Listen to our PODCAST discussion with the architect of One Year Plus, Kalman Hettleman (32 minutes)
Baltimore’s Initiative to
Transform Special Education
The One Year Plus policy of the Baltimore City public schools raises the bar dramatically for the academic progress that students with disabilities are expected to achieve. Under the policy, students who are not severely cognitively disabled have a right to special education services that will enable them to meet state academic standards.
The common practice nationwide is for students with disabilities to receive IEP goals that call, at best, for 12 months of academic growth in basic skills like reading and mathematics over the 12-month period of the IEP. But often the goals do not provide any numerical specification. Moreover, the goals are viewed as “aspirations,” not “expectations,” so when students fail to attain the goals, no alarm goes off, and there are no consequences.
The One Year Plus policy addresses these problems. It provides:
When there is a large gap between the student’s enrolled grade level and actual level of performance (e.g., a sixth-grade student reading at a third-grade level, a gap of three years), the goals should ordinarily express the expectation of 12 months of progress plus a reasonable reduction in the gap (e.g., 15 to 18 months of progress).
IEP services must be reasonably calculated to enable the student to achieve the goals. IEPs are not a guarantee that the goals will be met. IEPs must be individualized. But IEP services should reflect research and professional judgment that the goals will be achieved if the student’s circumstances—including the nature of the disability and attendance—do not change significantly, and the IEP is effectively implemented.
The policy is built on two foundations. First, contrary to conventional perceptions, the large majority of students with disabilities have the cognitive ability to achieve state academic standards. Second, under federal and state laws, these students are legally entitled to specially designed instruction and other supportive services that will enable them, notwithstanding their disabilities, to actually achieve the standards.
Still, there are formidable implementation challenges. One is whether sufficient resources—for example, more classroom coaching for teachers, and staff for intensive tutoring and other interventions—are available to provide the additional quantity and quality of instructional and related services that will be required. Baltimore administrators believe so, and national experts who have reviewed the policy believe in its transformational potential. For example, Rachel Quenemoen, a project director at the National Center on Educational Outcomes, says it should be “highlighted nationally as a promising path.” And Donald Deshler, director of the Center on Research on Learning at the University of Kansas, states, “Our research shows that the students under the policy can meet the One Year Plus expectation.” Only time and an evaluation in process will tell. But there are encouraging early signs.
It is important to note that the One Year Plus policy does not mean that the needs of students with the most significant cognitive disabilities—those who are not directly covered by the policy—are being sufficiently addressed. Still, the policy establishes a framework for raising their academic and functional performance levels, and this task is equally urgent.
A full report on the development and implementation of One Year Plus is available here (PDF, 55 pgs).
Kalman Hettleman, the lead architect of the One Year Plus policy, can be contacted at khettleman |at| gmail.com.