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The California Advisory Commission on Special Education Annual Report: 2022–2023

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The California Advisory Commission on Special Education (ACSE) is federally charged to provide policy advice and guidance to the Governor, the State Board of Education (SBE), the California Legislature, and the California Department of Education (CDE) on all topics related to special education and related services to students with disabilities. This charge is informed by a vision of elevating to the highest possible levels the academic, social, and post-secondary outcomes of students with disabilities.

Reflections from the Chair

The ACSE has always attended to the voices of students, families, and community members in fulfilling its charge to improve educational outcomes for students with disabilities. The past year of meetings has led the ACSE to act even more concretely on this commitment, in particular by expanding and strengthening the role of the students who serve on the commission. This expansion will, the commission believes, lead to transformative ACSE efforts in the coming year. With student voices as guides, the commission plans to support every effort to align special education with Local Control Accountability Plans—in effect, to continue to support the creation of one system of education. In this system, every part works in concert and every feature is designed so that all students belong.

The state’s recent investments—in special education, California’s System of Support for local educational agencies, literacy initiatives, and community schools, among others—are historic in their magnitude. Most recently, California’s Family Agenda clearly articulates Governor Newsom’s equally historic vision of California as “a place where every student has a chance to thrive and every family has access to an education system that fosters opportunity,” a statement that directly aligns with ongoing ACSE efforts.

In its 2023–24 meeting year, the ACSE will seek out opportunities to advise on the use of these state investments and support every effort to help students and families thrive. The ACSE, too, envisions a future where each one of the state’s nearly six million students will benefit from the education they receive, and each student with a disability will then have access to full, competitive employment, independent living, and community involvement. The ACSE contends that this vision is more a mandate than a dream.

—David M. Toston, Sr.

 

Legislation and Policy Committee

The rapidly changing landscape of special education in California requires constant vigilance on the part of the ACSE to ensure that, as a body, it is studying and addressing the most pressing issues that affect students with disabilities; that those issues are addressed at each meeting; and that the commissioners work and speak with one voice as they serve in their advisory capacity during their meetings, in their interactions with liaison partners, and with their appointing bodies.

To this end, during the ACSE’s 2022–23 meeting year the ACSE’s Legislation and Policy Committee developed the following set of priorities and goals to serve as a guidepost for providing appropriate and coherent direction and advice in fulfillment of the commission’s charge. These priorities and goals will be refined and incorporated into a strategic plan that the ACSE will develop during its 2023–24 meeting year.

It is the ACSE’s intent that these goals and priorities will make it possible for the commission to strategically build its agenda, fulfill its liaison obligations with a unified voice, and improve educational opportunities in the state for students with disabilities specifically and all students.

In its focus on ensuring a timely fulfillment of its obligations, particularly in relation to the SBE, the ACSE added a December meeting to its schedule. This meeting will be conducted virtually.

While it took no official action on specific pieces of legislation during the 2022–23 legislative year, the Legislation and Policy Committee closely followed and was pleased with the passage of the following two bills:

  • Assembly Bill 181 provides new protections to ensure that students with IEPs in districts that offer courses of independent study have equal access to virtual instruction. AB 181 revises the Education Code to state that students with exceptional needs may participate in traditional and course-based independent study if their individualized education programs (IEPs) specifically provide for such instruction.
  • Senate Bill 291 amended California Education Code related to students with disabilities who will serve as members of the ACSE. Thanks to this bill’s passage, the commission now will welcome “two members appointed by the commission, both of whom shall be pupils with exceptional needs, 16 to 22 years of age, inclusive.” These students will serve as voting members for “one year, with the option to serve a second term of one year.”

The ACSE recognized both bills as important to ensuring equity for students, but the second as especially significant as it secures the influence of the student voice in the educational policy that directly affects the students themselves.

As a guiding principle, the Legislative and Policy Committee acts in full support of one system of education, a system that dissolves silos of services; a system that first addresses the unique needs of each child, regardless of eligibility, assessment status, or label; a system that is singularly focused on ensuring that every student, regardless of ability or inability, has access to an education that allows that student to develop to full potential.

