Concord School District to focus on students with disabilities
Leaders in the Concord School District will spend this school year developing a plan to help special education students improve in math, with the goal of implementing that plan next year.
The process is part of a state Department of Education initiative called “focused monitoring.” The handful of schools that participate each year are those with the largest gaps in state test scores between students with disabilities and those without. Concord is one of six districts chosen this year, alongside Derry, Manchester, Winnisquam, Northwood and Milton. The goal of the program is to dig in and figure out which students are struggling the most, what specifically they’re struggling with, and what can be done to help them.
“That’s our way of targeting some good, strong intervention,” said Santina Thibedeau, administrator in the state Bureau of Special Education.
After evaluating test scores, Concord has chosen to specifically focus on math up through eighth grade, where the gap is larger than in reading. A leadership team including principals, special education directors, the district math specialist, a school board member and others will meet monthly with consultants from the South Eastern Regional Education Service Center, known as SERESC. Once that team identifies problem areas, a bigger team including some teachers will write a plan to address those problems.
Special education encompasses a wide range of students on Individual Education Plans, called IEPs, ranging from students with autism to those with emotional or physical disabilities. On average, about 14 to 15 percent of students in the district fall under the special education category. Ideally, the data explored during this project will help teachers understand when and why certain students are falling behind.
“The reason that we’re doing the focused monitoring process is because it allows schools and then districts to take a systematic approach to narrowing the achievement gap,” Thibedeau said.
Gaps will likely always exist between students with certain disabilities and their non-disabled peers, but the goal of this process is to see growth in students with disabilities, Rath said. In general, the district’s support for students with disabilities begins with developing IEPs. Hiring strong and well-qualified special education teachers is also a priority, although turnover for special education teachers is relatively high, Rath said.
In Concord’s schools, the gaps in reading are much smaller than they are in math. In the education world, there is more research available now on how students learn to read than there is in math learning, Rath said. In October, teachers from Christa McAuliffe and Beaver Meadow schools will participate in a training program about how students learn multiplication.
Through the focused monitoring program, Rath hopes Concord’s educators will gain insights into student learning that will benefit all students in addition to those with disabilities.
“I think we’re going to get much better, and I’m excited about it because I think we can make a real difference with some kids who are now struggling,” Superintendent Chris Rath said.
A previous a version of this story’s headline was misstated the Concord School District’s plan. The focused monitoring program is not a grant program.