Student Services Parent Advisory Committee gave recommendations on inclusion, assessments and more

One of Lake Oswego's strategic priorities is creating a culture of belonging. To many who require special-education services, the district still has work to do on that front.

Cyndi Spear, co-chair of the Student Services Parent Advisory Committee, presented an annual report at the Monday, June 21, school board meeting on behalf of the committee.

The purpose of the report, which is normally done every year but was skipped in 2020 due to the pandemic, is to provide an assessment of current special-education programs, practices and procedures and to review policies and practices concerning student rights and responsibilities, as well as provide recommendations for future improvements.

Spear shared commentary on special education in the LOSD that the committee would like the Lake Oswego School Board to consider.

One such recommendation pertained to the district's use of iReady, a tool used to assess a student's academic progress. Spear said the committee was in support of using iReady but asked that the assessments be given with previously agreed-upon accommodations for special-education students.

The iReady assessment is used to guide future instruction. SSPAC would like to see accountability put in place to make sure that's happening.

SSPAC also asked for better communication with families about the iReady assessment.

Another recommendation from the committee concerned a "full inclusion model."

Spear said a tenet of this model is that students receiving special-education services get to stay in their neighborhood schools.

"And that, for families, has been a really big deal. Removing students from their neighborhood to attend a program on the other side of the lake or a totally different school or neighborhood has been very difficult for families for a really long time," Spear said.

On the positive side, Spear noted that inclusion is embedded in LOSD's facility planning and bond development. She said what's lacking is an educational philosophy of inclusion and a shared understanding of these beliefs across the district.

SSPAC suggested that a philosophy be created with stakeholder input.

Another main recommendation is that the district move from a "deficit-based system" to a "strengths-based system," or a system of "perceived competence."Spear said there is currently a lack of perceived competence for special-education students, and it makes their educational journey difficult.

"We should be not only supporting our students, but we should also be challenging our students," she said.

The Smart Start program is a step in the right direction, according to Spear. The program allows special-education students and their teachers to meet before the start of the school year to ease the transition process. As part of this process, teachers are able to establish a connection with the students and learn their strengths as well as their challenge areas.

"Challenging them and supporting them appropriately helps us learn what they're capable of," she said.

The presentation was Spear's last. With her son graduating, she can no longer be a member of the committee.

"For more than a decade it's been my absolute privilege to work with an amazing group of parents, lots of amazing groups of parents, who have dedicated countless hours to advocating for students with disabilities and their families," she said.

Board member John Wallin thanked Spear for her longtime commitment to the committee.

"You've been such an amazing advocate, and such an amazing spokesperson. I've learned so much from you personally, and I think you've always given such thoughtful feedback," Wallin said.

Board member Neelam Gupta said she noticed a lot of Spear's comments are related to the need for a culture change in the district.

She asked Spear what she thinks the district should do in it's reopening process to set students with disabilities up for success.

Spear said things like Smart Start, additional meetings for Individualized Education Plans and having data that shows how far behind students actually are academically due to the pandemic can help.

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