Working Platform for the California Advisory Commission on Special Education

PrioritiesGoals
Promoting the voice of students and familiesTo empower and encourage students and families to participate and engage with the ACSE; to expand the options students and family members have for this participation and engagement
Ensuring that community schools—as they are created, expanded, and improved— reflect a commitment to serving students with disabilitiesTo champion an inclusive culture in the planning and design of community schools, a culture that is represented by and promoted across all educational agencies
Enhancing social-emotional, mental, and behavioral health services for all studentsTo improve the efficacy of social-emotional, mental, and behavioral health services across the educational continuum
Expanding equitable and inclusive practices for all studentsTo use a lens of equity to act on a commitment to least restrictive environment, authentic belonging, meaningful participation, and data-driven decision making
Improving literacy for students with disabilitiesTo promote and highlight innovative, effective, and exemplary literacy programs, along with corollary resources within the Statewide System of Support

Mental Health Subcommittee

The ACSE Mental Health Subcommittee has focused during this meeting year on the mental health crisis experienced by many of California’s students and the need for accessible, comprehensive prevention and intervention services. As such this subcommittee has helped to shape the commission’s priorities and goals, directly and indirectly.

In addition to strongly advocating for coordinated and accessible mental health services for students, this subcommittee has also studied and highlighted other foundational elements to students’ mental health: inclusion, equity, and access to the least restrictive environment. The Mental Health Subcommittee has worked to support strengthening these elements in California’s educational system and staunchly advocated for a stronger student presence in direct service to the ACSE’s work.

The subcommittee also supported the ACSE’s focus on the challenges related to out-of-home placements, probation, and the juvenile justice system in the lives of many students with disabilities, with deep concern for the quality and appropriateness of the corollary services for students with disabilities. The subcommittee will continue to closely follow the governor’s reforms for mental health, studies of programs for the prevention and early intervention of mental health issues, and research into the quality of nonpublic schools and their influence on the lives of students with disabilities and their families.

Liaisons: Connecting and Listening

The State Board of Education, the State Senate, and the State Assembly each regularly appoint a member to serve as a liaison to the ACSE and attend ACSE meetings. These individuals keep the ACSE apprised of and connected to the range of work in the state that focuses on improving school outcomes for students with disabilities and addressing the challenges in serving them. The ACSE relies on their presence and hard work to perform its own obligations and appreciates their availability to answer questions, clarify issues, and offer collaborative support.

ACSE commission members also serve in a liaison role with key organizations in the field such as the California Transition Alliance, the Council for Exceptional Children, and the Supporting Inclusive Practices (SIP) project.
Some commissioners meet as often as monthly with their liaison organizations to learn about their work and activities. The liaison to the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) regularly reported to the ACSE on the leadership training and professional development conferences that organization provided, as well as its collaboration with CDE and the Commission on Teacher Credentialing. Another ACSE commissioner served as a liaison to First Five Sacramento and shared important information about a screening tool for early identification called Help Me Grow. Given the critical importance of early identification and intervention and the paucity of resources in many rural areas of the state, the ACSE sees as vital its ability to broadcast this kind of information along with models and best practices for serving all of the children with disabilities in the state. The ACSE liaisons serve as an invaluable presence on the commission, making the work they do as a body truly reflect a vision that can be statewide and coordinated.

From left, CDE’s Special Education Division Director Heather Calomese, ACSE member Elizabeth Estes, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, ACSE 2022–2023 Chair Havaugnia Hayes-White, and ACSE 2023–2024 Chair David Toston

Reports from the Special Education Division

The ACSE is charged with closely studying the work of the California Department of Education (CDE), Special Education Division (SED), to ensure that students with disabilities receive the services to which they are entitled and that federal dollars are spent appropriately to provide those services. During its 2022–23 meeting year, the ACSE welcomed regular updates from CDE’s Special Education Division about the plans and progress the division is making to serve these students and fulfill CDE’s monitoring responsibilities. Reports from Special Education Division Director Heather Calomese and representatives highlighted the following topics:

