Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Big Day for Special Education in Seattle Public Schools

The district has released the report from Accelify Consulting on the state of Special Education in Seattle Schools.  It will officially be released at a family meeting tonight.  The name of the report is Foundation for a Brighter Future: Essential Needed Improvements in Special Education in Seattle.

Special Education Community Meeting
Tuesday, July 22, 2014
6:30 - 8:30 pm
2445 3rd Avenue South - Auditorium

A family meeting hosted by Seattle Public Schools and the TIERS Group to hear the results of an evaluation of special education services, recommendations and the revised comprehensive corrective action plan.  See here for the flyer with additional information.

Report from Accelify Consulting (TIERS)


I do not believe I know enough about the current state/needs of the SPS Special Education system to give a lot of comments on this report.  I invite parents/teachers who DO know more to please weigh in.

What is fascinating is how many of the issues/recommendations are around core functions that affect ALL areas of the district: operations, communication, leadership, basic systems of reporting and accessing data.

 It is troubling that our district continuing to expand its work while still not getting the basics right.  I hope our new superintendent gets this message - we need the district to function well on the basic before any new initiatives get rolled out/enacted.

Why this hasn't sunk in at JSCEE after multiple reports, I don't know.

I'm going to provide some report wording in partial form to quickly flesh out the report.

From the report's background:

"In December, 2013, the SPS requested proposals for “an individual or individuals with demonstrated expertise in analyzing relevant data and making recommendations regarding other urban and metropolitan school districts nationally in the provision of appropriate special education services.”

SPS was required to hire outside Consultants to help implement the Comprehensive Corrective Action Plan (C-CAP) issued by the Washington Department of Education, Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI). TIERS Group (Teams Intervening Early to Reach all Students), in association with Accelify Consulting proposed to conduct a study of the SPS Special Education Program, including significant data collection through structured interviews and surveys; as well as provide some targeted Technical Assistance to the SPS Special Education Leadership. In early February, TIERS Group was notified that it had been selected as the vendor for SPS, and Accelify executed the Contract with SPS in April, 2014."


"The study TIERS Group/Accelify conducted of the SPS Special Education Program is based on two key assumptions.

First, SPS and OSPI agreed that four root causes have contributed to SPS’s current determination level of needing substantial intervention to meet special education compliance. These root causes include:
(a) de-centralization of SPS’s Special Education Department,
(b) lack of consistency in SPS’s Special Education Department leadership personnel,
(c) problems in successful transition to a new IEP system, and
(d) an increasing student population with stagnant personnel resources.

A second assumption holds that system-wide accountability begins with the Superintendent and Cabinet and extends to the school building level, all responsive to the oversight and policies promulgated by the SPS school board.

For the C-CAP to be implemented, and IDEA Compliance achieved by SPS, change must occur at ALL levels and affect school building leaders and all SPS operations. School building leaders are a critical link between what the Education Directors and central administration has agreed to implement in the C-CAP and what actually happens in schools.

TIERS Group/Accelify believes that culture change can occur and these root causes effectively addressed by operationalizing a Theory of Action that posits If school leaders:
(a) have accurate and timely data on special education compliance and student and system results and,
(b) have a consistent protocol for correcting/preventing noncompliance and supporting improvement and,
(c) believe that special education compliance and results are a priority for the Superintendent, Central Office, and School Board, and,
(d) are supported by effective accountability structures at the Central Office level,

Then the needed cultural changes will occur, the C-CAP will be effectively implemented, student results and community support will increase, and IDEA Compliance will be achieved."

Here's a familiar sounding paragraph that could have come from many different taskforce reports:

Previous reports noted in the C-CAP have documented special education noncompliance in 2011 through 2013 and the need to create a culture of system-wide accountability. While recommendations have been consistently provided in these reports, no plan for strategic execution, no commitment to execution, no acknowledgement of the need to incorporate implementation science in corrective actions, no actionable strategies for implementation, and no action plan for leadership capacity building were included in prior reports.

Reading over the report quickly, more familiar sounding items jump out:

Concerns about the current data systems documented during the interviews included: lack of coordination between the databases; that is, there are identical data that must be manually entered into both databases. Accessing and extracting data from these databases is not generally user-friendly. 
There are no written procedures for ensuring the forms are used reliably from one reviewer to the next. There is a lack of inter-rater reliability due to this absence of written procedures on the use of these forms. 

- There is a lack of a formalized and written policy and procedures for the IEP process following eligibility determination.

