Archived: Refinements to OSEP'S Monitoring Procedures Implemented in the 1994-95 School Year

A r c h i v e d  I n f o r m a t i o n

To Assure the Free Appropriate Public Education of all Children with Disabilities - 1995

Refinements to OSEP'S Monitoring Procedures Implemented in the 1994-95 School Year

The Context of Monitoring Refinements

Over the past two years, OSEP has worked -- internally, with other components of the Department, and with its customers -- to reorient and strengthen its monitoring system so that it will -- in conjunction with OSEP's research, innovation, and technical assistance efforts -- serve as an effective vehicle to support systemic reform that will produce better results for students with disabilities, while recognizing the need to continue to look at procedural compliance. In assessing the effectiveness of its current monitoring system and identifying strategies to strengthen that system, OSEP received input from parents and a myriad of groups that advocate for children with disabilities and their families, and from State directors of special education and monitoring personnel. OSEP also used data from the National Longitudinal Transition Study (NLTS) and other research regarding learner results and systemic reform to inform its assessment of and refinements to its system for ensuring accountability.

Based upon information from all of the sources described above, together with ongoing formal and informal dialogue with State educational agencies, advocacy groups, and other OSERS and Department staff, OSEP identified essential characteristics of a strong accountability system, including the following.

  1. Strong and diverse customer input in the monitoring process.

  2. Effective methods for ensuring compliance with Part B and related Federal requirements, with strongest emphasis on those requirements that relate most directly to continuous improvement in learner results (e. g. , those requirements that relate most directly to access to challenging curriculum, effective education together with students who do not have disabilities, preparation for work, etc.).

  3. Prompt identification and correction of deficiencies.

  4. Corrective action requirements and strategies that will yield improved access and results for students, rather than simple "paper compliance. "

Table 6.1 summarizes the monitoring procedures that OSEP implemented during the 1993-1994 school year; with the exception of eliminating the step of issuing a separate draft monitoring report, OSEP continued to implement those basic procedures during the 1994-95 school year. However, the ways in which these procedures are being implemented have been refined for the 1994-95 school year. OSEP anticipates that these changes will be the beginning of a process of further refining its monitoring system over the next several years.

TABLE 6.1 Typical Steps in On-Site Monitoring Reviews

Step 1: Select and inform States that OSEP will monitor during following school year

  • Select States that OSEP will monitor during the following school year. (Under the current schedule, OSEP visits approximately 15 States each school year.)

  • In the spring, inform States that will be monitored the following school year.

Step 2: Conduct monitoring academy and arrange visit dates

  • In the spring, conduct monitoring academy for States that OSEP will monitor the following year. SEA staff and representatives from Parent Training and Information Projects are invited to participate.

  • At the time of the academy or shortly thereafter, arrange dates with each State for public meeting/pre-site visit and on-site visit. Issue memo to national organizations informing them of dates for pre-site public meetings and on-site visits.

Step 3: Conduct public meeting/pre-site visit

  • Send written notice to SEA and to State and national advocacy organizations to inform them of upcoming compliance review and the purpose, schedule, and location of public meetings, and to invite their oral or written comments.

  • Conduct public meetings to gather input from interested organizations and individuals regarding appropriate issues and geographical focuses of OSEP compliance review.

  • While in State for public meetings, meet with SEA officials to plan on-site visit, to collect data regarding State systems for general supervision, and to collect other information to assist in identifying appropriate issues and geographical focuses for OSEP compliance review.

Step 4: Plan on-site data collection procedures

  • After return from pre-site visit, continue to receive (and, if appropriate, solicit) written and telephone comments to assist in identifying appropriate issues and geographical focuses for OSEP compliance review.

  • Analyze and synthesize information from the public meetings and other comment sources; pre-site meetings with SEA; SEA documents (including State plan, monitoring and LEA application review documents, placement data, funding formulas, etc.); previous OSEP monitoring report(s) and related CAP documents; and other relevant information.

  • Use information from public input, preliminary interviews of State officials, and review of State Plan and other documents, to determine appropriate focuses for compliance review, to design data collection and verification strategies and forms, and to select State agencies and LEAs to be visited to collect data regarding the effectiveness of SEA's systems for general supervision.