  • A study of both in-state and out-of-state nonpublic schools to determine how California is serving its students who attend those schools because of their complex support needs that cannot be met by the state’s public schools. Important components of this study will include outcomes for the students who are placed in these specialized schools and who receive contract services, satisfaction ratings of their parents and family members, and the certification processes for these places. Given the intense needs and vulnerabilities of the students who are served through these nonpublic avenues, the ACSE is eager to read the final report from this study, which is scheduled to be published on or before September 2024.
  • An Individualized Education Program (IEP) facilitation grant to help the state determine best practices for the IEP process in general and for incorporating alternative dispute resolution (ADR) into the IEP specifically. The ACSE was disappointed that no qualified institution of higher education (IHE) applied for the grant, given the long-proven benefits of ADR and its ability to de-escalate disagreements and disputes related to IEPs. Knowing the importance of guidance about ADR to educators and parents, the commission expressed a desire for the request for proposal (RFP) for this work to continue to be available until the most capable IHE receives the grant.
  • The CDE is working collaboratively with the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) to create parent-friendly resources in support of successful early childhood transition. In light of the many challenges that can arise as a child and family move from the natural-environment supports provided by Part C of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to the school-based and student-centered supports of Part B of IDEA, the ACSE was pleased to learn of funding for an early childhood transition unit within CDE. This unit will collaborate with the CDE’s Early Education Division, Multilingual Support Division, and the DDS with a commitment and charge to supporting students, parents, families, and communities during the early childhood transition process.
  • The CDE continues to work with the California Collaborative for Educational Excellence to convene a panel focused on refining the work begun by the Statewide IEP Workgroup. The ACSE is aware of the challenges this group faces, which involve developing a universal IEP template in which IEPs are aligned to academic and performance standards for all students; backwards mapping IEP from employment and living wage to school and courses of study; developing protocols for general education teachers to meaningfully participate in the IEP process; creating strategies for using IEPs in daily teaching and planning; giving families the information they need to support their children and their children’s teachers and to believe in bright futures for their children; making available comprehensive and coordinated services, both at and outside school. The ACSE commissioners are hopeful that the work will deliver a balanced tool that allows for efficiency while also respecting local autonomy and control and maintaining the “individualized” focus that is the hallmark and strength of the IEP.
  • The SED continues to provide guidance to the field on the kind of alternate coursework that would make it possible for those students with disabilities who are not eligible to take the California Alternate Assessment to still earn a high school diploma. The ACSE appreciates the challenges that the SED faced in ensuring appropriate individualized supports and services for the students who are eligible to pursue an alternate pathway to a diploma and the challenges of building that coursework and securing the commensurate supports required.
  • CDE kept the ACSE apprised of the legislation that the division is following, all of which aligned with the focus and values of the commission: legislation that promotes Least Restrictive Environment (LRE), provides information about and supports for English learners with disabilities, and creates an increasingly comprehensive network of educational services for the state’s students.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond spoke to the ACSE in April

Monitoring and Accountability

SED reported regularly to the ACSE about CDE’s Compliance and Improvement Monitoring (CIM) process, which oversees and supports the state’s local educational agencies (LEAs) in their improvement efforts. Since 2016, this system has been working to develop an effective and comprehensive approach that maintains a balanced focus on both student outcomes and compliance with the federal regulations set forth by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

California’s statewide System of Support (SOS) is a key part of this process, designed to respond to CDE’s monitoring results with the information, tools, talents, and resources each LEA needs to develop the services required to best serve its

California’s statewide System of Support (SOS) is a key part of this process, designed to respond to CDE’s monitoring results with the information, tools, talents, and resources each LEA needs to develop the services required to best serve its students. This system is comprised of a network of agencies that provide leadership, expertise, programs, and resources in specific topic areas so that local educators and administrators can develop the skills and knowledge they need to best fulfill their roles.

SOS topic areas include equity, disproportionality, autism, community engagement, early mathematics instruction, and multi-tiered systems of supports among others. These areas of focus are part of the
state’s commitment to continuously improve, address achievement gaps, and strengthen outreach and collaboration with stakeholders.

Through these many resources, the CDE provides support to LEAs at three levels:

  1. A universal level for all LEAs, which maintains quality, strengthens services, and improves outcomes for students
  2. A targeted (differentiated) level for some LEAs, which addresses performance issues that have been identified in the California School Dashboard
  3. An intensive level for a few LEAs, which addresses performance issues that represent persistent challenges over time

Every one of the state’s nearly 1,200 LEAs falls into one of these three categories for support. The exceptions are very small school districts, which are monitored on three-year cycles because of how even a very small point of data can inaccurately skew their reports.

The ACSE recognizes the “harder road taken” on the part of the state in its refusal to assume a one-size-fits-all approach to school reform.

In every case, however, the state customizes the support it provides to each LEA that does not meet it performance targets for key indicators (e.g., least restrictive environment, significant disproportionality, etc.). This assistance, whether targeted or intensive, takes the form of information gathering (through a data review, parent input, infrastructure assessment, and more), a determination of root causes, and a plan of action.

