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Worth the Effort? A Look at the Value of State Determinations

For the past five years, the Education Department has been dutifully collecting reams of information on each state and territory's special education program, a requirement created under the 2004 reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The department has then given a rating to states, based on the states' ability to meet their self-developed goals.

For the most recent state performance plan/annual performance report process, my colleagues and I decided to do something different than just writing a story about the ratings. In addition to an article on the process and how department officials are considering revamping it, we pulled together a great interactive map that allows you to see how your state has performed over the years.

But there's more to the map than just a quick glance at the ratings. With just a few clicks you can see the Department of Education's letters to the states, explaining the evaluation process and why each state got the rating that it did. We also compiled and included the tables that accompanied each letter for you data geeks. This is important: Even though two states may have a "needs assistance" rating, the reasons why they may have gotten that rating could be different.

And don't forget to read the article! In it, I describe the SPP/APR process in detail, while noting that the department appears to be open to making changes to the process—a move that would be welcomed by the National Association of State Directors of Special Education.

For the 50 states, there is also a link to district-level information, provided by IDEA Money Watch. Just as the federal government gives a rating to each state, the states must rate each of their constituent districts. These ratings are important; districts that "meet requirements" are rewarded by being able to shift local dollars that would go to special education for other education purposes, and use federal stimulus funds to fill the gap. Here's an article on that issue.

I'm really excited about this package, and I hope that the article and interactive map provide useful information on the interactions between the Education Department and the states.

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