Letter To The Editor: Future Of Special Education In NM

By Secretary Katarina Sandoval
Deputy Cabinet Secretary
Academic Engagement & Student Success
New Mexico Public Education Department

There are about 55,000 special education students in New Mexico’s public schools.

They represent approximately 16 percent of all public education students from pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade. And while many are receiving high-quality instruction and services that fit their individual needs, we know we can do even better.

And we know working together is the way to accomplish that. That’s why, over the course of the 2019-2020 school year, the New Mexico Public Education Department is comprehensively reviewing the state of special education.

We are soliciting input from and listening to students, parents, school staff, and special education advocates. We want to know what is working, identify issues and solutions, and share best practices from around New Mexico with other schools, educators, and parents across the state.

The process began recently at a listening session with special education advocates. Chief among their concerns were delays in evaluating students who might need special education services – potentially resulting in delayed diagnoses and students not receiving services they need. While we understand and appreciate schools not rushing to place students in special education, we also know that timely evaluations ultimately lead to needed services.

Advocates also said they said spend a lot of time advising parents about their rights and providing technical assistance about how special education works. Too often, they said, schools and districts speak in overly technical, difficult-to-parse language. Advocates told stories about barriers to access that some families face. Providing quality special education requires working with parents, who know their children best, to ensure that students are receiving the support and services to which they are entitled.

At the New Mexico Public Education Department, we will continue our listening sessions while simultaneously learning from successful general education and special education teachers from across the state. Over the course of the year, we will chronicle best practices from New Mexico educators and schools so that we continue to improve how well we serve our students with disabilities.

Just last week, the U.S. Department of Education issued its annual Results-Driven Accountability (RDA) Report for 2019. The report rates states based on how well they serve students with disabilities, including how the state meets federal requirements and responds to concerns from school communities. In 2019, New Mexico’s rating improved 10 percentage points, to 76.7 percent, compared to 67.7 percent in 2018.

Our efforts will culminate in a Special Education Summit in the summer of 2020, where we will host information sessions and professional development workshops for special education and general education educators and administrators aimed at improving services — not just for special education students but for all students.

In the end, special education students are simply students. They have different needs, but our dreams for them are the same: happy, healthy and successful lives. Although they receive some extra help or services, they should, to the greatest extent possible, have the same educational access and opportunities as their peers in the classroom.

Our goal over the next year is to create an educational system that serves special education students as well as possible, because by doing so, we serve all students well.

Thank you.