Step 5: Conduct on-site review

  • Interview SEA officials and review SEA documents to complete collection of data regarding SEA's systems for general supervision.

  • Interview officials from other State agencies that provide educational and/or residential services to students with disabilities, to determine whether the educational programs for such students are under the general supervision of the SEA and meet the requirements of Part B and the standards of the SEA.

  • Collect data in a number of public agencies, including local educational agencies, to determine effectiveness of SEA's systems for general supervision. (Data collection methods include reviewing student records and interviewing agency administrators, teachers, related service providers, and parents.)

  • Note exemplary programs and practices.

  • Summarize preliminary findings in exit conference with SEA officials.

Step 6: Analyze data and prepare draft report

  • Analyze and synthesize data collected from all sources to determine areas of noncompliance.

  • Prepare report that identifies legal requirements, findings of noncompliance, data that support each finding, and results expected from the corrective actions.

  • Issue draft report to the SEA, informing State that it has 30 days to respond in writing to accuracy and completeness of the draft report.

Step 7: Analyze State response to draft report and develop final report

  • Analyze State's response to draft report and review OSEP data that support any challenged findings.

  • Revise report, if needed to ensure accuracy and completeness.

  • Issue final report to State and disseminate to public.

Step 8: Develop corrective action plan

  • Assist State, as needed, in developing its preliminary corrective action plan (CAP) to be presented to OSEP.

  • Agree on a CAP, including activities, timelines and needed resources, using the State's preliminary CAP as the basis. This will be done in a meeting or conference call with representatives from the SEA, the State Advisory Panel and OSEP staff.

Step 9: Review State documentation of corrective action

  • Review State's corrective action products and procedures, as submitted.

  • Document completion of State's CAP.

Source: U.S. Department of Education Program, Office of Special Education Programs, Division of Assistance to the States.

The Focus of Monitoring

The NLTS identified several factors that are strong predictors of postschool success in living independently, obtaining employment, and earning higher wages for youth with disabilities. These factors include: high school completion, participation in regular education with appropriate supplementary aids and services, and access to secondary vocational education, including work experience.

OSEP recognizes that while all IDEA requirements are important, some of its requirements have a more direct relationship to student results than others. OSEP appreciates the importance of focusing monitoring activities on the requirements with the most direct relationship with student results, and on emphasizing those requirements in the corrective action process. OSEP understands that primary responsibility for each State's compliance with IDEA lies with the State, rather than with OSEP, and that parents must have access to effective systems for ensuring compliance. It is, therefore, critical that OSEP's monitoring system also focus on each State's systems for general supervision.

OSEP is, therefore, focusing its compliance reviews on the requirements with the strongest link to results and general supervision. These requirements include:

  1. Students with disabilities must have access to the full range of programs and services available to nondisabled children (and the supports and services that they need to learn effectively in those programs), including regular and vocational education programs and curricula and work-experience programs;

  2. Individualized education programs (IEPs) must include a statement of needed transition services for students with disabilities beginning no later than age 16 (and younger if determined appropriate);

  3. Children with disabilities must be educated in the regular education environment, unless their education cannot -- with the use of supplementary aids and services -- be achieved satisfactorily without removal from the regular education environment. A continuum of alternative placements, as described in the Part B regulations, must be available to meet the needs of children with disabilities for special education and related services and to the extent necessary to implement the IEP for each child with a disability; and

  4. Each State must use its systems for general supervision, including its complaint management and due process hearing systems, to ensure that all public agencies comply with the requirements of Part B, including those emphasized above, in providing services to students with disabilities.

    Monitoring Procedures

    1. Customer Input and Involvement

    a. During the Pre-site Phase of the Monitoring Review

    (1) Monitoring Schedule

    OSEP has begun sending a schedule of all monitoring visits that will occur during the next school year to a wide range of national organizations that advocate on behalf of students with disabilities and their families. Having this schedule enables these organizations to assist local advocacy groups and parents of children with disabilities in the affected States in maximizing their input to OSEP regarding appropriate issue foci, sites to visit, and data sources for each State.