The ACSE recognizes the “harder road taken” on the part of the state in its refusal to assume a one-size-fits-all approach to school reform and follow instead the more challenging path of working with people and places to
determine the most effective path to improvement, rather than mandating specific policies or practices. The ACSE applauds this customized approach, its focus on data, and its ethos of support rather than sanctions. In addition to
the CDE’s flexibility in allowing customized improvement plans for LEAs, the ACSE welcomes CDE’s corollary allowance for the time that LEAs need to implement those plans.

The ACSE also welcomed the CDE’s announcement of CalTAN—California Special Education Technical Assistant Network—as another important tool in the state’s school improvement kit. Launched in January 2022 with $1 million in discretionary federal funds and administered by the CDE, CalTAN is designed to provide California’s LEAs with curated, evidence based resources that are all housed on one website and that support positive outcomes for students who receive special education services. The five sections of the CalTAN website reflect issues of primary importance to the ACSE:

  • Assessment—emphasizing principles and practices relevant to special education
  • Collaboration—creating positive relationships that can increase positive outcomes for students
  • Instruction—designing and delivering instruction that is strategic, engaging, and culturally responsive
  • Social Emotional Learning and Behavior—creating and maintaining culturally responsive learning environments
  • High-Quality Individualized Education Programs (IEPs)—offering technical support and assistance

Given the constantly changing landscape of special education, the ACSE also welcomed the news that CalTAN is designed to respond to the needs and research of the field, with the various components of the statewide System of Support—such as the Special Education Local Plan Area (SELPA) Leads Project, the SELPA Improvement Leads, and the Supporting Inclusive Practices (SIP) project—informing and guiding the network’s changes.

State Performance Plan and Annual Performance Report

CDE provided regular updates to the commission on the State Performance Plan (SPP), which incorporates data on 17 performance indicators that reflect the state’s progress in educating its students with disabilities. These indicators were articulated by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) to ensure compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and to improve outcomes for students. The indicators address such important topics as LRE (Indicator 6), graduation and drop-out rates (Indicators 1 and 2), postschool outcomes (Indicator 14), and more.

Once the SPP is approved by the federal Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), the SED then reports to the ED on California’s progress on reaching identified targets for each indicator. This report constitutes
the state’s Annual Performance Report (APR), which is a requirement contained in Indicator 17.

The CDE reported to the ACSE on its progress in setting targets for the SPP for the next six years. As reflected in this report, CDE’s focus is on ensuring that children have the right placement, appropriate supports, and high-quality instruction.

The CDE described how it is developing its SPP in phases to align with the SOS so that the division is providing a “nested system of supports” that is working toward one system of education with the following specific goals:

  • To develop high quality IEPs
  • To build capacity for Universal Design for Learning (UDL)
  • To support English learners with disabilities
  • To partner with family organizations on alternative dispute resolution (ADR)

Among the OSEP indicators, Preschool LRE remains a singular area of focus for CDE, given the profound impact of a quality early childhood education on the lifespan of an individual. The ACSE appreciated the kudos the division gave to the SIP project for disseminating the skills and the practices needed to promote LRE and inclusion for all students statewide. As well, the ACSE welcomed news of the state’s $2 million investment in identifying
students with learning disabilities so that they can receive early intervention serves.

The Multi-Tiered System of Support appears to be delivering results as it is gaining traction

For the indicator related to suspensions and expulsion, the ACSE welcomed the news that the state’s investment in a multi-tiered system of supports (MTSS) is paying off in terms of an OSEP indicator related to suspensions and expulsions (Indicator 4). As it promotes positive behavioral interventions and supports, provides social-emotional learning, and helps to create pro-social environments, MTSS appears to be delivering results as it is gaining traction. The ACSE was also pleased to learn that the indicators related to graduation rates and postsecondary outcomes “are starting to rebound with COVID fading.”

Transforming Schools Initiative

The CDE reported on the significant and historic investments the Governor has made to reinvent schools with equity in mind. The ACSE appreciated the visual representation (see the graphic above) of the Transforming California Schools Initiative. The state’s vision is to align and coordinate Universal Pre-K, Community Schools, Professional Learning, Anti-bias Education, Mental Health Programs, Expanded Learning Programs, and Universal Meals so that the school operates as a hub of services that attend to the needs of the Whole Child.

California’s unprecedented investments in education have made possible this integrated approach that aligns supports for all students, including those with disabilities. The ACSE was especially pleased to learn that students with disabilities are included in every aspect of this transformational vision.

