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 - 1996

Chapter 5

Assisting States and Localities in Educating All Children with Disabilities

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) directs the Department of Education to assess the impact and effectiveness of State and local efforts to provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to children and youth with disabilities. Primarily through the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), the Department assists State educational agencies and local school districts in implementing Federal special education mandates by making grants pursuant to Congressional appropriations and providing technical assistance, policy support, and monitoring oversight.

As discussed throughout this report, OSEP works in partnership with States, institutions of higher education, students with disabilities and their families, advocacy groups, and others to ensure positive educational results for students with disabilities. OSEP uses research, dissemination, demonstration, systems change, and other technical assistance strategies to provide State and local educational agencies with tools to assist them in improving teaching and learning.

OSEP also recognizes, however, the critical importance of its compliance monitoring responsibility and activities to ensure compliance with Congress' mandates. OSEP places the highest priority on compliance with those IDEA requirements that have the strongest relationship with improved services and results for students with disabilities and their families, and tailors its monitoring and technical assistance activities in each State to maximize positive impact on educational services and results for students in that State.

Based in large part on the results of the National Longitudinal Transition Study1, OSEP has determined that the requirements with the strongest links to results and general supervision include those addressing:

Because each State has the primary responsibility for the administration of educational programs for its children with disabilities, OSEP focuses its monitoring activities on each State's systems for general supervision for ensuring that all public agencies comply with the requirements of Part B, including those emphasized above, in providing services to students with disabilities. These systems include the State's procedures for monitoring public agencies and ensuring that they correct any deficiencies, its complaint management and due process hearing systems, and its procedures for ensuring that special education programs administered by State agencies other than the State educational agency meet State standards and Part B requirements.

OSEP's State improvement procedures emphasize partnerships and technical assistance, as well as a strong accountability system to ensure compliance. OSEP works with States, Regional Resource Centers, and others to identify systemic strengths and weaknesses and to develop strategies for systemic reform and improvement. OSEP also provides and brokers technical assistance to States on an ongoing basis regarding legal requirements and best practice strategies for ensuring compliance in a manner that ensures continuous progress in educational results for students with disabilities. OSEP uses these strategies for State improvement in conjunction with a multifaceted compliance review process that, in tandem with ongoing technical assistance, includes: review and approval of State Plans; on-site compliance reviews; procedures to ensure the effective and timely implementation of corrective action plans; and discretionary review of final State decisions on Part B complaints.

Over the past three years, OSEP has worked intensively to reorient and strengthen its monitoring system so that it will--in conjunction with research, innovation, and technical assistance efforts--support systemic reform that produces better results for students with disabilities, and ensure compliance. To ensure a strong accountability system, OSEP has emphasized: strong and diverse customer input in the monitoring process; effective methods for ensuring compliance with Part B, with strongest emphasis on requirements that relate most directly to continuous improvement in learner results; prompt identification and correction of deficiencies; and corrective action requirements and strategies that yield improved access and results for students.

During the 1994-95 school year, OSEP conducted comprehensive monitoring visits to 14 States, Puerto Rico, and the Pre-College Programs of Gallaudet University. OSEP is conducting comprehensive monitoring visits to 11 States during the 1995-96 school year (see table 5.1 for the schedule of these reviews). Table 5.2 summarizes in general the procedures typically used by OSEP to plan and implement on-site reviews. However, OSEP tailors its monitoring and technical assistance activities to those that are needed in specific States. Thus, some States (for example, States with relatively few findings in their last review or with findings of a technical nature, and with good demonstrable success in correcting deficiencies) may require only a more narrow, focused review, while others will continue to require frequent OSEP comprehensive and follow-up monitoring visits.

