Teachers and special education students’ advisory teams will have to work closely to avoid “major, major issues” under a new state law aimed at making it easier for those with disabilities to earn a high school diploma, the president of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents said Friday.
Doris Voitier, superintendent of the St. Bernard Parish school system, made the comment during a discussion of a controversial 2014 measure known among educators as Act 833.
The new rules mean that, rather than facing the same standardized exams as rank-and-file students, some of the state’s 83,000 special education students can earn a diploma by meeting alternate requirements and assessments hammered out by their advisory teams.
Those groups — called Individualized Education Program teams, or IEPs — enjoy sweeping new authority under the law, which was pushed by a group of special education advocates.
But Voitier noted that, in the end, teachers have the final say in whether the student earns course credit, which is what is needed for a high school diploma.
If an IEP team says the student has met its alternate assessment and other requirements, and a teacher says otherwise, “then we are going to have major, major issues,” she said.
“That is why it is very important that the teacher of record be part of the IEP team, so that everyone totally understands what needs to be done to show proficiency for end-of-course assessment, plus successful completion of the course,” Voitier said after a two-hour meeting of the Superintendents’ Advisory Council.
The 20-member panel advises Louisiana’s top school board on key issues.
The alternate assessments crafted by IEP teams would take the place of end-of-course exams that rank-and-file students have to pass.
Voitier noted that a rank-and-file student can pass an end-of-course exam without getting course credit if they failed to meet other requirements.
The concern is that, if a special education students meet the IEP team’s goals but fails to get credit for the course, problems will ensue.
How IEP teams use their new authority is one of numerous issues that has bogged down the rollout of the law.
The measure took effect in August amid questions, criticism and clamoring for guidance from local school leaders.
The state Department of Education has held sessions on how to identify students eligible for the new rules.
State Superintendent of Education John White said Tuesday that the state is about to launch a yearlong effort to train local educators on how to implement the overhaul.
White said a webinar for local school district officials is set for Monday that will focus on a single case study.
“Our ability to train IEP teams is really the critical element here,” he told the council.
White said the state also will partner with a college or university in Louisiana to provide technical training to IEP teams.
Just over one in three special education students earned a high school diploma in 2013, according to department figures.
Follow Will Sentell on Twitter @WillSentell. For more coverage of Louisiana government and politics, follow our Politics blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/