    (2) Public Meetings

    As part of its monitoring review of each State, OSEP conducts one or more public meetings. These meetings give parents, parent and student advocates, educators, and other interested individuals and groups an opportunity to provide information to OSEP that will help determine the issues upon which the monitoring review should focus and the sites in which data should be collected to make compliance determinations. OSEP mails a letter to parent and other advocacy organizations within each State, informing them of the upcoming public meetings and on-site visit to the State, and inviting them to provide input to OSEP (through the public meetings, written comments, and telephone conversations) regarding appropriate issue foci, sites to visit, and data sources.

    OSEP strengthened the public meeting process in two key ways:

    (a) Issues Addressed

    OSEP revised the letters it uses to announce the public meetings. These letters now invite input regarding systemic noncompliance and suggested corrective actions. Interested parties are specifically asked to address concerns and suggest corrective actions regarding the following monitoring foci:

    (i) Factors that may affect placement, such as the State's funding system for special education;

    (ii) Access to regular education curricula and programs, including vocational education, and to supports and modifications to enable students with disabilities to learn effectively in regular education environments;

    (iii) The development and implementation of needed transition services, including vocational education and work experience;

    (iv) Discipline procedures, including suspension and expulsion;

    (v)Disproportionate placement of students, including students from minority backgrounds, in inappropriately restrictive placements; and

    (vi) Exemplary State and local educational programs and practices that impact students with disabilities.

    (b) Groups Invited

    OSEP continues to invite comments at public meetings and written comments from such groups as the State's Parent Training and Information center(s) (PTI centers), the State's Protection and Advocacy agency for persons with developmental disabilities and mental illness (P & A), and other agencies that advocate for children and youth with disabilities and their parents. OSEP broadened the groups invited to include such groups as the State Special Education Advisory Panel (SEAP), Independent Living Centers (ILCs), organizations that represent specific ethnic or language minorities, and organizations that represent teachers, administrators, and school boards.

    (3) Outreach Meetings

    The participation of individuals and groups representing a broad range of perspectives in the public meeting and written comment processes has greatly assisted OSEP in preparing for the "on-site" components of the monitoring process. OSEP noted, however, that dialogue is difficult, if not impossible, in the public meeting format (in which a large number of individuals and organizations wish to provide comments in a limited period of time). OSEP began, therefore, to invite groups such as the PTI center(s), P & A, SEAP, and ILCs to outreach meetings in which OSEP can meet with representatives of these groups in a smaller, more interactive group process to receive more comprehensive information. The State's director of special education is also invited to these meetings, so that the State can also benefit from the information provided and questions raised.

    (4) OSEP receives a number of "complaint" letters in which parents and other individuals and groups raise allegations that the State educational agency or a local educational agency has acted in a manner inconsistent with the Part B requirements. (OSEP refers these letters to the State for resolution under the State's Part B complaint procedures.)OSEP also receives a number of letters requesting that the Secretary review decisions made by the State educational agency on such complaints.

    These complaints and requests for Secretarial review, and the State's response to the complaints that it receives, are a very rich source of information regarding compliance issues and the manner in which the State exercises its responsibility for general supervision of all educational programs for students with disabilities administered within the State. OSEP implemented more systematic procedures for reviewing and analyzing these letters and related materials as part of its process for identifying appropriate issue foci, sites to visit, and data sources for the on-site visit to each State.

    b. During the On-site Phase of the Monitoring Review

    (1) OSEP began to conduct a parent "focus group" in at least one of the public agencies that it visits as part of our data collection procedures in each State. The purpose of these focus groups is to give parents an opportunity to inform OSEP of their experiences in the development and implementation of an educational program and placement for their children with disabilities.

    OSEP invites parents to these meetings from a list of parents of children with disabilities provided by the local educational agency; depending upon State- or district-specific issues or concerns, OSEP may choose to invite parents whose children fall into a specific category (e. g. , parents from an ethnic or language minority if placement practices appear to have a disproportional impact on such students, parents of students over the age of sixteen if transition services is a particularly strong concern, etc. ).

