Thousands of New York City Students Deprived of Special-Education Services, Report SaysMarch 10, 2016
As many as 40 percent of students in New York City recommended for special-education services may not be getting them, the Education Department said in a report released on Monday.
But even more striking, the department said that its data systems were so unreliable that it was not exactly sure what percentage of students were not receiving the services.
The report, released to comply with a law passed by the City Council last year, said that “major deficiencies” in the design of the Special Education Student Information System, which is supposed to track students receiving special education, “continue to affect the D.O.E.’s ability to reliably report specific compliance metrics.”
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“That for us is one of the biggest takeaways,” said Maggie Moroff, the special-education policy coordinator at Advocates for Children, which helps at-risk students. The lack of reliable data is “hugely important,” she said, “because you need the data to figure out where the holes in the service delivery are.”
Based on the available data, the report found that at the end of last school year, 5 percent of the students who were recommended for services, or nearly 9,000 students, were not receiving them at all. Thirty-five percent, or more than 60,000 students, were receiving only some of the services recommended for them.
The department said, however, that inconsistencies in course labels in a second data system could lead to overstating the number of students receiving no services or incomplete services.
The report also found that 30 percent of students whose parents or teachers requested initial evaluations for them, to see whether they needed special-education services, were not evaluated within 60 days, as mandated by state law. The report noted that could include cases in which parents rescheduled evaluations.
A department spokesman, Harry Hartfield, said officials put $7.5 million in this year’s budget to hire more school psychologists and social workers to help reduce delays in the evaluation process.
Last month, the city’s public advocate, Letitia James, sued the Education Department, saying that the flaws in the computer system for disability services led to students’ being deprived of services and the city’s missing out on hundreds of millions of dollars in Medicaid reimbursements.
Mr. Hartfield said in an email that fixing the computer system was “a top priority for the administration,” and that several city agencies — the Education Department, the Office of Management and Budget and the Department of Information Technology — were working together on a plan. The system was created by the Bloomberg administration for $130 million and implemented in 2011.
In the last school year, 187,672 students had what are known as individualized education plans, which entitle students to certain special education or related services. The report showed that some groups of students, including Hispanics and those who are still learning English, were overrepresented among the students with such plans. Asian students, by contrast, were significantly underrepresented.