TABLE 5.1 Schedule of On-Site Monitoring Reviews
1994-95 Reviewsa/                   1995-96 Reviews
 Idaho (9/94)                       Alabama (9/95) Minnesota (9/94)                   Indiana (9/95) Ohio (9/94)                        Vermont (9/95) Arkansas (10/94)                   Kentucky(9/95)         Massachusetts (10/94)              Nevada (10/95) Delaware (12/94)                   Rhode Island (1/96) Hawaii (1/95)                      Tennessee (1/96) California (1/95)                  Kansas (3/96) Louisiana (3/95)                   Colorado (5/96) Puerto Rico (3/95)                 Georgia (5/96) South Carolina (3/95)              Oklahoma (5/96) North Carolina (5/95) Virginia (5/95) Maryland (5/95) Illinois (5/95)  1994-95 Follow-Up Reviews          1995-96 Follow-Up Reviews
  Florida (3/95)                     Pennsylvania (12/95) District of Columbia (3/95)        New Jersey (12/95) West Virginia (5/95)               New York (12/95) 

a/ As directed by the Congress in the Education of the Deaf Act, OSEP also conducted a special monitoring review of the Pre-College Programs of Gallaudet University in May 1995.

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

TABLE 5.2 Typical Steps in On-Site Monitoring Reviews
Step                    Specific Activities
====                    =================== Step 1:                 Select States that OSEP will monitor during the Select/inform States    following school year. OSEP will monitor following school year   In the spring, inform States that will be                         monitored the following school year. ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Step 2:                 Conduct spring monitoring academy for States Conduct monitoring      OSEP will monitor the following year. State academy and arrange     educational agency staff and representatives  visit dates             from Parent Training and Information Projects                         are invited to attend.                          At the time of the academy or shortly thereafter                         arrange dates with each State for public meet-                         ing/pre-site visit and on-site visit.                          Disseminate to national organizations schedule                         of public meetings and on-site visits. ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Step 3:                 Send notice to State educational agency, State Conduct public          and national advocacy organizations, and parents meeting/pre-site        to inform them of upcoming compliance review and visit                   the purpose, schedule, and location of public                         meetings, and to invite their oral or written                         comments.                          Conduct public meetings to gather input about                         appropriate issues and geographical focuses of                         visit.                          Meet with State educational agency officials to                         plan on-site visit, to collect data regarding                         State systems for general supervision, and to                         collect other information to assist in identi-                         fying appropriate issues and geographical                         focuses for OSEP compliance review. ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Step 4:                 After pre-site visit, continue to receive (and, Plan on-site data       if appropriate, solicit) comments to assist in collection              identifying appropriate issues and geographical procedures              focuses for OSEP compliance review.                          Analyze and synthesize information from: public                         meetings and other comment sources; pre-site                         meetings with State educational agency; State                         educational agency documents (including State                         plan, monitoring and local educational agency                         application review documents, placement data,                         funding formulas, etc.); previous OSEP monitor-                         ing report(s) and related corrective action                         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 stra-                         tegies and forms, and to select State agencies                         and local educational agencies to be visited to                         collect data regarding the effectiveness of                         State educational agency's systems for general                         supervision. ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Step 5:                 Interview State educational agency officials and Conduct on-site         review State educational agency documents to review                  complete collection of data regarding State edu-                         cational agency's systems for general super-                         vision.                          Interview officials from other State agencies                         that provide educational and/or residential ser-                         vices to students with disabilities, to deter-                         mine whether the educational programs for such                         students are under the general supervision of                         the State educational agency and meet its stan-                         dards.                          Collect data in a number of public agencies, in-                         cluding local educational agencies, to determine                         effectiveness of State educational agency's sys-                         tems for general supervision.  (Data collection                         methods include reviewing student records and                         interviewing agency administrators, teachers,                         related services providers, and parents.)                          Note exemplary programs and practices.                          Summarize preliminary findings in exit confer-                         ence with State educational agency officials. ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Step 6:                 Analyze and synthesize data collected from all Prepare and             sources to determine areas of noncompliance. disseminate report                         Prepare report that includes commendations and                         findings of noncompliance, data that support                         each finding, and results expected from the                          corrective actions.                          Issue report to the State educational agency and                         to the public.  (If State concludes that evi-                         dence of noncompliance is significantly inac-                         curate and one or more findings incorrect, it                         may request--within 15 calendar days--reconsi-                         deration of the finding. If OSEP agrees facts                          in Report are insufficient to support finding,                          it will issue letter informing State the finding                         has been revised or withdrawn.) ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Step 7:                 Work with State to develop corrective action Develop and             plan (CAP). implement corrective action plan             Agree on a CAP, including activities, timelines                         and needed resources, using the State's prelim-                         inary CAP as the basis.  This is done in a                         meeting or conference call with representatives                         from the State educational agency, the State                         Advisory Panel, and OSEP staff. ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Programs, Division of Assistance to the States

