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PRESS RELEASE

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Frances Marine or
MacKay Jimeson
(850) 245-0413

Statement by Education Commissioner Jim Horne Regarding Call for Audit on Student Classifications

TALLAHASSEE - Education Commissioner Jim Horne today made the following statement regarding a call for the Auditor General to probe the number of students referred to special education programs:

"We are proud of the progress that exceptional student education (ESE) students - like all other students - are making in Florida. In the last year alone, the percentage of ESE students scoring at or above grade level (level 3 or above) in 4th grade reading has jumped from 24 percent to 28 percent, while the percentage of ESE students scoring below basic (level 1) has dropped from 63 percent to 58 percent.

"The notion that a greater percentage of our students are being referred to special education is simply false. The process by which students are referred to special education requires the input of parents and teachers. It requires at least two parent teacher conferences and two attempts at changes in schedules, teachers, instructional strategies and techniques. Schools cannot arbitrarily change a student's classification. In fact, we have cut the growth rate in special education almost in half over the past five years, from 3.1 percent in 1999 to 1.7 percent in 2003.

"The idea - as alleged today - that schools would attempt to change student classifications to 'artificially inflate school performance' makes no sense. The State Board of Education adopted rules that will include the learning gains of ESE students in school grades beginning next year. Moreover, the vast majority of exceptional student education (ESE) students - 85 percent of third grade students with disabilities in 2003 - take the FCAT. Any decision to exempt an ESE student from the FCAT must be made by the student's individual educational plan (IEP) team, which consists of parents and teachers involved in that child's life. Certainly, those teams are more concerned with the progress of individual students than with circumventing school accountability."