- Internal and external communications were identified as problematic during the interviews conducted.

Lack of clarity in disseminating and communicating decisions made internally leads to lack of execution of these decisions and inconsistent implementation of Central Office decisions. There is no written, formalized process to handle parent complaints originating from parents of students with disabilities. This lack of communication and absence of internal policies and procedures was buttressed by the fact that during the interviews conducted, there were four separate and distinct descriptions of how parent complaints are processed by SPS special education personnel. 
- In many general education classrooms there appears to be what is perceived as a disproportionate number of students with disabilities. There was a perception expressed that some general education teachers are receiving larger numbers of students with disabilities than other teachers in the same grade in the same building. This results in the resources of the teachers and these classrooms being taxed, despite adding instructional aides, leading to diminishing returns from the use of limited resources with large numbers of students with disabilities.. Methods for tracking progress toward IEP goals are varied and inefficient, according to interviews.
Central Office leadership: 

Central Office turnover also results in the need to rearticulate issues like vision, direction, mission, and impairs progress due to frequent interruption in direction articulated by particular leaders. Some school building personnel did not know who the current Executive Director of Special Education is; and expressed that they did not know the role of the Executive Director. Many reported that they had never met the Executive Director and had not seen her at their school. 

Many school personnel reported special education positions within their schools remain vacant for long periods of time, and a lack of urgency to recruit and retain personnel to fill school building vacancies including Central Office staff was also reported. 
Overall Themes:

Four primary themes emerged as areas of opportunity for transforming the Special Education Program in SPS: 
Leadership, Infrastructure, Communication, and Professional Development.
 Each of these themes was used to categorize more specific information related to three of the four OSPI C-CAP outcomes. 
The three C-CAP outcomes used to organize the results were:
1) establish and implement an effective, equitable, and systemic strategic plan for the provision of a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to students eligible for special education and related services at the district-level in full compliance with corresponding federal and state regulations, 
2) create and maintain a uniform mechanism for Special Education Program and administrative accountability which includes a centralized system of internal controls and informed decision-making, and 
3) recruit, hire, and maintain stable leadership for special education at the district- level.


Charlie Mas said...

This report could have been written about any department in the district. It is true for all of them.

mirmac1 said...

I'm underwhelmend

Anonymous said...

Very underwhelming is right! No meaningful recommendations. Eg. What specific organizational hierarchy should SPS have? (TIERS indicated a problem, or rather, that they heard there was a problem) What academic performance should SPS expect from various disability profiles? What specific strategies should SPS use to attain that performance goal? (TIaERs indicated performance needed improvement but failed to provide meaningful data or evidence) How, specifically, should SPS organize special education service delivery? (clearly, TIERS didn't like ABCD but didn't say boo about an alternative). What specific parameters need to be measured for accountability? What are the metrics for those parameters currently? Without any specifics, and this report had precious few, this indeed could have described anything.

Sped Reader

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Anonymous said...

Please attend the meeting tonight.
I just heard the VP of the teacher's union is going to attend.

There are many references to gen ed in the report and the union has an interest in exactly how its members are going to be impacted.

There's going to be fight for sure since Gen ed teachers have already
voiced concern over SPED kids impacting there performance evaluations. Notice these zero references to the CBA in the documents. We all know nothing happens outside the CBA in Seattle schools.

Parents united

Anonymous said...

I wanted to make people aware that there has been a reported spike in suicides in the Seattle area. An 8% increase and the group investigating has made a connection to learning disabilities.
I'm trying to get more information and will post it.


Unknown said...

Wow, there are some confusing things going on in this thread. I am failry certain that Mr. Meierbachtol did not post and that someone copied an email from him and posted it. Following that email is a post signed by "Again thank you for you time."

I would not be surprised if Phyllis Campano did attend tonight's meeting. She is the VP of the teacher's union and for the last three years has been working in conjunction with parents and SPS staff on the "new continuum of services," which for unknown reasons, the TIERS group is requesting SPS to review. Someone has clearly mistaken the C-CAP and the TIERs report has some sort of cloak and dagger mystery novel. I can assure you it is not. On the other hand, I think it fails as a roadmap for the district. As Sped Reader noted, it fails to provide any data related to students. How will we measure success? How will any one be held accountable? Why does the report spend so much time telling the reader that no one had heard of the C-CAP? Where are the outcomes for students? Why doesn't it talk about how there isn't any curriculum for students who are supposed to be receiving EBD services? Why doesn't it talk about how many students drop out, don't graduate and can't get a job? I am going tonight and I hoping to hear more about an actual plan.

mirmac1 said...

