Educational programs aim to help kids with disabilities

We all set goals. Whether the goal is to save for retirement, lose 10 pounds, complete the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic or simply to make it to work on time today, most of us set goals on a regular basis.

When we have a goal, we usually have a clear notion of success. We know we’ve reached Silverton before the train or made it to work at 7:58. Generally, we don’t put a bunch of procedures and systems in place to prove that we are reaching our goal. But we aren’t governmental agencies.

Historically, when a governmental agency assesses whether a program is reaching a goal, it focuses on procedures – did the services start within the prescribed timeline, were the contracted number of beneficiaries served, did the beneficiary receive notice of her rights, was all the correct paperwork completed, etc. The outcome – putting people to work, educating children, providing food – is often secondary to the procedures, if it exists at all.

On March 2, the Department of Education reversed this trend in an announcement that the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) will no longer be conducting onsite verification and results visits. Instead, it will be designing a new system that looks at how well children, including children with disabilities, are being educated. One would hope that for the Department of Education, children’s education is the goal.

According to the U.S. secretary of education, the department has determined that its current system of doing onsite-compliance reviews doesn’t improve student outcomes or close the achievement gap for students with disabilities. Instead, OSEP hopes to design a system more focused on those student outcomes. The 2012-13 school year will be dedicated to designing this system.

The OSEP already has developed results-based systems for some of its programs. The Early Intervention Program (Part C of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) has been measuring results for young children with developmental delays for several years. Early Intervention programs such as San Juan Kids at Community Connections have collected data about whether kids who receive intervention services improve their positive social and emotional skills, their acquisition of knowledge and skills and their use of appropriate behaviors to meet their needs.

So far, the data reflects excellent results. In Southwest Colorado, more than 80 percent of children ages birth to 3 who are identified with developmental delays substantially increase their growth by the time they leave Early Intervention Services. These real results make a difference in the lives of young children and their families.

As interested citizens, we should be demanding results from our governmental agencies. Instead of compliance and detailed processes, we want to see children and families achieve real outcomes of growth and knowledge.

You can support programs for young children by participating in Week of the Young Child events from April 22 to 28 in La Plata County.

For more information, call the Early Childhood Council of La Plata County at 247-5960, visit ecclaplata.org or call Community Connections at 259-2464.

Tara Kiene is the director of case management with Community Connections Inc.

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