Strengthening Special Education
While CPS student achievement has improved in recent years on state and national exams, the academic progress of
students receiving special education services has largely stagnated, despite an increase in funding for special
education. The underachievement of students with disabilities is a persistent national problem, but one that
can be solved if schools are provided with support to adopt researchbased practices.
To identify the underlying reasons for this achievement gap in CPS, we recently completed an extensive analysis of
our special education programs and practices and devised strategies to address the challenges we uncovered Here
are just a few of the steps we will take to help schools more accurately identify disabilities and strengthen
special education case management, services, progress monitoring and instruction.
Our analysis revealed that the gender and racial distribution of our students with disabilities is not aligned with
our total student population. “Over identification” can mean that students are inadvertently assigned to special
education when their needs might be different, and is especially troublesome when it happens to African American
boys and English Language Learners. While CPS is not the only school district to struggle with “over identification,”
we aim to be at the front of national efforts to improve this problem.
By creating more clear and comprehensive
guidelines for school teams that review initial student referrals or who conduct special education evaluations
and participate in eligibility decisions, we are able to better identify a student’s needs and provide the right
kinds of support, either through MTSS interventions (see Multi-Tiered System of Supports section) or special
education services. Schools that continue to refer a disproportionate number of students or subgroups to special
education will receive more intensive support.
I love helping my students become proud of who they are. I love showing them that for every challenge
they may struggle with, there lies a strength waiting to be cultivated. It’s rewarding to see them find those
strengths and remove the taboo around learning differences.
The quality of eligibility decisions, case management and special education services varies widely in CPS. Schools
must receive the intensive training and guidance they need to improve in those areas. Investing in additional
staff at the network offices to provide that training will spread researchbased practices that lead to greater
student achievement, social-emotional growth and postsecondary success.
In order to improve the quality and consistency of special education services, case management and eligibility decision
making; we must provide intensive training and guidance to schools. In the past, CPS has not provided sufficient
support for schools to improve special education instructional practices. Going forward, each network will provide
ongoing professional development for special education teachers to improve the quality of IEPs, progress monitoring
and instruction districtwide.