Little did I know my lack of enthusiasm would launch full rant mode. Sorry Mary.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Flip Wilson, now that's a blast from the past.


mirmac1 said...

Wow. Most of these comments embarrass me. I have found that many SpEd comments of late are made by one or two individuals under different pseudonyms. Take them, and mine of course, with a grain of salt.

Anonymous said...

I could have written this report in three hours for $30 an hour, but whatever. They are right on the money with their observations, but I too am worried about the "What now?" I worked in special ed in this district starting over ten years ago, and the same issues were present then. Hopefully at this point, Zakkiyah McWilliams introduces herself to the sped staff and tells us what this means in terms of action.

I don't know about others in SPS sped, but I had great outcomes with many of my students when I worked at SPS, and no one seemed to care what I did. And PD was the same every year.

-What's Access?

Floor Pie said...

Well, that meeting was rather discouraging. At one point the consultant kind of jokingly scolded us SpEd parents, heavily implying that our District can't hold on to a leader because we're all so difficult to work with and say mean things on the Internet. Right.

And we were repeatedly and rather fiercely told that "The past is past!" and so we'd better not be bringing up past injustices anymore...let's just focus on all working together to implement the new plan.

The plan itself isn't a bad one. Just underwhelming, as others have pointed out. My heart goes out to all the families who really gave of themselves and shared their stories so openly only to have it culminate in this.

Anonymous said...
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Delete said...


Will you please delete Really sucks comments. They are pornographic.

Anonymous said...

McWilliams should really know.... You can never forget the past and "just move on" to the new plan. Would you say something like that to any other group of students? Would you say it to black students? Of course not. Why would you come out with a scathing report about chronic underservice, and then expect people to forget about it????

It's pretty obvious, there is no new plan! And that has always been an issue. Exactly the same as the last "special education audit", which was exactly the same. "Special ed is screwed up. There needs to be a cultural shift.". And no roadmap to get there from the consultants.

Pretty pathetic to blame leadership problems on parents. Dealing with families is part of the responsibility of of the district. Families are equal parties in the IEP team. That fact is built into the IDEA.

Sped Reader

Charlie Mas said...

"The past is past" is another common ploy used by Seattle Public Schools.

There's rapid turnover in leadership and each new leader asks for a blank slate. So they are constantly re-starting the clock. We're supposed to give them time to get the work done. They want a year to study the situation and make a plan. Then they want a year to make a plan. Then they want a year to prepare to implement the plan. Then they want - in this case - three years to implement the plan. So we're not supposed to expect results for six years.

But they turnover the leadership every two years, and the whole process starts over with each change, so there's never any progress, things continue to devolve.

They each want a blank slate, but we're out of blank slates. They were all used up by the people who had the job before.

If the history were good they would expect to inherit it. They wouldn't want a blank slate then.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I would remind readers that we don't allow anonymous or multi-word names. (Also, don't be too graphic in how you state something for the sake of other readers.)

Anonymous said...

Send Lawyers, Guns and Money

This is WAR!


Just Saying said...

Would it be better to hand this program off to OSPI? At this point, what would you have to loose?

Anonymous said...

I found the meeting last night deeply troubling. On the one hand, you had a report written by consultantts concluding that all systems are broken. Yet, in his presentation, the consultant talked about how every staff person they met was deeply committed, had a great deal of heart and was working their butt off. Disconnect, anyone?

As others have written, the prevailing theme was "the past is the past" (actually, the slide said, "the passed is the past") and we have to focus on the plan and the future and not dwell on past problems. The consultant told us that the TIERS report made only 11 recommendations because if you had too many action items, none of them get done. (Actually, I checked the report this morning and there are 12 recommendations, not 11.) But, after telling us over and over that we have to focus on the plan and the future, he never told the room full of people what their recommendations were. Again, disconnect, anyone? Instead, Ms. McWilliams told us about the revised C-CAP. There was no way for the families in the room to tell whether the action items in the revised C-CAP were the same as, complementary to or opposed to the recommendations in the TIERS report. I found all of it incredibly vague and in the end, meaningless in terms of whether my child is ever going to receive the education he is entitled to at SPS.

