When you combine a steady growth in the number of students receiving special education services with rising expectations for the educators who serve these students, all of whom have very diverse needs, you get a “perfect storm” of challenges for K-12 leaders.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, 6.6 million students in U.S. public schools—or 13 percent—received some form of special education services during the 2014-15 school year, and this number is on the rise. For instance, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the percentage of children diagnosed with a developmental disability rose from 5.76 percent in 2014 to 6.99 percent in 2016—and the number of students diagnosed with ADHD increased from 4.4 million in 2003 to 6.1 million in 2016.

As the number of students who qualify for special education services continues to climb, the high bar for the standard of education for these students has been reiterated by the Supreme Court. In the landmark case, Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, the Court affirmed that school systems must be “appropriately ambitious” in designing an individualized education program (IEP) that meets the needs of every child with a disability.

Ensuring that a growing number of students with disabilities meet appropriately ambitious learning standards can be challenging, especially when you consider that each child’s learning needs are very different. The only way to do this effectively is to have greater visibility into all aspects of special education programs—and then use this knowledge to create an improvement process that works.

About the Author:

Andrew Henry is the founder of Red Cedar Software Group and the creator of Stepwell, a web-based platform that helps drive continuous improvement in special education with automated best practices and on-demand access to the right data.


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