California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System (CALPADS) Redesign Project

The Special Education Division (SED) explained to the ACSE the changes that the division is making to special education data reporting requirements in CALPADS. Publicly commenting and advising on this kind of change is part of the ACSE’s charge.

As background, the SED explained that special education data collection changed dramatically in the 2019–20 school year when the previous data collection system—the California Student Management Information System (CASEMIS)—for reporting Special Education Student Data to CDE was incorporated into CalPADS, which is the data collection system for all students. During the two intervening years, the SED has been working to make data submissions easier and the data more valid, reliable, and comprehensive so that every invested partner can be confident of the data’s integrity.

SED explained to the ACSE the specific changes, which involved refined and additional approaches to data collection. These changes will allow LEAs and the state to determine the following more easily: a student’s special education status, the start and end dates of a student’s eligibility to receive special education services, the status of IEP meetings, and the length of time a student has received special education services. In general, the
planned changes will contribute to the ability of every invested partner to confirm the degree to which an LEA has met its statutory obligations for providing services to students, especially in relation to the Individualized Education Program.

The SED also explained two pieces of data that CalPADS will newly begin to collect in September: the degree of support a student receives so that the data align with the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing certification system for “mild to moderate” support and “extensive support” for both primary and secondary disabilities; and a parent/guardian plan approval code, which is designed to capture a parent’s consent to a proposed service plan. These changes are expected to benefit both districts and CDE’s Focused Monitoring and Technical Assistance (FMTA) efforts, as the accuracy and efficiency of the new data will preclude unnecessary follow-up. The SED is planning 16 open meetings across the state to explain to educators the changes, their implications, and how LEAs can implement them.

The ACSE was in full support of the proposed changes, registering particular appreciation for how the changes represent no additional work for either case carriers or administrators. The ACSE also welcomed the new “delay codes” for the “meet” data element; these codes will allow flexibility for IEP teams to individually plan meetings without sending false alarms about meeting delays when those delays are agreed upon by all IEP team members. In general, the ACSE sees these changes as representing clear progress and improvement on the part of the state.

Family Empowerment Centers

The ACSE has been pleased to follow news of the state’s expansion of Family Empowerment Centers. First established in 2001 through Senate Bill 511, Family Empowerment Centers (FECs) were subsequently situated in 12 locations in the state to serve 24 counties. Two additional centers were added in 2006, bringing the total to 14 centers serving 27 counties. Then the growth stopped, and funding remained flat until 2021 when the state legislature approved an expansion. Eight new centers were created, bringing the total to 22 centers serving 40 counties—still leaving 18 counties without an FEC.

California’s 2022–23 State Budget Act finally made funds available to CDE to create seven new centers in 2022 and two more in 2023. Some existing centers also expanded their service areas to include additional counties. To date, there currently are 31 FECs serving 57 of the state’s 58 counties. Only Lake County lacks a center.

Several commissioners are family members of individuals with disabilities and have experienced firsthand the sometimes murky waters of schooling for a child with a disability along with the invaluable support from these kinds of centers for navigating those waters. FECs are staffed primarily by parents or family members of individuals with disabilities. Thus, they are perhaps the organizations best suited to helping families navigate the IEP process specifically, special education in general, and life in total when disability becomes part of the family identity.

Content Presentations

California Transition Alliance

In October the California Transition Alliance spoke to the ACSE about its efforts to enhance the academic and career readiness of youth with disabilities so that they leave high school able to enter the world of competitive work, postsecondary education and training, and independent living. The ACSE was delighted to welcome Sean Spence, a young adult with disabilities who has taken advantage of the strengths-based, student-focused, and student-led resources that the alliance provides. As a member of the California Youth Alliance Leadership and Advisory Committee, Sean has become a leader and a powerful spokesman for the effectiveness of the alliance.

The ACSE commends the alliance for the successes it makes possible for young adults with disabilities, for its focus on helping parents learn how to support their children to develop self-advocacy skills and independence, and most immediately for its influence on the commission’s approach to SB 291. The ACSE sees the alliance as a powerful justification for all the commission’s efforts to expand the availability of inclusive settings from the earliest school years through high school and into society at large “so that early on we develop the muscles for collaboration and inclusion.”

CAPTAIN

In June the ACSE welcomed a presentation by the California Autism Professional Training And Information Network (CAPTAIN), a statewide initiative on autism spectrum disorder (ASD). CAPTAIN works to increase knowledge about ASD and disseminate evidence-based practices (EBPs) through a coordinated and systemic dissemination of information; to increase the implementation and fidelity of evidence-based practices in schools and communities; and to increase collaboration among agencies so that their resources are leveraged and they develop and use a standardized process for employing evidence based practices.

