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Survey Results: Reflecting on Special Education in 2016-17

Special Education

The 2016-17 school year was a busy and important year for special education in the U.S. The Supreme Court ruling on Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District earlier this year expanded the rights for children with disabilities but also raised some questions within the K-12 special education community around how to consistently support and measure student progress. But these weren't all new questions.

Even before this landmark ruling, special education teachers and administrators throughout the country were working to ensure students with disabilities had ongoing access to a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) — and facing the challenges that come with trying to establish a methodical approach to student support.

Using Survey Data to Plan for 2017-18

Because the standard of FAPE is different for each student it protects, it can be challenging to develop district and school best practices around how to provide it. When you add increasing enrollment numbers and a special education teacher shortage to the complexity of building best practices around providing FAPE, you start to see a series of pain points that resonate with most special education programs throughout the country, regardless of state, size of student population, or organizational type.

To get a better sense of common challenges and goals for the 2016-17 school year — with an eye to what can be learned to prepare for next year — we conducted a survey of K-12 education leadership, special education teachers, compliance officers and more from around the country. Once we had a list of pain points and aspirations, patterns started to form.

Result #1: A connection between lack of best practices and time loss?

When it comes to common challenges in special education management, it makes sense that not enough time to get things done and creating or adhering to best practices came in first and second place when respondents ranked their top three challenges — because time loss is one result of not having strong best practices to lean on. Add the fact that paperwork takes up to 50% of teacher time, and there isn't much time left over. Other "top 3" challenges identified by respondents were duplicative data entry or paperwork, compliance management and loss of student data.

Result #2: Easier reporting, please!

A more efficient way to complete reporting (progress reporting or otherwise) is at the top of a LOT of professional wish lists.

Result #3: Returning time to instruction

It's no surprise that special education teachers are faced with a lot of paperwork. What is surprising are the latest statistics on exactly how much time paperwork takes away from the classroom. Data shows that almost 40% of K-12 special educators reported spending 20% or more of their time on paperwork — this is the equivalent of a full SET work day or more per week, and translates to 7 weeks per school year lost on paperwork!

While there is a good reason for all of this paperwork, when does the administrative burden start affecting a teacher's ability to plan and execute effective instruction? This question is on a lot of minds in special education. In fact, over 96% of survey respondents say that it is important or critical to return teacher time to instruction.

Result #4: Anticipating staff development needs is important

Continued staff development is a crucial part of supporting students with special needs — 69% of respondents rated the ability to anticipate staff development needs as important or critical. But to make the most of resources, it’s important to have access to student data to inform those development plans.

A Takeaway or Two

Similar to planning for student success, it's crucial to reflect on last year as you plan for your program's success next year. Do you have best practices, collaboration tools and an efficient data management system in place to support your program as it grows and changes? Also, consider if you’re making the most of your district and school data to plan for the 2017-18 school year — it can help your whole team hit the ground running this fall.

About Danielle Simbajon

Danielle Simbajon has created content in support of the education community for over 10 years. She works at Frontline Education, developing content to help the community continue to learn and grow.