Kathy Bragan

Grad rates for disabled students in Rome up, but below state average

Published Feb 3, 2018 at 4:00pm

The “trend line is increasing” in graduation rates for students with disabilities, Rome school district Director of Special Education Kathy Bragan told the Board of Education.

The number of district students with disabilities who last year received local or Regents diplomas was “a hair below the state target of 58 percent,” Bragan said Thursday night as part of an update on the district’s special education program.

The district’s 2017 graduation rate for those students was 56.8 percent, compared to 52 percent in 2016, 54 percent in 2015, and 40 percent in 2014, according to Bragan’s report.

Bragan called her report “a brief overview of some of the highlights...what we’re doing this year” regarding the special education program. Programs relating to special education involve about 15 percent of the Rome district’s overall enrollment that totaled about 5,400 students in grades K-12 at the start of the current 2017-18 school year.

The district’s cost per pupil for students with disabilities was $24,471 in the 2015-16 year, said Bragan’s report, compared to $31,423 statewide and $30,859 for school districts similar to Rome.

Board member Stephen Hampe said that while “I’m certainly pleased we’re paying less per pupil,” he asked whether the district was “doing more for less” or whether it was “cutting them short.”

Bragan said she feels the district is “doing more for less,” observing that a larger district like Rome “can be pretty cost-effective” within its programs.

Among areas of focus going forward for students with disabilities are instructional intervention efforts involving reading and literacy, said Bragan, adding the district “continues to see reading deficits in our students.” More professional development training and access to successful resources will be among steps sought, she remarked.

Scores on state tests in grades 3-8 for English Language Arts and math declined during the 2016-17 school year, her report said.

Board member John Leonard, noting the focus on early literacy improvements for grades K-4, asked what is being done for students in grades 5 and 6 as well as students going to a “different environment” in grade 7 with deficits, regarding “catching them up.”

Bragan pointed out efforts to “target...specific skills intervention,” including “co-taught environments.” The district is pursuing a special education “co-taught secondary model” for upper grade levels, involving flexible groupings of students so they can “work on more specific skills week to week,” she commented. The concept involves two nearby classrooms, each having a teacher and a teacher assistant, with students being able to move between classrooms depending on the instructional subject, she explained.

For example, said district Superintendent Peter C. Blake, students might spend some days focusing on English skills in one classroom and other days focusing on science-related skills in the other room.

Statewide, differences among public schools for educating students with disabilities are closely linked with school districts’ proportions of student poverty and local wealth, said a report in December by the New York State Association of School Business Officials (NYSASBO). For those students, the report cited a graduation rate of 81 percent in the wealthier districts compared with 40 percent in the economically poorest 10 percent of districts.

For the Madison-Oneida BOCES region that includes Rome and eight other districts, special education spending per special education pupil was $23,747 and the graduation rate for students with disabilities was 50 percent, a NYSASBO official said.