Michigan dropped from 'needs intervention' list for special education

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News
Last year, Michigan was the only state in the nation that failed to meet federal special education requirements and required intervention.

Michigan no longer needs "intervention" to meet federal special education requirements but still needs "assistance," according to state education officials.

The Michigan Department of Education said on Thursday the state's performance on key special education factors improved over last year, which prompted the U.S. Department of Education to lift the state from its “needs intervention” determination to “needs assistance."

Michigan is rated for its annual performance on meeting a section of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

The types of data used to make a determination include the participation of children with disabilities on regular statewide assessments and the percentage of children with disabilities who graduated with a regular high school diploma and who dropped out.

Michigan’s score increased from 59.17% to 65.28% from 2018 to 2019, an increase of 6.1%, according to the 2019 report.

The state boosted its numbers for the percentage of fourth-grade and eighth-grade students with disabilities participating in statewide reading assessments. This year, the numbers were 83% and 81% respectively, compared to 80% and 79% last year.

It also increased the number of students with disabilities in the same grades taking regular statewide math assessments, from 81% and 79% in 2018 to 84% and 81% in 2019.

The state saw a decrease in the percentage of students with disabilities who drop out of school — from 29% to 28% —  but the graduation rate remained the same both years at 63%.

Deputy state superintendent Scott Koenigsknecht said this is the highest score Michigan has received since 2014.

“We are pleased with the trajectory of the growth and will continue to work to improve outcomes for every Michigan student," Koenigsknecht said. "There still is much work to do around the areas of graduation rate, dropout rate, research-based best practices, and inclusion/” 

Last year, Michigan was the only state in the nation that failed to meet federal special education requirements and required intervention. Washington, D.C., Palau and Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. Commonwealth, also received the "needs intervention" ranking.

Federal officials use both compliance and results data for a “letter of determination” on whether a state "meets requirements," "needs assistance" or "needs intervention."

Koenigsknecht said work is being done in the school districts across the state and at the state education department to improve compliance.

A steering committee and four workgroups have been working since December to generate recommendations that would lead to continued improvements for graduation rates, dropout rates, M-STEP participation, and NAEP results and participation, Koenigsknecht said.

Marcie Lipsitt, a Michigan-based special education advocate and civil rights activist, said the change in determination is nothing to celebrate because special education conditions continue to erode in Michigan due to a lack of transparency at the state education department and insufficient funding for special education services.

"Conditions have worsened this year," Lipsitt said. "There is nothing to celebrate here. Outcomes for children with disabilities are not improving."