TABLE 5.3 Monitoring Reports Issued During Fiscal Year 1995
   Montana (10/94)          Arizona (2/95)       Washington (3/95) New Hampshire (11/94)    Connecticut (3/95)   Wyoming (3/95) Utah (11/94)             Delaware (3/95)      Massachusetts (5/95) Minnesota (12/94)        Hawaii (3/95)        South Carolina (8/95) Wisconsin (12/94)        Iowa (3/95)          North Carolina (9/95) Arkansas (1/95)          Michigan (3/95)      Puerto Rico (9/95) Idaho (1/95)             New Mexico (3/95)    Virginia (9/95) 

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

As shown in table 5.4, the findings in the 21 final monitoring reports that OSEP issued during fiscal year 1995 concentrated in areas directly related to:

TABLE 5.4 Summary of Findings in 21 Fiscal Year 1995 Monitoring Reports

               NUMBER OF REPORTS WITH FINDINGS OF            NONCOMPLIANCE REGARDING INDICATED REQUIREMENTS -----------------------------------------------------------------------                 12 Student and representatives of other agencies                     invited to IEP meeting                  4 If student doesn't attend meeting, agency takes                    steps to consider preferences/interests  TRANSITION      12 Content of meeting notice                 14 Statement of needed transition services                  1 If agreed upon services not provided, meeting                     convened to identify alternative strategies -----------------------------------------------------------------------                 12 Removed from regular education only if education                    cannot be achieved satisfactorily in regular                     classes with supplementary aids and services                  3 Placement determined at least annually LEAST            7 Placement decision based on IEP RESTRICTIVE      8 Continuum of alternative placements ENVIRONMENT      2 Student attends school would attend if                     nondisabled unless IEP requires other arrangement                 12 Student participates with nondisabled students                     in extracurricular/nonacademic -----------------------------------------------------------------------                 14 Extended school year FREE            15 Services provided in conformity with IEP APPROPRIATE      2 Length of school day consistent with State standard PUBLIC           3 Initial evaluation meets State timelines EDUCATION        2 Services continue if suspended long-term or expelled  -----------------------------------------------------------------------                  4 Agencies establish safeguards                  6 Prior notice or proposed/refused actions provided                     to parents PROCEDURAL       7 Prior notice includes full explanation of procedural SAFEGUARDS         safeguards                 10 Prior notice includes other required content                 11 Hearing and review timelines  -----------------------------------------------------------------------                 17 Procedures to identify deficiencies MONITORING      14 Procedures to correct deficiencies -----------------------------------------------------------------------                  3 All complaints resolved COMPLAINTS      11 Complaints resolved within 60 days ----------------------------------------------------------------------- GENERAL          8 Programs administered by State agency other than SUPERVISION        SEA meet SEA standards and Part B requirements ----------------------------------------------------------------------- LEA              9 Incomplete State procedures/guidance APPLICATIONS    10 SEA approval of applications although they do                     not meet Federal requirements -----------------------------------------------------------------------                   1 IEP developed/reviewed in meeting IEP              5 Agency representative participates in IEP meeting                 12 IEP content -----------------------------------------------------------------------                  5 Students reevaluated at least once every 3 years EVALUATION       2 Written report for learning disabilities evaluation ----------------------------------------------------------------------- CHILD COUNT      3 SEA ensures accuracy of Part B child count ----------------------------------------------------------------------- PERSONNEL        1 Personnel meet highest requirements  STANDARDS ----------------------------------------------------------------------- 
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs, Division of Assistance to the States.

