and support professional development.  SSOs also support schools’ work to serve students with special needs, including students with disabilities and English Language Learners.  In the 2009-10 school year, principals were able to select one of eleven SSOs, five operated by NYCDOE and six operated by nonprofit organizations with extensive experience supporting schools and communities.


  • Integrated Service Center (ISC)

Delivers multi-functional operational support to schools


ISCs offer all public schools one-stop assistance with mandated and operational services related to general and special education, human resources, payroll, budget, transportation, health and safety, grants management, youth development and some additional elements of special education services.  There are five ISCs in NYC, all of which support effective individualized education programs (IEPs) development and related services provision.  Some schools receive this support from an expanded SSO team called the Children First Network.


The Committees on Special Education (CSEs) and the Committees on Preschool Special Education (CPSEs) are part of the ISC.  The CSE/CPSE develops IEPs and arranges special education services for preschool and school-age students attending NYSED-approved private schools for students with disabilities, nonpublic and charter schools.


  • Office of Student Enrollment

Manages student placement


The Central Office of Student Enrollment manages Borough Enrollment offices, which are responsible for placing students with disabilities recommended for special class and/or integrated co-teaching when placement is not available in their home/neighborhood school.  This placement process ensures better access to special education programs across the City and allocates special education classes according to geographic needs.  In NYC, students applying for high school admission, including students with disabilities, have the option to apply to NYCDOE Choice programs, which are different types of high schools such as Charter Schools, Career and Technical Education Schools, Small Learning Communities, Small School and Specialized/Transfer High Schools.


  • District 75

Serves students with severe or low-incidence disabilities


District 75 is a separate citywide district for approximately 20,000 students with severe or low incidence disabilities throughout the five boroughs.  District 75 also operates its own SSO that provides support to District 75 schools.  The District 75 Superintendent’s Office provides citywide educational, vocational and behavioral supports to District 75 programs located in more than 350 sites in NYC.


NYC School District’s Performance in Relation to the State Performance Plan Targets


              The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires the New York State Education Department (NYSED) to review each school district’s performance against the targets established in the State Performance Plan (SPP).  The State has determined for four consecutive years that NYCDOE needs intervention in order to meet the targets established in the SPP.  Despite positive trends, the SPP annual report makes it clear that the academic performance of NYC students with disabilities needs accelerated improvement.  Some notable findings from the 2007-08 data are:


  • 23 percent of students with disabilities in NYC 2004 Total Cohort graduated with a regular high school diploma after four years, and 27.3 percent in NYC 2003 Total Cohort graduated after five years, well below the Statewide average of 41.5 percent for students with disabilities.


  • 21.2 percent of students with disabilities in NYC 2004 Total Cohort dropped out of school after four years, a decrease from 37.8 percent of students with disabilities in the 2001 cohort who dropped out.


  • As of June 2008, only two (6.3 percent) of NYC’s 32 school districts made adequate yearly progress (AYP) in all subjects they were required to for students with disabilities.


  • 65.2 percent of NYC preschool and school-age students were evaluated within regulatory timelines.


  • As of June 2009, NYCDOE data indicated that 35.3 percent of students with disabilities scored at Levels 3 and 4 in English, grades 3-8, and 55 percent of students with disabilities scored at Levels 3 and 4 in Math, grades 3-8.  Generally, more students with disabilities met the standards as they progressed from one grade to the next.  Fewer students with disabilities are scoring at Level 1 as they progress through the grades.  41.1 percent of students with disabilities in English, grades 3-8 in 2006 performed at Level 1, and in 2009, 10.3 percent performed at Level 1.  43.8 percent of students with disabilities in Math, grades 3-8 in 2006 performed at Level 1, and in 2009, 12.5 percent performed at Level 1.


  • 46 percent of IEPs for NYC students age 15 and above are in compliance with transition goals and services that will reasonably enable the student to meet his or her post-secondary goals.  NYC is one of two regions showing the greatest overall improvement in this area.


  • NYC has been identified for four consecutive years as a district having a significant discrepancy in the rates of suspension and expulsions of greater than 10 days in a school year of children with disabilities by race/ethnicity.