There currently are 31 Family Empowerment Centers serving 57 of the state’s 58 counties.

The ACSE is especially appreciative of the initiative’s work to ensure that students across the state experience school environments that are designed expressly to meet their needs and that these students are served through EBPs.

Alternative Dispute Resolution

The IEP serves as the means through which the special educational services are determined and provided to students with disabilities. The IEP process is also where conflicts are most likely to arise between schools and family members. The ACSE understands that this conflict is human and sometimes necessary, given the enormity of what is at stake in the hearts, identities, and aspirations of the people who are part of this process.

In response to this persistent fact, the ACSE asked a training specialist in a process called “alternative dispute resolution,” or ADR, to explain to the commissioners and their audience what ADR is, how it can transform disputes into benefits, and why it has well served the educators and family members who have adopted its strategies. The specialist stressed the importance of relationships among all members of the IEP team as they work to ensure the best outcomes for the student who is their primary focus. While a request for proposals from the CDE for an IEP facilitation grant did not lead to a qualified recipient, and thus establish a statewide champion of the ADR approach within the IEP process, the ACSE recognizes the importance of proclaiming at every opportunity the benefits of this approach and encouraging its use statewide.

Universal Design for Learning

During this past year, the ACSE engaged in numerous conversations about how to expand options for public participation in its meetings. The commission also debated how to prepare for a more active student presence on the commission. That second conversation led to an exploration of strategies for creating an orientation process for all new commissioners, a process that ensured that everyone who serves on the ACSE is aware of and conversant in their roles, responsibilities, and charges as a commissioner; can actively participate in meetings; and knows how to request materials, contribute to agendas, and help to shape the policy that influences the lives of students with disabilities and the educators and services providers who serve them. In response to these several inquiries, the ACSE determined that by modeling and applying the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL), it could be successful in all three.

The ACSE became convinced that by applying UDL strategies to its work, the meetings and the information in them will become more accessible to all interested individuals. As a result of this conviction, the ACSE asked staff from the SIP Project to model what UDL looks like, based on the idea that everyone has needs, and therefore those needs are not special, just different. The SIP presenters encouraged such considerations as allowing additional time to study meeting materials and shape responses to meeting content, more effective screen placement and use of American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters, a more thoughtful consideration of the speed at which speakers talk so that closed captions can be accurately captured, and the insistence on a consistent habit of spelling out acronyms and initialisms so that no individual is lost in the “alphabet soup” of “educatorese.” SIP presenters also encouraged an allowance for meeting attendees to get up and move around if movement helps them think better.

ACSE members, liaisons and CDE staff visit with Senator Josh Newman, Chair of the Senate Education Committee, in April

In general, the SIP presenters encouraged the ACSE to adopt a UDL framework so that everyone can more effectively engage with the work of the commission.

System Improvement Leads (SIL)

The ACSE recognizes the state’s SELPA System Improvement Leads (SIL) as important sources of resources and training for LEAs in the state, including school districts, other SELPAs, and County Offices of Education. Members of the SIL team made a presentation to the ACSE in February about their work within California’s larger System of Support and explained their focus on continuous improvement, data use and governance, and high-leverage practices, all of which are designed to lead to improved outcomes for students with disabilities.

The commissioners were impressed with the scope of this project’s efforts, which have provided professional development to more than 9,100 educators through 215 trainings, 100 projects, and network learning communities. The SIL also hosts a website replete with resources. The ongoing coaching that the team provides ensures that what educators and school leaders learn through training is sustained in practice.

The SIL targets those LEAs with intensive support needs and provides improvement coaching for decreasing the frequency of nonpublic school placements in a school district, for example, improving family-school collaboration within the IEP process, and standardizing classification processes for students who are English learners.

The ACSE appreciated the reflective and nuanced approach of this work, which is designed to help educators understand the root cause of a problem and develop and implement an action plan.

Given the commission’s commitment to one system of education for California’s students, the ACSE was pleased to learn that the tools the SIL develops “do not sit statically on a special education shelf. They continue to evolve and improve. And they help all kids.”

The ACSE appreciated the SIL’s focus on coaching and its balanced attention to both special education compliance and improvement. Many of the ACSE commissioners are current or former educators, and they welcomed the team’s commitment to making the SIL work integral to what teachers and school leaders already have to do—not adding to their workload but improving their ongoing efforts. It was the ACSE’s expressed hope that the work and resources of the SIL team will become part of teacher preparation programs and clinical practice.

