Time to focus more on student achievement for students with disabilities?

Stacey Smith is an Oakland school district parent and volunteer who has served on the District GATE Advisory Committee, the school board’s Special Committee on School Based Management, and the Community Advisory Committee for Special Education. I invited her to contribute periodically to The Education Report, and she wanted me to emphasize that any topic she writes about — including the below piece —  is just what she finds worth sharing and does not reflect the view of any group. — Katy

Students with disabilities are currently among the lowest achieving students in the Oakland Unified School District. Between 2005 and 2010, the achievement gap between the general population and students with disabilities — who make up over 10 percent of the student population — has persisted or widened in English, math and science.

Less than half of the district’s special education students graduate even with an exemption from the California High School Exit Exam, which students with disabilities are not required to pass if they meet other diploma requirements.

The low graduation rate is even more sobering when you consider the dropout rate for students with disabilities. In 2009-10 Oakland reported a whopping 53.3 percent of students “exited” special education because they dropped out during or after ninth grade. Between 2006 and 2010 the majority of those special education students dropping out were African-American or Latino. It’s harder to track students with disabilities who are not in special education because of the limited reporting requirements.

OUSD’s new strategic plan highlights the disparities in student performance but I’ve heard many parents and guardians express concern that they do not see specifics about how the district plans to change outcomes. One parent I spoke to, who asked not to be identified, explained how frustrating it can be when high standards for achievement are not a main focus:

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