In My Opinion
Ending the IEP Paper Chase
Invest in the technology you need to best serve your special education teachers and students, says Walter Amprey, former superintendent of the Baltimore City Public School System.
In today’s economic climate, technology can be a tough sell. Educators tend to view tech expenditures as yet another operating expense that squeezes more money from strained budgets and heaps more work on already overworked staff. In the corporate world, on the other hand, technology is viewed as an investment that will pay for itself and possibly improve revenues by replacing inefficient systems and increasing productivity.
By adopting a more businesslike perspective and viewing technology as a tool that can help tackle the burden of paperwork and compliance—and create a return on investment—we can improve special education in our schools.
Special education teams must monitor hundreds of state and federal rules to manage individual education programs (IEPs). To comply with requirements, teachers often spend more time on paperwork and less time with students. As the paperwork burden grows, job satisfaction plummets. Teachers burn out. Turnover increases. Some teachers leave the profession, contributing to the nationwide shortage of highly qualified special education teachers.
The Individuals With Disabilities Education Improvement Act, signed into law in November 2004 to make special education stronger, lists key provisions designed to move away from compliance with cumbersome and bureaucratic rules and reduce paperwork. Yet, for those in the special education trenches, those are still critical issues to contend with.
The challenges are further compounded as districts expand the definition of “special populations” to ensure that specific student groups make adequate yearly progress. For example, some districts now create IEPs for at-risk or limited English proficient students, in addition to students with disabilities—further straining the system.
MAKE THE INVESTMENT
By embedding compliance rules in a technology-based solution, districts provide teachers with support that guides them through the IEP process. Administrators and teachers can use technology to automatically
- verify compliance requirements as data are entered
- calculate legally mandated timelines and generate obligations with the appropriate due date
- schedule meetings and activities
- generate alerts to identify timeline violations or upcoming timelines
- collect and store data for legally mandated reports
- document services and identify nondelivery issues so they can be quickly resolved
- track eligible students to ensure appropriate placement and full funding.
Consider Metropolitan Nashville (TN) Public Schools (MNPS), which implements a web-based software solution from 4GL School Solutions, for which I have done consulting work in large urban districts since 2000. MNPS uses the system in 135 schools—with approximately 600 special education teachers and 200 itinerant staff—to automate the IEP process.
MNPS streamlined data entry with electronic versions of district forms used by special education teams. During the process of converting from paper to electronic forms, MNPS reevaluated each form and condensed and eliminated forms when possible.
The district reduced the number of district forms approximately 40 percent. By decreasing redundant data entry, the district improved accuracy and saved teachers time. Furthermore, the move to electronic forms saved the district nearly $50,000 in printing costs.
By using technology to streamline special education management and automate data collection and reporting processes, we can lift the immense burden of paperwork from the shoulders of teachers and give them the time to do what they do best: teach.
Walter G. Amprey, retired superintendent of the Baltimore City Public School System, sits on the board of directors for several nonprofit organizations, including the National Center for Education Research & Technology. He is also president of the KimKeli Group, an educational consulting firm. To contact him, send e-mails to firstname.lastname@example.org.