As a parent of a child with special needs, choosing which school to enroll them in can be a challenging task. When comparing schools, a thorough inspection of the services as well as the level of care and attention that can be provided to your child are important factors to consider.
In the United States, The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is the legislation which will govern the public education policy from grades K-12. It was signed into law in December 2015 and essentially reauthorizes the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act and replaces The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). ESSA will officially take effect at the start of the 2017-18 school year. As parents, what provisions of ESSA should you be aware of?
ESSA: Salient Features
The principal change that ESSA has introduced is the movement of power and control over the implementation of academic standards from the federal level to individual states and local jurisdictions. One of the biggest contentions surrounding NCLB was that the federal Secretary of Education held schools across the country accountable for how children were learning and achieving. Furthermore, the act favored uniform education standards and accountability, an approach which isn’t effective for special needs children since their education needs to be focused on meeting the needs of an individual child.
By devolving more powers to individual states, ESSA allows local jurisdictions to implement those academic standards which they feel will be most beneficial to their region. In addition, states can now choose how to allocate federal funds and may create and enforce their own systems of accountability.
The following provisions of ESSA will have a direct effect on children with special needs.
- Specialized instructional support personnel and services
Specialized instructional support personnel (SISP) and services (SISS) are explicitly referenced and called for in ESSA over 40 times.
SISP’s are professionals who provide direct services to the school/students in terms of counseling, education, therapy, and diagnosis in the case of students who are having problems with learning. They are also responsible for providing parents with information, professional development of school staff, program administration, and much more.
SISS include intervention, prevention, follow-ups, and transitions.
For special needs students, these personnel and services are very important.
- Alternate Academic Achievement Standards for Students with the Most Significant Cognitive Disabilities
States are responsible for adopting challenging academic content standards in core disciplines such as math, science, and language arts. All students must meet these standards. An exception is made for those students who have severe cognitive disabilities. Each state must use a documented and validated process to set alternative academic standards for these students to achieve.
- Academic Assessments
All students must be held to the same academic standards except those with the most significant cognitive disabilities.
For students with disabilities, states must ‘provide all appropriate accommodations, such as interoperability with, and ability to use, assistive technology’.
- Grants for Academic Enrichment
ESSA provides a centralized block grant program called the Student Support and Academic Enrichment (SSAE) grant. This flexible funding source is intended to be used by states to improve student academic achievement.
The funds may be used for:
• Promoting a well-rounded education – This includes improving the overall environment of schools, bolstering school safety, crisis prevention, etc.
• The health and safety of students – This includes providing comprehensive mental health services and first aid.
• The effective use of technology – This is for increasing digital literacy and improving academic growth through the use of new technologies.
- Improve the Environment & Safety of Schools
In their annual state report card which all schools must submit to the federal government to show their progress, data concerning bullying, the school environment, and harassment must be included. This data must be made public and states must outline measures that they intend to implement to reduce instances of bullying and harassment.
School psychologists are required to examine this data and monitor the efforts being made to improve the school environment and safety and reduce bullying.
These measures were introduced to ensure that school environments are safe for children and that they support the entire learning experience.
Since the instance of bullying routinely affects students with special needs, these provisions will be comforting for parents.
- Creation of “a comprehensive center for students at risk of not attaining full literacy skills due to a disability”
This center will be created to specifically help students with special needs, such as dyslexia.
• Identify and develop evidence-based assessment tools (which are free or low in cost) for determining which students are at risk of not attaining full literacy skills because of a disability
• Identify methods of instructions and strategies which can meet the needs of these students
• Provide support for families of these students on how to help their children
• Provide professional development for teachers and school leaders so that they may identify the early signs of students who may be suffering from a learning disability
With respect to Special Education Schools in NJ, Winston Prep is a school which takes an individualized approach to students with learning disabilities. By using the Continuous Feedback System, faculty members analyze and assess how each student is responding to daily activities and gauge the strengths and weaknesses of each child. They are then able to create a personalized curriculum for each student’s specific learning profiles. At this time, admissions are currently open for their New Jersey and Connecticut campuses.