New York City Department of Education Special Education Compliance and Student Performance Issues


As a result of NYCDOE’s identification as a district in need of intervention for four consecutive years, NYSED has taken enforcement actions as required under IDEA to address these compliance and student performance issues.  NYCDOE is required to address compliance areas which directly affect the performance and improved outcomes for students with disabilities.  The actions required of NYCDOE include the type of interventions and supports that will be provided to NYC school districts.  The following are compliance areas and action steps NYCDOE is implementing to address the needs of students with disabilities.


  • Issue:  Related Services – There are a number of students who are unserved or underserved for monolingual and bilingual related services such as counseling, speech and language therapy, occupational therapy (OT) and physical therapy (PT).




o      NYCDOE is collaborating with VESID to address the shortage of special education bilingual personnel, such as working with the VESID-funded Bilingual School Psychology Support Center, the Intensive Teacher Institute and the Bilingual Speech Support Center.  This past year, NYCDOE has increased the number of students receiving mandated related services and decreased students awaiting services.

o      To continue this progress, NYCDOE has conducted training on the newly developed Speech and Language Standards of Practice and is currently developing new entry and exit criteria for occupational therapy (OT) and physical therapy (PT).

o      NYCDOE has an active scholarship recruitment process in place for individuals enrolled in Speech and Language, OT and PT higher education programs and is continuing to work with schools to ensure timely and appropriate data entry of students receiving services.  The new data system developed by NYCDOE will improve the collection of this information.


  • Issue:  IEP Development and Implementation – Through its Special Education Quality Assurance (SEQA) Focused Reviews, VESID has identified the lack of development of quality IEPs. Some teachers do not have an adequate understanding and skill level to develop IEPs to guide instruction and identify the specific supports which will assist students to progress in the general education curriculum.  Some IEPs are incomplete and/or lack information on transition, behavioral interventions and program accommodations.





        o      NYCDOE hired IEP specialists in each of the ISCs to work with schools to provide training and support around IEP development and decision making, emphasizing educational benefit.

        o      NYCDOE is developing a new data system with an on-line IEP which is consistent with NYSED's recommended format.  The ability of supervisors to review IEPs on-line will result in a more efficient and effective process for evaluating IEPs for quality and compliance.

        o      VESID awarded a Quality Improvement Grant to NYCDOE to improve transition services and writing of IEP transition plans in 10 selected high schools which will serve as best practices sites.  Participating schools will receive training in a self-assessment transition tool developed by Cornell University and funded by VESID to assist school districts in implementing transition services.


  • Issue:  Career and Technical Education (CTE)/Secondary Level Programs – In NYC during the 2007-08 school year, many students with disabilities dropped out of school due to a lack of appropriate programs to prepare them to achieve work and vocational related goals.  There are currently insufficient CTE and alternate pathway options for students with disabilities, which contributes to a 23% graduation rate and a 21% dropout rate.




o      During the 2007-08 school year, NYCDOE, in collaboration with VESID, implemented three new vocational training programs sponsored by the Educational Training Institute for over-age and under-credited students.

o      NYCDOE has made transition of students with disabilities into viable post-secondary opportunities a priority.

o      Training opportunities (TOP) during the school year and summer youth employment opportunities (SYEP) in the summer have provided work experiences to more students than in previous years.

o      In 2008-09, NYCDOE expanded the work-study internships/employment opportunities and reported that over 890 students with disabilities were involved in employment during the school year and 1,350 students with disabilities were involved in summer employment.  To continue this focus, NYCDOE will open four new CTE demonstration sites during the 2009-10 school year, which will have a target enrollment of 13 percent students with disabilities.

o      The number of students connected to post-secondary agencies such as Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities (OMRDD) and VESID is on the rise.

o      Two successful citywide college and career fairs have been held to introduce students and their families to the multiple career and education opportunities that exist for adults in the New York Metropolitan areas.


NYCDOE plans to expand these projects to meet the need to provide a citywide broad variety of CTE opportunities for students with disabilities.


