Oregon Schools Struggling To Meet Special Education Priorities

By Rob Manning (OPB)
Portland, Ore. April 4, 2019 2:15 a.m.

Oregon school districts are not keeping up with the state’s rising expectations when it comes to educating students with special needs, according to a report released Wednesday.

The federal Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act, or IDEA, requires states to set annual performance targets and track results for students with disabilities.


The latest report card finds many Oregon schools continue to struggle with two major goals: avoiding disproportionate punishments against students with disabilities and ensuring those students earn diplomas.

Related: NW Parents Challenge Schools' Handling Of Students With Disabilities

Oregon’s annual Special Education Report Card found only 13 school districts met the 81 percent graduation rate target for 2017. The previous year, 17 districts met the graduation target, when it was slightly lower, at 78 percent.

Both years, mostly smaller school districts reached it.


Officials in Oregon’s second-largest district, Salem-Keizer, released a statement applauding improvements in graduation rates and in academic achievement.

“We are very pleased with the improvement in most areas of this year’s report card, and there is much to be proud of,” said director of student services Eric Richards. “We also pay close attention to the small number of areas in this report card that call for improvement and are very committed to making additional progress.”

Several large districts, including Salem, still have too few students with disabilities spending sufficient time in the general education setting by the state’s metrics. Federal law says that students with disabilities have a right to learning in the “least restrictive environment” possible, to allow them an equitable education.

Salem-Keizer aside, school districts generally did a better job on another state priority: teaching students with disabilities as much as possible in traditional classrooms rather than in separate rooms.

Related: Changing The System Of Restraint And Isolations Won't Be Easy

However, Salem-Keizer was also an outlier in a positive sense among Oregon’s big districts on another front: It was the only one of Oregon’s nine largest districts not to have a problem with disproportionately suspending or expelling students with disabilities.

School districts representing more than half of Oregon’s student population were found to have a “significant discrepancy in rate of suspension [or] expulsion for more than 10 days” for students in special education education, according to the report card.

OPB recently reported on students with disabilities being restrained by school staff as well as concerns from parents that restraint is used too often, with too little notice to parents. Oregon requires school districts to collect that information and share it, but it can be difficult to find on district web pages.

Unlike Washington, Oregon publishes no central database of restraint and isolation incidents. It was not included in the special education report card, or in any public state report.