Mental Health Services

For years the ACSE has focused a great deal of its work on the importance of mental health services for students with disabilities. As such, the commissioners welcomed representatives from four SELPAs—Desert Mountain, Tehama County, Tulare County, and Santa Barbara County— who described the innovative and coordinated approaches their SELPAs have developed to address the mental health needs of their students. Their mission: relentless pursuit of whatever works in the life of a child.

These SELPA programs focus on:

  • Integrating and braiding funds, especially those for Educationally Related Mental Health Services (ERMHS); for example, taking advantage of Early Periodic Screening, Diagnosis, and Treatment (EPSDT) funds to provide services to all students, even those outside of ERMHS benefits
  • Using proven and evidence-based practices that are developmentally appropriate
  • Designing programs and services that respond to the unique needs of the students and families in their areas
  • Incorporating social-emotional wellness, self-regulation, and academics into mental health services
  • Integrating mental health services into the IEP process
  • Supporting parents and addressing their influence on their children’s behavior, especially for very young children
  • Providing training and counsel to parents to help them better support their children
  • Deploying crisis teams to work with families and help them through extreme difficulties
  • Working intentionally with transient populations
  • Working with community organizations to embed school-based programs into the larger community
  • Developing working relationships with such organizations as hospitals, psychiatric services, county departments of mental health, Regional Centers, and Child and Family Services
  • Communicating goals and coordinating efforts
  • Providing services that extend beyond the school day; for example, helping students with anxiety that begins before school but that influences school behavior
  • Focusing on prevention and early intervention
  • Providing post intervention follow-up
  • Providing telehealth services
  • Training teachers and staff

The ACSE was impressed by the range and scope of the programs that these SELPAs have developed and the commitment of the people who work in them. These programs use multiple avenues—parent centers, websites, social media, Child Find, local fairs— to ensure that parents know of the available services, an approach that reflects the SELPAs’ commitment to effective mental health services. The ACSE applauded their success as they report decreases in nonpublic school and residential treatment placements and improvements in the social-emotional competencies of their students. It was the ACSE ‘s hope that these programs will serve as models for other SELPAs in the state.

California Community Schools Partnership Program (CCSPP)

The ACSE heard with great interest a presentation from the California Community Schools Partnership Program on how the program is supporting efforts of schools in the state to partner with community agencies and local governments to align community resources to improve student outcomes—in effect, to create a community school. The state’s recent community schools initiative provides $4 million for the development of this school model in the state.

The ACSE welcomed the program’s commitment to transforming schools so that learning time is extended, enrichment activities are available for all students, school climate is improved through racial justice, school administration aligns a school’s services with community agencies, school leaders work closely with teachers and parents in their efforts to educate students, and culturally responsive teaching and learning is the norm. The ACSE sees this vision as important for community schools and for all schools. The ACSE also appreciated the program’s approach to creating community schools “by finding what’s working and making it accessible and doable in your area. There’s not one size that fits all.”

One ACSE commissioner has seen community schools in her area effectively address problems related to the over-identification of students for disability as well as issues of behavior.

The ACSE expressed concern, however, that the student groups identified in the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) constitute the only measure for community school accountability. The ACSE appreciated the program’s acknowledgement that “the language in the framework gives reference” to students with disabilities, “but it’s not specific enough,” along with an expressed belief that “we should look at full inclusion as a specific goal to this program.”

It is the ACSE’s hope that guidelines for creating and sustaining community schools in the state will be developed to expressly address the presence and needs of California’s students with disabilities.

The GOAL Award

For the past 17 years, the ACSE has selected one program annually to honor with the Grazer Outstanding Achievement in Learning (GOAL) Award. The GOAL Award was created by the ACSE in 2005 in collaboration with film producer Brian Grazer to recognize especially innovative educational programs in California benefitting students with disabilities. The recognition aims to honor the people who make these programs possible as well as to share the practices of these programs with parents, educators, and policymakers throughout the state and beyond.

The ACSE selected San Bernardino City Unified School District’s “Dyslexia Matters: Making the Invisible Visible” program as the recipient of the 2022-23 GOAL Award and accompanying $5,000 financial incentive to support the program moving forward.

