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State: Students with disabilities improving slowly


Students with disabilities continue to post higher graduation rates and better test scores but still at unsatisfactory rates, state education officials said Monday.

After four years, nearly 38 percent of students with physical or learning disabilities who began high school in 2001 graduated with a Regents or local diploma. That compares to a 70 percent rate among general education students.

After five years, nearly 43 percent of that class of special education students earned Regents or school diplomas.

State officials noted that more special education students are taking five, six and seven years to graduate from high school. That requires more funding to cover a student beyond four years, but state education officials said it will pay off for employers and society to have more graduates.

“We are asking that districts be rewarded when they retain students with disabilities for five and six years,” said Rebecca Cort, a deputy commissioner of the state Education Department.

The data also showed that 22.8 percent of students in third through eighth grades with disabilities met all the state’s academic standards in English this year. That’s up from 20.2 percent a year ago, but remains at a low level.

Still, there are fewer special education students scoring in the lowest achievement level. A year ago those students represented 34.6 percent of all students with disabilities. This year, it’s 25.1 percent, according to the state data.

The improvement mirrors the steady, often slow, rise in general education scores. Schools are using record increases in state and local funds to hire more teachers and to secure better resources.

The state Education Department is now sharing the methods from the best-performing schools with their counterparts. Some of the success is due to money wealthier schools have better trained teachers and better resources for students with disabilities. But it can also relate to classifying students as needing special education simply because of behavior problems that can be addressed by discipline and instruction in general classroom settings, officials said.

State schools Chancellor Robert Bennett said the state will pressure schools to be “more aggressive” in serving special education students. He said scores for special education students are still “far too low.”

“With the proper supports and adequate resources, all of our children can reach high standards, graduate and move on to college and meaningful work,” said Kathy Ahearn, the state’s acting commissioner.

Bennett said Commissioner Richard Mills is temporarily off the job while being treated for prostate cancer.

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