The achievement gap between Hawaii's public school special education students and their peers is wider than the national average, partially because they are isolated more than they should be, an evaluation agency reported this week.
But that and a host of other things in the special education program are about to change.
The Hawaii Department of Education and education research agency WestEd Center for Prevention and Early Intervention shared the results of a formal review of the state's special education program in a joint briefing before the House and Senate education committees Monday.
Schools Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi told legislators the evaluation shows it is time to make some big changes to the way special education services are delivered in the state's public schools. About 10 percent of the state's 179,000 students are on Individualized Education Programs, which are supposed to ensure students with special needs receive all the services and programs they need to succeed. In 2009, the department spent $540 million, or about 22 percent of its total budget, on meeting those students' educational needs.
Education officials sought the review in order to identify strengths and weaknesses in Hawaii's special education program now that it has been six years since the program has been out from under the so-called Felix Consent Decree. The court-supervised agreement essentially forced the state to provide special education services so the department had to put significant resources toward revamping the program. Those changes were just a starting point, Matayoshi said.