In Conversation with OSSE’s Dr. Christina Grant

In August, the Co-op released All In: Getting to Solutions for Students with Disabilities. As the Co-op notes in the report: Changing results requires reimagining our schools and dismantling systemic inequities. A wealth of research throughout the years supports the recommendations that emerged from summit participants’ conversations. We cannot continue to recycle the same recommendations year after year and fail to act. Schools must move with urgency to prevent another generation of students from experiencing the same unacceptable outcomes. 

We sat down with OSSE’s Dr. Christina Grant to hear how DC is approaching supporting students with disabilities.

Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Q: What are the barriers to both developing and implementing professional development (PD) practices that translate into improved outcomes for students with disabilities? How do we reimagine PD? 

Numerous obstacles hinder effective professional development practices, including:

  • Resource Constraints: Extensive data analysis, meticulous planning, meaningful collaboration among experts, and more are needed for effective PD, yet securing the necessary resources can be a persistent challenge.
  • Diverse Needs: Students with disabilities exhibit a wide range of needs, spanning from developmental milestones to behavioral requirements. Due to the intricate nature of catering to a wide range of needs, a one-size-fits-all approach to professional development often falls short of addressing their specific needs adequately.
  • Limited Access: Access to quality opportunities is not always readily available and a lack of access to shared knowledge can hinder the creation of an optimal learning environment for these students.

Reimagining professional development necessitates a comprehensive and strategic approach. By conducting data analysis, we can gain insights into the requirements of our educators. Through careful planning and well-defined objectives, we can craft targeted professional learning experiences tailored to unique needs. Aligning our efforts with evidence-based practices and collaborating with experts enables the creation of robust professional learning materials. The integration of technology will further enhance the provision of flexible and engaging learning opportunities. At OSSE, we are moving forward to enhance the quality of instruction with professional learning around the best practices. 

 What are the essential mechanisms that must exist to improve accountability for those who serve students with disabilities? 

DC must have a set of clear expectations, supports designed to build field readiness to meet those expectations, and a framework to measure the success of our LEAs’ special education programs. In July, OSSE released the Special Education Performance Reports (SEPRs) to LEAs as part of its commitment to accelerating outcomes for students with disabilities.

SEPR is a summative set of expectations for serving students with disabilities and an evaluation of the performance of an LEA’s special education program, based on reporting and monitoring data. SEPR displays performance expectations and LEA-specific metrics in two areas: 1) Annual IDEA compliance (e.g., suspension/expulsion and initial evaluation), and 2) Key student progress in results-based measures (e.g., graduation and dropout data). LEAs are measured against districtwide performance measures, contributing to a culture of accountability for schools, LEAs, and our entire city. OSSE will analyze state and LEA SEPR data to identify, plan, and implement appropriate and meaningful professional development and technical assistance.

This framework will position OSSE and LEAs to be accountable for meeting expectations, improving, and dedicating resources toward supports that are designed to improve outcomes for students with disabilities.

How can we ensure that all schools develop robust Multi-Tiered Systems of Support that prioritize foundational Tier 1 practices geared toward providing high-quality teaching and learning spaces for ALL students? 

We are standardizing our approach to MTSS implementation and identifying which schools need additional support with implementation, based on identifying warning indicators that there is a need for improvement.

OSSE’s current comprehensive approach:

  • Building educator capacity for core instruction (Tier 1) through professional learning in academic content areas, differentiation, and on MTSS.
  • Grant for high-quality instructional materials to provide educators with the right materials to support our students at Tier 1.
  • Professional learning for school leaders through our State Personnel Development Grant (SPDG).
  • Internal professional learning for OSSE staff on MTSS foundations to better ensure our policies are supportive of the work schools are doing with MTSS.

Next Steps

  • OSSE is working closely with the PCSB to include questions in annual reporting from LEAs to give us a snapshot of MTSS implementation.
  • In FY 24, OSSE is launching an eight-part series with embedded MTSS implementation coaching support. We will prioritize schools that have the greatest needs when accessing those supports.

How do we build data literacy among all stakeholder groups in order to ensure that data-based decision-making is at the heart of our practice?

OSSE is dedicated to ensuring that we set clear and high expectations for serving students with disabilities, including the use of data to inform family decision-making and LEA practice. SEPR delivers accessible and actionable data to LEAs and families on the health of special education programs across the District. OSSE undertook extensive stakeholder engagement during the 2022-23 school year to ensure SEPR is designed with family and LEA accessibility in mind. To enhance the clarity of information, OSSE developed a technical guide to support LEA understanding of the data that underlies SEPR, published defined measures, and identified District-wide numeric targets for improvement.  

To improve LEA data literacy and foster the use of SEPR to inform practice, OSSE is providing LEAs with one-on-one support in reviewing and understanding their annual SEPR results. LEAs will receive technical assistance throughout the year on how to use SEPR results to allocate resources or improve their readiness. Families will be supported in understanding their LEA’s results through engagement directly with their LEAs on SEPR data and activities the LEA is undertaking to improve results for students with disabilities.  OSSE is additionally supporting family engagement and understanding of SEPR through family centered training at the DC Special Education Hub.

Where are the appropriate channels for centering student voices and when should these channels be activated in the teaching and learning process?

OSSE is committed to ensuring that student voices are central in the District’s special education landscape. The secondary transition process presents a meaningful opportunity to activate student voices, requiring that conversations with youth begin at age 14, and occur annually to inform their path into secondary education or employment. OSSE delivers technical assistance to LEAs on how to activate their resources to engage students in data-informed conversations about transition planning. 

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