Earlier OSEP reports consisted largely of detailed and technical findings regarding the content of local educational agency applications, local educational policies and procedures, and explanations of procedural safeguards. OSEP now collects data and writes reports to stress findings and corrective actions that more closely affect student results. Thus, for example, data collection and reports include a strong focus on State and local policies, procedures, and practices relating to transition and placement in the least restrictive environment.

The nature of OSEP's findings in areas such as placement in the least restrictive environment and monitoring have evolved over time. For example, while in the past placement findings often focused largely on the procedural issue of when agencies made placement decisions, findings now focus on the range of placement options available to students with disabilities (including students with more severe disabilities) and the consideration of appropriate supplementary aids and services as part of any decision to remove a student from the regular education environment for any portion of the day. Further, while in the past OSEP focused its review of placement practices largely on students who were completely segregated from students without disabilities in institutions and other separate school settings, OSEP now focuses its reviews largely on placement practices for students who attend regular school buildings but who are removed from the regular education program for a portion of the school day. This change in the nature of placement-related findings reflects a decrease nationally in separate school placements.

In the past, many OSEP reports included long lists of Part B requirements for which States had no method for determining compliance. As reflected in more recent reports, most States have now developed a method to examine compliance regarding all or nearly all requirements. Recent OSEP reports have focused more on the effectiveness of States' procedures for identifying and correcting deficiencies. For example, a recent report showed that one State had a method to address all but five Part B requirements, and focused on the ineffectiveness of some of the State's monitoring procedures in identifying deficiencies relating to transition, placement in the least restrictive environment, and the provision of a free appropriate public education. The report further addressed problems that the State was experiencing in ensuring the correction of identified deficiencies.

Prior to the 1994-95 school year, each OSEP monitoring report included a corrective action plan developed by OSEP with limited dialogue with the State. Often States implemented the required procedures with little verifiable impact on services and results for students with disabilities. OSEP found that to better ensure that corrective actions positively affect 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. OSEP found that although some States had completed all required corrective actions, many of the same deficiencies would be noted as part of the next OSEP review of the State. Accordingly, OSEP revised its corrective action procedures during the 1994-95 and 1995-96 school years to emphasize joint development of corrective action plans and to provide for "follow-up" visits. (See table 5.5 for a description of these revised corrective action procedures.) As noted in table 5.1, OSEP conducted three follow-up visits during the 1994-95 school year, and will conduct three follow-up visits during the 1995-96 school year to determine the extent to which the State has effectively implemented selected components of the agreed-upon corrective action plan, and to work with them to develop any further corrective actions and provide technical assistance needed to ensure full and effective correction.

TABLE 5.5 Corrective Action Procedures
PHASE                           ACTIONS TAKEN =====                           ============= MONITORING VISIT     Throughout on-site process, OSEP discusses                      preliminary findings and possible strategies for                       corrective action with the State educational                       agency.  MONITORING REPORT    Each monitoring report sets forth parameters                      for the development of a corrective action plan,                       specifying expected results of corrective action                      for each finding.  The extent to which each 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).                       The cover letter to each report invites the State                       to meet with OSEP (in  Washington or through a                      conference telephone conversation) to establish                      more specific steps and timelines for the                       corrective action plan.  OSEP also invites a                      representative of the State's Special Education                      Advisory Panel to participate in the meeting or                       conference call, and encourages 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 also informs the                       State that the corrective action plan must be                      developed within 45 days of the State's receipt                      of the report, and that a if corrective action                      plan is not jointly developed within 45 days, OSEP                      will unilaterally develop a detailed corrective                      action plan for the State.           DEVELOPMENT AND      State develops preliminary proposals for  APPROVAL OF          corrective actions. CORRECTIVE ACTION PLAN                 OSEP monitoring staff consult with other OSEP                       staff, as appropriate, who are knowledgeable                      about technical assistance resources, including                      systems change initiatives, research and                       dissemination projects, Regional Resource Centers                      and other technical assistance centers, etc.                       OSEP meets--in person or by teleconference--with                       the State educational agency, a representative                      of the State's Special Education Advisory Panel,                      and any additional resource people invited by                      the State educational agency.  In the meeting,                       the participants discuss strategies, resources,                       and specific action steps for the development                      and implementation of a corrective action plan                      that will ensure compliance and support systemic                      reform resulting in improved student results. The                      participants work toward--and as much as possible                      reach--agreement on the specific results, steps,                      resources, documentation  procedures and timelines                      for corrective action.                        Having determined that the State's proposal                       includes actions and timelines to ensure                       effective, timely, verifiable correction of all                       deficiencies, OSEP approves the State's corrective                      action plan.  DOCUMENTATION OF     The State educational agency submits, and OSEP CORRECTIVE ACTION    approves, information to document the effective                      completion of all corrective actions.                        Having determined that the submitted information                      documents the effective completion of all                       corrective actions, OSEP approves the completed                      corrective actions.  ON-SITE              When determined appropriate, OSEP conducts an VERIFICATION OF      on-site follow-up review to verify effective CORRECTIVE ACTION    completion of one or more corrective actions.                       
Source: U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs, Division of Assistance to the States.

