A High Standard of Special Education Prevails in South Dakota
South Dakota only has 152 school districts, but it faces some of the same big challenges as larger states when it comes to providing a solid education for all the special needs students in the state. With around 14 percent in Individual Education Programs (IEPs), the state has a slightly higher proportion of students with special needs than the national average.
What it does not have are enough master’s-level special education teachers to serve these students to the extent that administration would like. According to local station KOTA, both Rapid City and Sioux Falls have undergone a rapid rise in special needs student numbers over the past five years, seeing increases of nearly ten percent. At the same time, both districts have had difficulty hiring certified teachers—one quarter of new hires do not have special education certification.
The master’s-educated special education staff in the state is picking up the slack, however. The federal government, as part of the 2004 IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) has evaluated states on the basis of their special education services each year. South Dakota has achieved the highest ranking every year but one, falling only one step in the 2005-2006 school year but quickly recovering.
Master’s-educated Teachers Integrate Special Needs Students in South Dakota Classrooms
One major goal for all states is to incorporate students with disabilities as much as possible into normal classroom environments. The educational principle involved is known as ‘least restrictive environment,’ in which special needs students are accommodated in general education classrooms rather than being sequestered in separate special needs classrooms. The technique has been found to improve educational outcomes for IEP students.
One measure of the success of the method is by looking at the number of special needs students who are able to take the state’s standard assessment tests. In South Dakota, the participation rate is an astounding 99 percent for both reading and math.
This accomplishment goes a long way toward ensuring that special needs students have as much opportunity to succeed with Common Core educational standards as their general education peers. It also shows in the amount of time special education students spend in regular classrooms—in 2014, the state exceeded their target by ensuring that nearly 70 percent of special education students were able to be in regular classrooms more than 80 percent of the time.
Special education requires more than just involving students, however—their parents and caregivers also have to be integrated into the educational process for the best outcomes. South Dakota’s master’s-educated teachers also excel in this aspect of their job; 83 percent of parents report that teachers help facilitate parent involvement.
All of this work has led to improvements in the most important part of special education: preparing students to go on to a meaningful and productive life after school. South Dakota has met or exceeded its targets for special needs graduates moving on to higher education programs or meaningful employment every year since 2009.
With the teacher shortage, hiring more master’s-educated special education teachers to keep up the high standards is on the agenda in South Dakota.