Is the BASIC Infrastructure Assessment Tool Right for You?

This resource grew out of the experiences of technical assistance providers from the California Department of Education (CDE) and the California Collaborative for Educational Excellence (CCEE) who have been providing differentiated assistance to school districts and charter schools as part of California public education’s statewide accountability and support system. In doing so, they have learned firsthand about the challenges LEA leaders face in trying to raise the quality of the special education they offer. In the following hypothetical vignette, created from the collective observations of these providers, a district’s suspension rate for students with disabilities has brought it to the attention of the state. But it’s the difficulties faced by this hypothetical district as it tries to address the suspension problem that are likely to sound most familiar to many districts in California and elsewhere:

According to the state’s process for monitoring Individuals with Disabilities Education Act performance indicators, this district has not met suspension-rate targets for students with disabilities. As district leaders, with outside technical assistance providers, set out to examine student data and conduct a root-cause analysis, they quickly encounter obstacles. Student data are kept in paper files, rather than in an electronic data system, making data analysis difficult and laborious. School incident reports are nonstandard and inconsistently available. The district’s policies and procedures for serving students with disabilities are out of date and do not reflect the actual practices being used. The underlying theme in this vignette is the LEA’s lack of a solid infrastructure for its special education system. The details may vary from one LEA to another, but the general story is the same for many LEAs: too little attention paid to the foundation needed for an effective special education system. This resource is intended to help LEA leaders tackle this critical issue. It starts by identifying the basic components of a special education infrastructure. It then provides a tool to help LEAs determine strengths and gaps in their own special education infrastructure with an eye to instating or strengthening the basic components so that their system is better able to support students, families, and educators.

Methods for the design of this tool. The basic components were identified, and the related tool developed, through an iterative design process that captured and leveraged the knowledge and experience of LEA system leaders, as well as CDE and CCEE technical assistance providers, using a series of interviews, focus groups, and prototyping and testing cycles. The design team, consisting of CDE, CCEE, and WestEd staff, worked closely with leaders from county offices of education and LEAs across California to gather feedback on the identified components and to test the tool. The design team also gathered expert feedback from the Students with Disabilities Collective, a group of special education system leaders and practitioners from county offices of education, special education local plan areas (SELPAs), and technical assistance organizations across California that is facilitated by the CDE and CCEE, with a focus on addressing special education systems coherence. Together, the design team developed the Basic Components Tool to help LEA leaders identify, establish or strengthen, and continuously improve the basic components of a special education infrastructure.

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