W.Va. Board Updates Policy for Exceptional Students

April 23, 2007

CHARLESTON, W.Va. _ The West Virginia Board of Education has adopted revisions to a state policy governing gifted students and those with disabilities.  

Changes to Policy 2419: Regulations for the Education of Students with Exceptionalities primarily involve regulations of caseloads, implementation dates for the response to intervention process for identifying students with learning disabilities and the criteria for identifying students with articulation/phonological disorders.  

The changes, adopted this month, comply with the latest updates to the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and state law governing services for gifted students.  

‘‘The new policy gets to some very fundamental questions around staffing, the number of children who are identified as special education and how teachers can be used in different ways,’’ said Lynn Boyer, executive director of the Office of Special Education.  

The new policy provides flexibility to local districts in providing services to students based on levels of need and not on areas of disability. It also establishes a process for documenting a student’s response to research-based instruction before being identified as disabled and it emphasizes improved results for students with exceptionalities.  

“The policy is definitely easier to understand,” said Jeanne Grimm, program manager for West Virginia Assistive Technology System in Morgantown. “Aligning policy language and forms with federal law and regulations should lead to fewer misinterpretations by both parents and school personnel.”  

School districts can look to the policy for guidance in establishing integrated or inclusion classrooms. It sets the percentage of students with disabilities at 30 percent or less in a classroom being co-taught by a special education and general education teacher. In those cases, the special education teacher should not be assigned to more than two integrated classrooms during an instructional block.  

“Thanks for giving us a good workable format,” said Ron Brown, director of special education for Berkeley County. “Generally, a great job.”  

In the 2005-2006 school year, 53,715 students — 19.2 percent of students in the state — were listed as having ‘‘exceptionalities,’’ including learning disorders, behavioral disorders, mental impairments, gifted abilities and other special needs.  

Within the revised policy, standards for assignment of special education teachers are now based on three levels of student needs, regardless of area of disability. Students with Level 1 needs are typically in general education classes, are pursuing a regular diploma, and achieve independence easily.  

Students with Level II needs may be pursuing a regular diploma but need more targeted instruction and multiple supports to achieve independence.  

An optional Level III is reserved for students with intensive needs and adult supervision to ensure their progress and safety. Level III is staffed at a lower ratio of one teacher to four students or two adults to eight students in one classroom. As with previous policies, a district may always increase staffing to meet student needs as agreed upon by the IEP team.  

All staffing standards are effective July 1, 2009.  

The revised policy also includes statewide timetables for identifying a student as learning disabled. This process ensures that all schools will have an infrastructure that focuses on a strong core reading curriculum as well as the staff to provide instructional interventions and monitor student progress before referring a child for special education.  

All elementary schools must have this process by July 1, 2009; middle schools by July 1, 2010; high schools by July 1, 2011.  

The federal No Child Left Behind Act focused attention on the achievement of all students but requires schools and districts be accountable for the progress of students with disabilities as a subgroup.  

The revised Policy 2419 provides direction for use of staff and monitoring of student progress that is expected to contribute significantly to the progress of this subgroup but most importantly to the achievement of each individual child and youth.  

Sandy Boggs, Kanawha County’s director of special education, said she believes the policy will be successful, especially with the professional development the state Department of Education is to provide through training, reading materials and a two-day conference in August.  

“I think the policy’s going to be very positive and is going to be very beneficial to our students,” Boggs said.

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