As noted above, OSEP has used technical assistance, research, and dissemination strategies in tandem with its accountability system to support State efforts to improve teaching, learning, and student results. One strong example is the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) Transition Initiative. Since 1984, 393 model demonstration projects have developed a wide range of service delivery models that have facilitated the transition of youths and adults with disabilities from secondary special education to a number of postsecondary environments, including higher education, employment, and community integration. In 1983, Congress mandated that the Department commission a national study of the transition experiences of youth with disabilities in secondary school and beyond. Under contract to OSEP, SRI International conducted the National Longitudinal Transition Study of Special Education Students (NLTS), which included more than 8,000 youth with disabilities. OSEP has also funded Transition Systems Change Grants in 34 States, and will be funding grants in additional States during fiscal year 1996. OSEP has used the results of the NLTS and information gained from other discretionary projects to focus its monitoring activities and technical assistance efforts, and to inform Federal, State, and local policy and instructional design decisions.

Similarly, in 1986, OSERS proposed the Regular Education Initiative. OSEP recognized that building the capacity of schools to serve students in the least restrictive environment could be conceptualized as an issue of enforcement of the least restrictive environment provisions of IDEA and as an issue of implementing best practice, and has employed both monitoring and discretionary program activities. Since 1987, 26 States have received systems change awards from OSEP to encourage large-scale adoptions of effective educational practices across State systems, and to increase the movement of students with disabilities from segregated to integrated to inclusive school campuses. Also since 1987, OSEP has supported three 5-year Institutes to address inclusion issues. OSEP has also funded 3-year research and demonstration projects to examine the academic and social inclusion of students with severe disabilities in general education classes. As with the Transition Initiative, OSEP has used information gained from all of these discretionary projects to focus its monitoring activities and technical assistance efforts, and to inform Federal, State, and local policy and instructional design decisions.

Summary and Implications

OSEP recognizes that it is important to focus on both student results and compli ance, and uses a broad range of technical assistance, partnership, and accountab ility strategies to ensure compliance, especially with those requirements that relate most strongly to learning opportu nities and results for students with disabilities. OSEP tailors its technical a ssistance and monitoring activities in each State to the needs and strengths of that State, and OSEP's revised monitoring pr ocedures have resulted in monitoring reports and corrective actions that ensure compliance while supporting State reform efforts and improved teaching and learning.

1 The National Longitudinal Transition Study identified several factors as strong predictors of postschool success in living independently, obtaining employment, and earning higher wages for youth with disabilities, including: high school completion, participation in regular education with appropriate supplementary aids and services, and access to secondary vocational education, including work experience.

2 OSEP also made findings regarding requirements related to evaluation of students with disabilities and the development of IEPs. Both sets of requirements and OSEP's findings relate directly to the provision of a free appropriate public education; evaluations serve as a critical source of information for making individualized determinations regarding the program and placement that each student needs, and Congress has mandated the development of an IEP as the mechanism for making such determinations.

[Chapter 4 Summary and Implications] [Table of Contents] [Appendix B]