  • Issue:  Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) – NYC continues to rely on special class and totally segregated settings for school-age students with disabilities at the rate of 33.6% and 8.9% respectively. 




o      NYCDOE has made progress in increasing the number of students who are receiving services within the general education classroom, largely as a result of the increase in integrated co-teaching services.

o      NYCDOE created a website We Team Teach, which provides on-line support and webcasts on the different models of co-teaching and effective strategies.

o      VESID is funding the Strategies Techniques and Options Prior to placement (S.T.O.P.) program, which provides behavior support and training for schools with identified students that are being considered for a District 75 placement.  The purpose of S.T.O.P. is to build schools' capacity to serve a broader range of students and maintain them in a less restrictive placement.


NYCDOE continues to work with preschool providers on the development of integrated programs.  VESID and the NYC Central Based Support Team have conducted staff development with CPSEs regarding recommendations for preschool students in integrated classes.  NYCDOE continues to expand the integrated models for students with autism spectrum disorders at all grade levels.


  • Issue:  Placement – NYC data suggests that timely placement of students into preschool and school-age special education programs is a challenge, as are insufficient numbers of preschool integrated classes and a lack of appropriate space for District 75 students (in some regions).





o      To improve timely placements and ensure sufficient classes and space for students with disabilities, the Office of Student Enrollment has implemented several changes and enhancements into the process to better project the accurate number of classes needed to meet the needs of students with disabilities with specific attention to location and desirability of these classes.

o      An online tool, the Special Education Student Projection (SESP), was developed to allow schools to identify the needs of their students for this current school year and project the classes needed to serve them.  SESP also provides data points that show special education enrollment percentages, initial referral rates, recommendation trends, and students transferred out of the school to assist schools in projecting the class needs for their current student population.

o      District 75 enrollment projections are conducted geographically, while considering classification and historical trends.

o      NYCDOE identified preschools that can expand their programs and identified NYCDOE programs that are under-enrolled to increase enrollment or move the location where program space is needed.


  • Issue:  Preschool Evaluations – NYC 2007-08 data indicates that 42 percent of preschool evaluations are completed within the mandated State timelines.




  • NYCDOE, through its data systems, identifies preschool assessment sites that have a number of evaluations which were not completed within required timelines.  NYCDOE contacts these sites, and VESID issues a corrective action to improve timely evaluations.  VESID and NYCDOE Office of Special Education School Improvement review compliance data on a regular basis to determine the progress CPSE administrators are making toward completing evaluations in a timely fashion.  Strategies are also identified to improve outcomes when particular districts show limited progress.  The CPSE administrators work with parents to encourage them to select another site if the site indicates that they will not be able to complete the evaluation on time.


Next Steps for the State Education Department


To effect a sustained and permanent impact on NYC’s students with disabilities’ performance:


  • NYCDOE/VESID will regularly monitor progress toward the established performance targets for the above issues to address the SPP indicators and review NYCDOE's implementation of improvement activities.


  • NYCDOE will continue working with VESID to expand the range of pathways and CTE options for over-age/under-credited students that would lead to meaningful post-secondary education and workforce opportunities for students with disabilities.


  • VESID will continue to review and provide direction regarding NYCDOE's IDEA discretionary funds to ensure that the funds are used to support strategies designed to impact outcomes in the areas of greatest identified need.


  • VESID will support NYCDOE in its reforms of instruction and services for students with disabilities in NYC.  These reforms include instructional strategies in Wilson Reading System, differentiated instruction, response to intervention, PBIS, school–level accountability for improved outcomes and maximizing technology via the development of an on-line data system.


  • NYCDOE will build capacity in schools in the use of evidence-based practices and programs via VESID - funded New York City Special Education Technical Assistance Center (RSE-TASC).  The NYC RSE-TASC will provide high quality technical assistance and professional development to NYC schools that are identified to be in need of assistance or intervention to improve outcomes for students with disabilities.


  • VESID will focus its SEQA NYC Regional Office on enforcing the correction of NYCDOE's significant identified noncompliance with special education mandates.


              VESID also plans to initiate a collaborative review of the recommendations from Garth Harries' report on the examination of NYCDOE's special education systems and resulting implementation activities.  This will include recommendations concerning IEP reviews and development, transfers and program stability, program planning based on students' instructional needs, sharing of effective practices and enhancing parental engagement.