I re-read the TIERS recommendations this morning. Some of them could be taken care of today -- add an agenda item to every meeting of the Superintendent's cabinet, write job descriptions for the people in the Central SpecEd Department. Some of them, to me, border on the absurd. Instill a culture of data-based decisionmaking in SPS as this will result in narrowing the achievement gap for all children. WHAT? I'm all for data-based decisionmaking, but data does not result in narrowing the achievement gap. Use the data to give teachers reasonable numbers of kids to work with and resources to do so, use the data to give them professional support to use best practices in working with our kids -- that's what will improve results.

The conclusion of the report states: "The Seattle Public Schools has been getting poor results from special education services and is in need of urgent, substantial and significant improvement in the structure and delivery of services to students with disabilities and their families." Those are strong words. Yet, no one last night actually talked about how we are going to change the structure and delivery of services to students. I only wish that there had been a sense of urgency about the need for substantial and siginificant change at the meeting last night.

Troubled Parent

Anonymous said...

We are getting close! There's a huge financial scandal brewing involving
SPED funding. There's a hint in the internal audit report which is basically the same as the TIER's report.


Anonymous said...

Your chances of changing the culture at SPS is very small. Parents need to follow the OSPI process and file complaints. The more noise the more attention OSPI will give. OSPI needs more complaints and not the same complainants, but new never heard from before parents or students. If your High school student is willing have then file the complaint.

The students who are willing need to step forward and be visible, let's have these so called professionals speak directly to the children they are harming.


Anonymous said...

4. Financial Approval Authority
During our review of the department’s financial internal controls related to B2B, we noted that
administrative staff has approval authority for purchases. This was not a planned event, but rather
is the result of frequent turnover within the special education function’s leadership.
Upon further review of the system data, we noted that this type of administrative authorization is
not limited to the Special Education Department, and that it may be common practice in other
District departments as well. Currently the District does not have a policy or procedure that
discusses the delegation of B2B authority to administrative staff. This could result in the
unauthorized delegation of authority, a lack of financial accountability, and a lack of monitoring
over department budgets by the budget owners


mirmac1 said...


Doc, those same findings could be attached to IT, Strat Partnerships, Legal, T&L, HR, you name it. That is what is called "lack of internal controls" and Accounting essentially rubberstamps it, even AFTER Potter. Just put the usual memo in the file.

Anonymous said...

Could be? I haven't seen the other DB info only SPED's and when your talking IDEA funds there's more interest when missing controls could mean missing SPED dollars.

I believe there are federal warrants being drawn up, but I don't want to ruin the surprise.

Lot's of CYA going on at JSCFE.

New Sup going to clean house.


mirmac1 said...

I have seen them. Reported them. SAO not excited.

Re: SpEd - seen them. Reported them. Will likely require a lawsuit. Nevertheless SPS knows I will not drop it.

That is one of the minor problems, frankly.

Anonymous said...

A disturbing aspect of last night's meeting was the absence of SPS staff from areas of SPS other than Special Education. And this was billed as the public roll out of a new set of commitments to students with disabilities and their families. No Executive Cabinet members. No School Board directors. To me, this sent a message that not only are families not valued, but that the recommendations for change are also not valued -- all half million dollars of them. It was ridiculous that this meeting occurred with nobody who needs to be part of the change in GenEd present and accounted for.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Anne, THAT is an important piece of reporting. I am quite surprised - that given the gravity of the situation - no other SPS leadership were there.

Quite telling.

Anonymous said...

The US Department of Education has announced its intention to fund a major new center to provide technical assistance to states in support of the newly added Indicator 17 for IDEA Part B and Indicator 11 for IDEA Part C requiring states to formulate a develop, implement, and evaluate their State Systemic Improvement Plans (SSIPs) to achieve improved outcomes for children with disabilities. The new Center for Systemic Improvement will be funded at $8.8 million annually and will replace the regional resource centers funded by OSEP for many years. Stakeholder involvement in the SSIP is a required component in all phases, so learning more about the SSIP and the responsibilities of the new Center would benefit advocates.

One of the groups preparing an application for the new center has extended an invitation to parent advocates to provide their comments on what states need in order to implement the new SSIP and Results-Driven Accountability (RDA).


Anonymous said...

My contact at the U.S. Department of Education believes they will be at SPS within the next 2 weeks interviewing staff and auditing the books.


Jane said...

A community member is concerned about the manner in which ACCIFY was rewarded a\SPS's contract. For some reason, I'm feeling concerned.

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