“Dyslexia Matters: Making the Invisible Visible” aims to proactively address improving literacy for students with disabilities, which is one of the ACSE’s areas of priority. Dyslexia has been identified as the most common learning disability among students in California and there is growing concern around dyslexic students falling through the cracks and missing the opportunity to receive help early when it would make the biggest impact. Dyslexia Matters is an innovative program within San Bernardino City Unified School District that establishes a continuum of layered supports, especially in the area of basic reading, to proactively identify students at risk and provide scientifically proven interventions and evidence-based best practices for students identified with reading difficulties and dyslexia. The program is showing great success and working seamlessly within the community uniting teachers, administrators, parents, the district, and other stakeholders around a shared goal of early identification and support to improve literacy outcomes for all students.

The ACSE also acknowledges another program that applied for the GOAL Award this year and that is doing extraordinary work to serve students with disabilities in a meaningful way. Mount Diablo High School’s BASES (Behavioral, Academic, and Social Emotional Services) program provides itinerant mental health support services for students who require significant social emotional and behavioral support. The BASES program provides an enriching experience where students with disabilities collectively engage in all aspects of social emotional and academic development while cultivating kindness and building community in an environment that acknowledges each student’s abilities and unique learning differences.

The ACSE will be accepting GOAL Award applications for next year in the spring of 2024 and encourages all special education programs across the state to apply! Watch the website for more information: https://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/se/as/acsegoalaward.asp.

Members of the San Bernardino City Unified School District’s “Dyslexia Matters: Making the Invisible Visible” program, with ACSE commissioners

Special Education Teacher of the Year

In February the ACSE was pleased to recognize Caroline Ledeboer as state and county special education teacher of the year. Ledeboer is an Education Specialist for the Tehama Adult Learning Center (TALC), the county SELPA’s regional program for students 18–22 years old. She works with students who have extensive needs and require postsecondary transition services (job skills, agency linkage, job coaching, life skills, etc.). Ledeboer focuses on adult transition, community-based instruction, and jobs for individuals with disabilities. Her passion for her work is evident in the influence she has had on the lives of her students. The ACSE applauded her as a model for her peers, a gift to the field, and an inspiration to the commission.

Code of Federal Regulations
34 CFR § 300.167
State advisory panel
“The State must establish and maintain an advisory panel for the purpose of providing policy guidance with respect to special education and related services for children with disabilities in the State.”

The Year in Review

As the ACSE reflects on its 2022–23 year, the commissioners would first like to extend their appreciation for the leadership they received from the commission’s appointing bodies: the Governor, the State Board of Education, and the California Legislature. They have demonstrated their support of the commission in their unwavering commitment to principles of equity, especially as those principles apply to students with disabilities.

The ACSE always works to improve educational outcomes for students with disabilities. In 2016, the state saw a groundswell of support for the dissolution of divisions within education— specifically special education as apart from general education. This movement led to the ACSE’s development of an equity platform designed to support the creation of an educational system that is unified and coherently designed to ensure high-quality education for all students.

The challenging circumstances and insights gained during the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent years have prompted a profound reflection and reevaluation of the ACSE’s commitments to this system. In response, the commission has refined the specific focus of its equity platform and renewed its dedication to empowering students with disabilities through the ACSE’s legislative and policy priorities.

Perhaps the ACSE’s most successful realization of these commitments during its 2022–23 meeting year was the expansion of the role of future ACSE student commissioners, an effort that was championed by former Chair Dr. Havaughnia Hayes-White. The process of preparing for this expanded student role has deepened every commissioner’s appreciation not only of the importance of the student voice as it informs the ACSE’s work, but also of the complexities involved in creating inclusive environments that elevate that voice. What the ACSE has learned will only improve and strengthen its every future effort.

Acknowledgments

The ACSE wishes to recognize and thank three individuals who have completed their terms as commissioners: former Chair Havaughnia Hayes-White, Michele Andrus, and Kimberly Salomonson. Their talents, passion, and good humor will be sorely missed.

The commission also welcomes its newly appointed members—Betty Lieu, Russell Michaud, and Matthew Wilkins—and looks forward to their contributions. To read biographical profiles of all of the current ACSE commissioners, please go to https://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/se/as/acsedrct.asp.

Dates and locations for ACSE meetings can be found at www.cde.ca.gov/sp/se/as/acse.asp.
A directory of ACSE members is at https://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/se/as/acsedrct.asp.
To view ACSE meetings via live webcast, go to www.cde.ca.gov/sp/se/as/acsewebcast.asp.