I-TEAM: Achievement rate among special ed students falls short in Richmond Co.

Published: Sep. 29, 2022 at 6:21 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - More than one out of every ten students is disabled in the Richmond County School District.

The ITEAM found the school system receives extra tax dollars for every student receiving special education.

But as the ITEAM uncovered, the achievement rate among these special students falls shamefully short in Richmond County.

The failure rate is staggering. The achievement level for high school students with a disability is 80% lower than the state average. Middle and elementary students with disabilities are also performing lower than their grade level and the state average for students with disabilities.

Sharing a small motel room with your siblings and mother for three long months is especially stressful when you are a teenager with autism.

His mom Alissa says struggles in school. “He’s not getting where he needs, or he wouldn’t be on a second-grade level in eighth grade. So no, he’s not getting what he needs to help him learn.”

Tony’s Individualized Educational Program, or IEP, shows the eighth grader reads on a second-grade level. He is about six grades behind in math too.

Tony is a special education student, known in the district as a SPED student, meaning he is supposed to receive services and support through special education.

“I guess he’s supposed to get he’s supposed to get speech therapy,” Alissa explains.

Tony is tested with general education students even though he is taught from an alternative curriculum, meaning he’s tested on something he isn’t learning.

An IEP shows Tony also has a history of behavioral problems. “…shows anger when he is told no or to do work he is not familiar with…”

This month his mother told her son’s IEP team: “Tony’s goals are never met and that is unacceptable….he has shown no growth in seven years.”

Students with disabilities account for 12% of the student population in Richmond County schools. They are one of several subgroups that make up Title I schools- kids in poverty, foster care, homeless, migrant, and at risk of failing to meet state performance standards.

Dr. Andrea Roberts is the Assistant Superintendent for School Improvement and Administrative Service at Richmond County Schools.

Dr. Roberts said in an instruction committee this July, “With our TSI schools those five schools- their largest sub-group underperforming is consistently special educations, that why we are really focused on special education on getting those students where they need to be.”

“I think since I’ve been on the board, the subgroup that usually gets us is our subgroup special education students.” Added Venus Cain, a school board member.

It should get them- get them flagged by the state.

The ITEAM analyzed milestone data among subgroup special education students and found disabled students are significantly behind their grade level - below any other subgroup, below more than the state average for disabled students.

The achievement rate among middle school students like Tony is 60 percent lower than the state average.

The majority do not have the knowledge or skills for their current grade level.

The ITEAM also found the higher the grade, the lower the achievement rate. The achievement rate in high school? We found it’s eight percent in English and only four percent in Math.

The ITEAM did some math of our own.

The more students in each subgroup, we found translates to more money the district gets from the state.

Last year, Richmond County is the district that got the highest amount in the state, outside of Atlanta, for Title I schools: $1.6 million plus another $375,000.

That’s nearly $10,000 for every full-time student.

We aren’t even counting the additional $116 million in American Rescue dollars and the other $51 million in COVID relief funds the district received over the last two years.

It doesn’t add up to Tony’s mother, Alissa, “I would trust that he would get the education that he needs, you know what I’m saying?

After the ITEAM got involved, Tony’s IEP team finally moved him to alternative testing.

They also determined Tony needs specialized support throughout the day in “expressing his….needs…(and) negotiating social situations.”

Instead of sending him home when he’s frustrated, a behavioral coach will step in to help, so he doesn’t miss class.

But three weeks later, the ITEAM received this text from his mother:

“The Richmond County School System has failed the autistic child, I am at a loss again. They would not help get tony to class, then told me to take him home.

She tells me he would not get out of the cab, and when she asked for help, they told her: “Take him home until you get his behavior in order.”

With what she says is an example of Federal law protecting him as a student with disabilities being ignored, he goes home to a place he didn’t even have a week ago.

The state found the Richmond County school district is not demonstrating a significant discrepancy in the rate of suspensions and expulsions for children with disabilities.

A school can’t just send a student with disabilities home for bad behavior. There’s an intervention process. However, the process requires documentation. The school did not give Alyssa documentation, meaning the IEP team is left in the dark, and Tony is counted as absent, which can lead to suspension or expulsion.

Statement from Richmond County School System:

“The Richmond County School System uses data as a tool to inform our focus on student achievement and growth. We actively address the achievement and growth needs of all our students and have invested in new textbooks, new technology and extensive training for our teachers to support their learning. Other system-wide initiatives that promote equitable achievement opportunities for Students with Disabilities are Reading Interventions, Transcript Review, The Monarch Program for behavior support with Emory University and the Georgia Teacher Retention Program. In addition, several of our schools are receiving support from the Georgia Department of Education as Targeted Support & Improvement (TSI) Schools to support Students with Disabilities.”