In an effort to improve and standardize data management for special education programs, the state Department of Education announced the purchase of a new statewide electronic management system this Tuesday.
The statewide special education data system will be built this year in partnership with Public Consulting Group, piloted in select small, medium and large districts in 2021-2022 and launched across all 170 districts in the fall of 2022.
Here are five things to know about how the system will change special education for staff, students and parents.
#1: The system will put into place a statewide, standardized Individualized Education Plan document to be used by all districts for all 84,000 special education students.
“The new IEP document is easier to understand for students, staff and parents,” said Bryan Klimkiewicz, the special education division director for the Connecticut Department of Education. “It’s a different flow of information. The current forms most districts use have present level of student performance on one page and goals on another. In this one, that is all on one chart. It shows where they are and where they are going.”
The hope is that the new form, which has been developed with input from a statewide task force, will be more user friendly and more appropriate for the electronic format.
“We’ve always had a standardized document, but when we went to the electronic system it didn’t format well,” said Beth Reel, the co-executive director for the Connecticut Parent Advocacy Center. “The issue was drop down menus that led to cookie cutter IEPs, so we are happy to have a new document.”
#2: Parents will have electronic access to the IEP and other documentation by way of a parent portal.
“Similar to seeing what their child’s grades are, parents will have access to the system and can see, download and print these documents at home,” Klimkiewicz said. “It will keep all documents in the same place which will really help with organization.”
For families that often have to formally request the official IEP documentation from their school district’s administration, this will be a significant step forward in terms of transparency.
“We are constantly asking parents to get the IEP and it becomes this whole long process for the family,” Reel said. “Parents having access is absolutely great.”
This remains an obstacle for families without a computer or reliable internet access.
“My issues with all of these things is always that many of the families I work with don’t have access to the technological aspects that would allow them to benefit, such as internet, computer, printer,” said Christine Lai, executive director of the Special Education Legal Fund.
#3: The IEP and all other documentation will be available in the native language of the family.
“The language translation piece is huge,” Reel said. “We are always having such significant challenges for families that don’t speak English or speak it as a second language. Anything they produce at this point in their native language is wonderful. It really would be a big step forward for families.”
As Lai put it, providing translation eliminates one of the most common structural barriers to understanding the child’s right and education plan.
“Public Consulting Group is excited to partner with the Connecticut State Department of Education in the development of its new statewide special education data management system,” said Grant Blair, director of Public Consulting Group’s education practice. “Our team is successfully supporting similar efforts in a handful of other states and we look forward to bringing that hands-on experience and lessons learned to Connecticut. We’re thrilled to embark on this project that will ultimately lead to improved student outcomes across the State.”
#4: The system will cost $1 million annually and be paid for with federal grant funding through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
Currently, each school districts pays for their own electronic management system which typically costs districts between $15,000 and $20,000, if not more, annually.
When the state system launches in the fall of 2022 these recurrent costs will be eliminated for districts.
“It’s a pretty substantial amount that all districts will now be able to re-appropriate,” Klimkiewicz said.
#5: The statewide system will relieve school districts of the burden of gathering and reporting data annually to the state and allow the state to more proactively respond when corrective action is needed.
“When we report special education data to the federal government districts will no longer have to spend the time collecting, organizing and submitting each year,” Klimkiewicz said. “Also, we can see if districts are not complying with annual reviews or other evaluations. It will allow us to check in on a more real time basis.”