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Walhalla, SC: Over 20% of students have special needs; "overidentification"?

Oct 24, 2023, Upstate Today, Seneca, SC: School District of Oconee County taking stock of special ed department
WALHALLA — After looking at what staff termed “potential overidentification” of special education students, the School District of Oconee County has decided to perform an analysis of its special education programs.

Superintendent Michael Thorsland requested the school board at its Oct. 16 meeting approve a request for proposals for a consultant to review the district’s special education processes.

“The bottom line is, for a couple of years, you’ve heard us talking about potential overidentification,” Thorsland said. “Whereas statewide and nationwide, the percent of students who have IEPs (individualized education programs) is in the 13, maybe 14 percent range, we’ve been over 20 (percent) for a number of years.

“There could be a good reason for that, but we’re not making what I call significant progress, and we would like to get some help just looking at it,” he added. “This is not in any way, shape, or form to put the target on the back of our special ed teachers or anybody that works with special education in our district.”…

Changing criteria?

Thorsland said the study would give a “holistic view” of the department’s policies and procedures.

“We want to see are there things that we can do as a district that we could possibly identify that maybe are different from some neighboring districts or other districts across our state and country that we can learn from, that we might could get our special ed identification closer to the mean from across the state and nation,” he said.

Trustee Buddy Herring asked if the identifying criteria had changed.

Department director Margaret Bright said it has been the same for several years, but an updated proposal is being drafted for standards for evaluation and eligibility determinations.

In the past, the district has used the processing deficit approach, which checks the student’s patterns of strengths and weaknesses, and the discrepancy model, which looks at the discrepancy between the student’s IQ and performance, she said.

Thorsland added the district is 35 percent higher than that state average for identification of IEP students.

“That’s a significant number,” he said. “Six hundred students, and then you figure out … I mean, just the staffing we put in, we were talking $1.5 million to $2 million a year.”

“My question is, are we following the criteria now to identify them?” Herring asked. “If we are, maybe we’re right and they’re wrong.”

Thorsland said that was a possibility.

“In a human process — which evaluating a student is a human process — there is some subjectivity in it,” he said. “We want some outside eyes to come in and possibly give us some guidance on this. So not a ‘gotcha,’ but all of us being transparent enough to say, is there any process or procedure that we need to work on to try to get a little better?”

The board voted unanimously for district administration to pursue proposals from consultants.

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