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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Good education works for special-needs kids

Students study at Roxbury Prep’s Mission Hill school in Boston.

High-quality generation education can lead to remarkable progress for special education students,” conclude Elizabeth Setren and Nora Gordon on Brookings’ site. That’s true even if students do not receive special services.

Attending a Boston charter school makes special education students 1.4 times more likely to score proficient or higher on their standardized tests, resulting in a 30 percent reduction of the special education achievement gap. Gains extend to beyond just test scores: Boston charter enrollment boosts special education students’ college preparation. These students are over 1.6 times more likely to meet a key graduation requirement, over three times more likely to be eligible for a state merit scholarship, and over 3.8 times more likely to take at least one AP exam in a charter school compared to their peers who do not receive charter lottery offers.

Special ed lottery winners are less likely to retain their Individual Education Plan (IEP) and “three times more likely to move to a more inclusive classroom setting.”

Their academic gains are linked to charters’ “high-intensity tutoring, increased instructional time, and high expectations,” the study found.

Special education applicants to charter lotteries resemble special-ed students in district schools in “level of services, disability type, and academic abilities,” write Setren and Gordon.  Enrollment numbers understate “this parity because charters are more likely to remove special education classifications and increase classroom inclusion.”

The lowest-scoring special-ed students also made academic gains.

“Students count towards the charter outcomes if they get a charter lottery offer, even if they do not enroll or leave a charter school,” they write.

In 2008, I visited Roxbury Prep, a Boston charter middle school, for a project on special education in charter schools.

There’s nothing special about how special education students are treated at Roxbury Prep. Most students don’t know who is officially classified with a disability and is entitled to an Individualized Education Program (IEP) and who is not. Everyone is mainstreamed and many students who don’t have IEPs get extra help. “The reason why our special education program is successful is because our regular education is successful,” says co-director Dana Lehman. . . .  many of the accommodations typical of IEPs are standard procedure at Roxbury, says special needs coordinator Jamie Thornton. The school’s philosophy is that all students benefit from structure, monitoring, clear and repeated directions, and work that is broken into learnable chunks.
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