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D.C. Says Work Will Take Special Education Services to 'Next Level'

The District of Columbia says it believes work being done now using Race to the Top money can be a "game changer" for special education.

Using $800,000 of its $75 million in Race to the Top money, the District's Office of the State Superintendent has partnered with the American Institutes of Research to find ways to dramatically improve special education services. The District has had a reputation for being subpar, and it is working to change that.

"We really see it as closely aligned with the purpose of Race to the Top," said Amy Maisterra, the assistant superintendent of special education for the state agency overseeing public schools in D.C.

The goals of the AIR partnership are to find resources to think about innovation, move the District's special education system to the "next level" and offer a way for the district to reflect on its practices.

"We do see it as something that can be a game-changer," she said.

Among the work going on now is a review of practices across the district that will take inventory of the very best of these, then share them, something that doesn't always happen in the frenetic pace of a school year.

In addition, the agency is meeting with parents to develop indicators of quality special education services, said Desirée Brown, the community liason for parent and community groups.

"We're taking a hard, hard look at what can improve quality instruction," she said.

The agency is also working on improving the transition of students with disabilities served in early childhood settings from there to kindergarten and doing a better job with referring students to the services for younger children in the first place, Maisterra said.

(D.C. Public Schools, one of the agencies the state education department in the district oversees, was ordered by a federal judge last year to make sweeping changes to how young children with disabilities are located and served.)

"We're trying to build that trajectory," Maisterra said. "We're trying to have that gold standard in place."

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