Many of the recommendations arising from the Auditor's 1993 investigation have never been implemented. Children who were in kindergarten then are now in grade 8 - and can't afford to wait any longer. The Audit reminds us that we must not waste special education money and students' lives. (The Coalition's reactions and suggestions follow, in italics and brackets.)
This is the fourth school year since the law changed and Regulation 181/98 was initiated. The Ministry of Education must monitor and enforce the Standards it has set for:
The emphasis of the Auditor's report is exactly where the Coalition, supported by parents and educators, knows it should be: to encourage schools to commit resources in ways which promote measurable student progress. And the IEP is the tool to use to secure these commitments. (The Education Act defines "special education program" essentially as an IEP ; so it need not involve segregated placement or congregated grouping. The Coalition wants IEPs to do a better job of bringing that extra help to students within their regular classrooms of their neighbourhood schools. If students get the help they need to learn there, and teachers get the supports they need to teach them there, then we think parents will be satisfied and segregation will never be justified.)
The Auditor clearly states that IEPs must ensure support is carefully tailored to the needs of individual students. He said goals, expectations, strategies, etc. must be identified - specifically and measurably - or else there is no way to assess whether a student is successful. If goals are not met, then either the supports are insufficient or the goals must be adjusted; the planning cycle continues.
The Auditor says IEP's are "critical documents to specify learning expectations for the student, as well as any accommodations necessary to enable the achievement of those expectations." He suggests the following ways IEPs could better "focus the efforts of the teacher, student and parent" [p. 128]:
Better School Board SPECIAL EDUCATION PLANS!
The Auditor said the Standards the Ministry has set for reporting will not do enough to "ensure effective oversight and management accountability for service delivery" [p. 140] because:
And unless accountability to individual students - and their parents - improves, through better IEPs, school systems won't know how successful they are. (Educational "inputs" should be changed in ways that can be shown to improve student "outcomes". The Coalition is disturbed that segregation is allowed to continue with no educational justification. When students are supported to learn in regular classrooms, research shows that the quality of the educational outcomes is superior - so why do we need to segregate students when we know what works and what doesn't ?)
The Auditor studied four school boards intensively. Board A appears to be Ottawa Carleton Public; Board B Peel Public; Board C Sudbury Catholic and Board D Waterloo Catholic. He found great variation among the four boards investigated in terms of grants and expenditures per student, and availability of resources, but the system doesn't provide ways to judge whether this was due to differences in students' needs, or in service delivery methods.
The Auditor thinks management and effectiveness would improve if costs were broken down for such things such as assessments, staffing, and placements. (The Coalition would not want costs to be compared according to exceptionality category) But he also sees that costs outside the special education funding envelope must be considered - such as transportation to segregated classes and schools and provincial schools - when comparing service options.
The Auditor does not address the waste, harm and many problems of Intensive Support Amount (ISA) funding, other than to say that it is complex and under review, and that documentation is a burden to special education teachers. But there cannot be a thorough cost-benefit analysis unless more information is available - about outcomes for students - than boards collect currently. (The Coalition continues to provide evidence of ISA waste and harm and to show inclusive eductaion is better - for students, schools and taxpayers. We can now remind ourselves, school boards, politicians and the public that the Auditor wants us to be better able to prove we get value for the money.)
Why continue to debate "PLACEMENT"?
The Auditor refers to the law - Regulation 181/98 - that "first choice should be integration in a regular classroom with accommodation and supports" [p. 137] (but we are alarmed that his report perpetuates misunderstandings about inclusive education. The Auditor is misinformed when he states that teachers in "integrated classes must prepare and deliver separate lessons for each student". He says teachers are concerned about class size and about "interruptions by students with behavioural problems". We don't think he should imply that these problems are due to placement of exceptional students in regular classes, rather than the lack of adequate supports - as if there are not many sources of discipline problems! To support his statements, the Auditor cites a 1996 survey of British Columbia teachers. He fails to note a critical 1997 nation-wide research study involving the Faculties of Education at York, Acadia and Calgary, which showed that teachers do want exceptional students in their regular classrooms along with the specific necessary supports.)
He also states that the law says, "the Ministry requires that boards maintain a range of placements". (This is incorrect; there is nowhere in the legislation where this is stated.
Helping Students Means Helping Teachers
The Auditor recommends that "all teachers need a strong foundation in special education service delivery", through both pre-service and mandatory professional development [p. 141]. (We may have different ideas about what this means, but the Coalition's ALL Teachers - ALL Students Project has the same rationale - that all teachers should be better prepared to teach the students of all abilities who have the right to learn as members of their regular classrooms. We have been discussing changes needed to teacher pre-service and in-service training with the College of Teachers and many of Ontario's Faculties of Education - when teachers should learn that effective pedagogy applies to all students.)
The Auditor also heard that there are not enough experienced special education teachers and educational assistants. (We think it is important to determine how best to utilize those ''human resources'' that the Ministry IEP Standards say should be specified in student IEPs. For example, if all team members should participate in planning, they should be paid to attend meetings.)
The Auditor recommended that the Ministry make more resource materials available to school boards centrally. (The Coalition agrees that teachers and support staff need information. Finding out about students' needs, categorized according to labels such as developmental disability, autism, etc., does not help identify teaching strategies or tell you anything about the student. Parents are the best source of information, and will be able to help identify strategies that have been effective in past, but more importantly they will describe their son or daughter as an individual with strengths and capacities. No two students with an exceptionality are the same. We advocate for greater respect for individuals.)
(Coalition members hate to see time wasted on computer-generated IEPs developed for students having the same label. At best, these are not helpful and are filed awayand forgotten; at worst, they destroy educational opportunities. Research supports that it is not exceptionality-specific material but curriculum adaptation help that teachers really want - to avoid preparing separate lessons, and to ensure students learn together.)
It is imperative that the Auditor's recommendations are met, not forgotten like those from the report of 1993. The Coalition can provide those models of good practice the Auditor calls for. Our Building for Inclusion Project helps school teams avoid costly confrontation and become more collaborative. Our training shows teachers and families how to capitalize on the student's strengths; work together to prioritize related objectives; support the teacher with the curriculum challenges - and commit to the supports the student needs for success.
It is not the role of the Auditor to change public policy, but to hold the civil service accountable to do what the government says it will do. The Coalition can keep reminding schools, boards and the Ministry about the Auditor's recommendations, to improve educational opportunities across Ontario. The Coalition's projects with schools and communities unprecedented examples of good practice and enhanced collaboration. We know that inclusive education is both better for students and cost-effective; so we welcome closer examination of special education costs and practices. As the Auditor reported, the law and the Ministry of Education's Standards must be better monitored and enforced. Reality should match rhetoric. Policies must translate into practices that truly help each and every student.
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