Virginia’s Master’s-Prepared Special Educators Help Put Virginia at the Top
Virginia is among 23 states to receive a top rating from the U.S. Department of Education in 2016 for the quality of its special education programs. It was the fourth straight year Virginia received the highest rating, recognized with the “Meets Requirement” designation in the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) report card.
How did Virginia receive this top rating? For starters, it restructured its general supervision system to shift to what is known as “Results Driven Accountability (RDA)” and streamlined the effective use of data. This shift has resulted in greater supports aimed at local education agencies to improve results for children with disabilities.
RDA emphasizes achieving improved results for children with disabilities. It has brought about a more balanced approach to determine the effectiveness of special education programs and how well special education students are performing.
States were scored on compliance with the law, student performance on national tests, and improvements in graduation rates among special education students.
Steven Staples, Virginia’s superintendent of public instruction, said that the rating reflects the passion Virginia special educators have for the special education student population.
Virginia Beach Public Schools Setting the Example
The public school system in Virginia Beach is ahead of the curve for its special education program. But that’s not stopping the division from putting additional improvements in motion.
For example, the school system is expanding training opportunities for staff and rethinking how the caseloads for its special education teachers are assigned. A consulting firm audit also recommended that the division create specialized programs for its students with autism and related disabilities and that special education teachers are given the time they need to create IEPs for students with disabilities.
The Demand for Master’s-Prepared Special Education Teachers in Virginia Increases Along with Student Enrollment
According to the Virginia Department of Education, there were a total of 164,195 special education students in Virginia public schools during the 2015-16 school year. Of those, the largest proportion had the following disabilities:
- Specific learning disabilities: 54,162
- Other health impairments: 32,283
- Speech or language impairments: 24,536
- Autism: 18,256
- Developmental delay: 11,291
Between the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years, the number of students with autism increased from 15,859 to 17,030. By the 2015-16 school year, the number of students with autism once again increased to 18,256 – that’s an increase of 2,400 students in just two years.
The number of students with developmental delays, other health impairments, and specific learning disabilities also increased during this period.
Supporting Virginia’s Children with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities
Harrisonburg High School recently became the first school in Virginia to join forces with a national non-profit organization, United Sound, which provides students with intellectual and developmental disabilities an opportunity to learn to play musical instruments.
The program involves a structured program with high school’s regular band in which special ed students receive one-on-one instruction on how to play an instrument. Paige Vass, a special education teacher, says the program benefits everyone. Vass went on to describe how it brings tears to her eyes to see special needs students working alongside the high school band and enjoying the experience of making music with other students.
The program even includes special education students in mid-year and end-of-the-year concerts with the band.