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Feds: North Carolina Falling Short Of Educating Students With Exceptional Needs

A water fountain inside a hallway at a school at Chapel Hill Carrboro Public Schools.
Brian Batista
A water fountain inside a hallway at a school at Chapel Hill Carrboro Public Schools.

The difference between making and missing reporting deadlines for federal compliance can be slim. That’s why having personnel who do evaluations of exceptional children on staff is helpful. But many North Carolina districts can’t afford to.

(Here's the IDEA Determinations fact sheet for 2019 from the U.S. Department of Education)

State officials say that’s part of the reason districts missed deadlines.

If a district doesn’t have full-time personnel who can evaluate students with exceptional needs, and specialists only come in on certain days of the week or month, timing becomes an issue.

“If the child happens to be absent on the day the school psychologist or someone is going to evaluate the child, it's a big deal,” said Sherry Thomas, the director of the Exceptional Children’s Division at the Department of Public Instruction. “(It’s important we are) getting that rescheduled.”

Last year, evaluations and paperwork weren’t completed in time to comply with national standards. But, Thomas says the Department of Public Instruction barely missed the mark, and will be back on pace next year.

The U.S. Department of Education rates each state on its implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and since 2014 has included compliance and performance in those determinations.  

Student performance was also part of the reason North Carolina, “needs improvement.”

Comparing test scores of N.C. students with other students across the country shows the state is right in the middle. In categories including tests for reading and mathematics in fourth and eighth grades, North Carolina mostly ranked in the middle third. 

Only 30 percent of eighth graders with disabilities scored at basic level or above on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Only 23 percent of eighth graders scored at or above in mathematics.  

(The detailed report for North Carolina can be accessed online here)

A high percentage of children with disabilities graduated from high school – 76 percent, putting North Carolina in the top third of states for that category.

Cole del Charco is an audio producer and writer based in Durham. He's made stories for public radio's All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Marketplace. Before joining Due South, he spent time as a freelance journalist, an education and daily news reporter for WUNC, and a podcast producer for WFAE in Charlotte.
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