    (2) OSEP may also contact parents who have filed complaints as part of its data collection to determine the effectiveness of the State's procedures for resolving complaints.

    c. During the Post-site Phase of the Compliance Review

    (1) As described in greater detail below, OSEP began during the 1994-1995 school year to use a more interactive process to develop the corrective action plan component of its monitoring reports. OSEP invites the State educational agency and the Chairperson of the State's SEAP to participate in a meeting or conference call to identify specific corrective action requirements and strategies that will ensure timely compliance and support the State's systemic reform efforts and continuous improvement in student results.

    (2) OSEP provides a copy of its monitoring report and the agreed-upon corrective action plan to all individuals and organizations that request copies.

    2. Timely Identification and Correction of Deficiencies

    a. Expedited Procedures for Final Monitoring Reports

    For monitoring visits prior to the 1994-95 school year, OSEP issued separate draft and final monitoring reports. OSEP and many of our customers were concerned that the issuance of a draft report, followed by 30 to 60 days for the State to respond, then a further period of time for OSEP to analyze the State's response and prepare the final report, resulted in unnecessary delays in the initiation and completion of needed corrective actions. As OSEP strengthened its procedures for ensuring that its draft reports are accurate and clear, it noted that very few significant changes occurred in findings and corrective actions from draft to final reports, further underlining the widespread recognition that the issuance of draft reports was unnecessarily delaying corrective action and attendant systemic reform.

    Beginning with the 1994-95 monitoring cycle, OSEP no longer issued separate draft and final reports. Instead, OSEP now issues a single final monitoring report to the Chief State School Officer and the State director of special education. The State has 15 calendar days from the date on which it receives the OSEP report within which to submit a letter to the OSEP director documenting any instances in the report in which a finding is without legal and/or factual support. Should OSEP find it necessary to delete or revise a finding, a letter setting forth the deletion or revision would be appended as a part of the official report.

    b. "Follow-up Visits" to Determine Effectiveness of Corrective Actions

    OSEP conducted a pilot "follow-up" visit during the 1993-1994 school year and three follow-up visits during the 1994-95 school year. The purpose of these focused visits, the majority of which were scheduled within twelve to twenty-four months after the State has received its final monitoring report, has been to determine the extent to which the State has effectively implemented selected components of the agreed-upon corrective action plan.

    3. Corrective Action Requirements and Strategies Yielding Improved Access and Results for Students

    In the past, each OSEP monitoring report has included a corrective action plan developed by OSEP with limited dialogue with the State. OSEP recognizes that to better ensure that corrective actions positively impact student results in a State, it is important to include the State in the development of the corrective action requirements and to integrate technical assistance with the development, implementation, and evaluation of the corrective actions. During the 1994-95 school year, OSEP implemented the following revised procedures for the development of a corrective action plan to address findings of noncompliance.

    a. Each report has set forth parameters for the development of a corrective action plan. These parameters specify the relevant Federal requirement(s) and expected results of corrective action for each finding. The extent to which the report prescribes the specific steps that the State must follow to ensure correction, and specific timelines for each step, depends upon a configuration of factors, including the severity of the findings, and the persistence of the identified noncompliance (including whether the same violations were identified in a previous monitoring report).

    b. The cover letter to each report has also invited the State to meet with OSEP (here in Washington or through a conference telephone conversation) to establish more specific steps and timelines for the corrective action plan. OSEP has also invited the chairperson of the State's Special Education Advisory Panel to participate in the meeting or conference call, and encouraged the State to invite additional resource people, such as Regional Resource Center staff, who could assist in the development of the corrective action plan.

    The cover letter to the report has also informed the State that the corrective action plan must be developed within 45 days of the State's receipt of the report. OSEP has also informed each State that a if corrective action plan were not jointly developed within 45 days, OSEP would unilaterally develop a detailed corrective action plan for the State. (As appropriate, monitoring staff have consulted with other OSEP staff who are knowledgeable about technical assistance resources, including systems change initiatives, research and dissemination projects, Regional Resource Centers and other technical assistance centers, etc.)In the meeting with the State, OSEP has identified resources that could assist OSEP and the State in the development of a corrective action plan, and the State in the implementation of a plan, in a manner that will ensure compliance and support systemic reform that will result in improved student results.

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