Parents of children with disabilities are the ultimate stakeholders of our education system. Federal law recognizes the importance of the people most impacted by education policies by requiring the State maintain the Special Education Advisory Panel with a majority of members who are individuals with disabilities and parents of students with disabilities. Furthermore, federal law requires stakeholders to be provided opportunities to participate in the planning and operation of each program included in the State annual plan for special education. Unfortunately, stakeholder voice in Louisiana has been hampered by actions of the Louisiana Department of Education. In August and September of 2017 the Council sent letters to the U.S. Department of Education and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education related to violations by LDOE in meeting the letter and spirit of stakeholder input.
(See Stakeholder Input)
In 2014 landmark legislation passed the Louisiana Legislature that will provide a pathway to promotion and graduation for certain students wtih disabilities. Act 833 (previously HB 1015), by Representative John Schroder and Senator Dan Claitor, establishes alternative pathways for grade promotion and graduation for students with disabilities who have not passed standardized tests. This shift in policy is a monumental departure from Louisiana being among the states with the most stringent and restrictive policies for grade promotion and graduation to Louisiana joining many states in recognizing the role a student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) should have in determining student outcomes.
Louisiana’s education reform efforts include “Parental Options,” which allow children to attend charter schools, private schools and participate in Course Choice offerings in lieu of public schools. Legal battles over the constitutionality of using state education funding to support private providers will decide the fate of some of these programs (private school scholarships and course choice). Although the stated legislative intent of charter schools is that “the best interests of at-risk pupils shall be the overriding consideration in implementing the provisions of the law” the accountability system for schools works against this intent – in both traditional schools and parental options programs.
Unfortunately, Louisiana supports state-operated segregated schools and policy makers support the promotion and/or creation of segregated schools (i.e., those that serve students with specific disabilities exclusively). A report on the Louisiana Special Education Center by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor (April 2012) determined that some of the Center’s activities do not align with the mission of special education and made recommendations for coordination with the Office for Citizens with Developmental Disabilities for transitioning out individuals too old to receive educational services.
There is much work to be done in educating the public and policy makers regarding the lasting negative impact segregated schools have on society and people with disabilities. The Council advocates for all schools accepting public funds to accept and offer students with disabilities all necessary and appropriate services in inclusive educational settings (i.e., the least restrictive environments).
School Accountability and Segregation Issues
Schools in Louisiana are graded primarily (90%) on how well their students perform on standardized tests. School performance scores are viewed without consideration of whether the school is serving a ‘fair share’ of students with disabilities – particularly students with significant disabilities. This combination encourages selective admissions (i.e., magnet and private schools) and/or selective recruiting practices, ‘counseling out’ and/or disciplinary removals of students not expected to contribute positively to the academic grade. These are not new issues but using such a high stakes accountability system with funding formulas and school comparison measures that were not designed for school systems that did not have to take on the responsibility for teaching all students creates additional issues for advocates to address.
The Council advocates for all schools accepting public funds to accept and offer students with disabilities all necessary and appropriate services in inclusive education settings (i.e., the least restrictive environments).
Student Performance and Accountability
Alternate Assessment (LAA2) Phase Out
Louisiana is phasing out the use of alternate assessments (LAA2). LAA 2 enabled many students with disabilities to have their performance measured on the same academic standards as their peers since it was based on the grade level expectations used for all students. LaTEACH successfully advocated for LAA2 to meet requirements for grade promotion and graduation.
The Council advocates for students with disabilities who require accommodations not available on the general assessment protocol to have alternate assessments based on grade level achievement standards (AA-GLAS) offered to them so their performance may be included in accountability systems.
End of Course Tests
High school students must take End-of-Course (EOC) tests following specific courses. Performance on EOC tests count as part of the student’s course grade and are part of the requirements for graduation.
LaTEACH successfully advocated for flexibility in the percentage of EOC test performance used toward course grades of students with disabilities.
Teacher evaluations are based on student performance and measures of professional practices. For teachers of non-tested grades and subjects, the student performance evaluation includes performance on Student Learning Goals developed by the teacher and school administrator. Since Student Learning Goals do not have to align with goals and objectives on a student’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP), there is the possibility that teachers will be motivated by factors other than student outcomes agreed upon by the IEP team.
Discipline and Behavioral Practices
The Council promotes safe and effective practices that ensure students are protected from discipline practices that cause harm and/or violate their rights. Educators are encouraged to use safe and effective practices such as Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports to address behavioral challenges presented by students.
Restraint and Seclusion
In 2011, the Council successfully advocated for the creation of regulations to govern the use of restraints and seclusion in Louisiana schools (Act 328).
Children with disabilities are at a greater risk of receiving corporal punishment than children without disabilities. Unfortunately, corporal punishment is allowed in Louisiana schools by state law and there are no federal laws regulating its use in schools. As a result of Council and LaTEACH advocacy efforts, school systems must report on the use of corporal punishment. The May 2011 Report of Corporal Punishment in Louisiana Public Schools indicates that at least 54 school districts allow corporal punishment and a total of 11,520 instances of corporal punishment were reported during the 2009-2010 school year.