Madera Unified School District: 2004-2009

In late spring of 2004, Madera Unified School District was notified of its Program Improvement (PI) status in Special Education due to poor performance on the state’s standardized tests.

The numbers reflected the grim reality for the 1,290 students receiving special education services in the district: only 4% of students with disabilities scored proficient or above in English Language Arts and only 9% scored proficient or above in math. Deeper analysis of test scores only underlined the severity of the situation with a high percentage of special education students scoring at the very bottom in the Far Below Basic (FBB) category: 54% of special education students scored FBB in English Language Arts and 32% were FBB in Math.

To many educators in Madera Unified, the PI status was not a surprise. Some simply did not expect high achievement from special education students, shrugging their shoulders with the attitude, “Well they’re special education. Of course they’re going to have low scores.”

Others, who believed that special education students were capable of learning much more, pointed to the complete lack of coherence in the instructional program for special education students.

Stated one long-time administrator: “Special Ed was an island unto itself. Special ed teachers did not collaborate with general ed teachers, didn’t attend grade level or department meetings, didn’t participate in staff meetings, or in professional development with general ed teachers.”

As for what special education teachers did in the classroom, “it was a free for all” with teachers choosing their own materials and “doing their own thing.”

However, PI status, unwanted as it was, put the spotlight on special education. It demanded action and triggered a system-wide response to the under-achievement of special education students. “We weren’t really on the radar until our PI status district-wide,” said Jennifer Gaviola, Director of Special Education.

Find out what happened in Madera in this Pivot Case Study.

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