To determine if the New York City Department of Education evaluated students for special education services within required time frames. Our audit scope covers the period of July 1, 2016 through March 9, 2018, and includes all students initially referred for evaluations during the school year ended June 30, 2017.
About the Program
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) ensures that a free appropriate public education is made available to eligible children* with disabilities who require special education services to meet their educational and developmental needs. In New York State, the Regulations of the Commissioner of Education (Regulations) stipulate procedural requirements for the referral, evaluation, Individualized Education Program (IEP) development, and placement of students in special education. (*The terms “child(ren) and “student(s)” are used interchangeably in this report.)
The New York City Department of Education (DOE) – the nation’s largest school system – serves approximately 1.1 million students at its more than 1,800 elementary, middle, and high schools in 34 school districts, and provides special education services to approximately 190,000 of these students. The DOE is responsible for evaluating students to determine their eligibility for special education services and ensuring eligible students receive appropriate services. Toward this end, the DOE follows a multi-step evaluation and placement process. The evaluation component – and the focus of this audit (placement will be addressed in a separate audit) – includes the following:
- Referral: A parent/guardian,** school personnel, or interested stakeholder submits a written request for an evaluation. (**The terms “parent” and “guardian” are used interchangeably in this report.)
- Parental consent: The school/district obtains written consent from the parent to conduct the evaluation.
- Assessments: The DOE performs a series of student assessments, including a social history review, classroom observation, psychological/psychoeducational assessment (hereafter referred to as “psychoeducational”), and physical examination, as required by the Regulations, and other assessments as needed. Assessments cannot begin until written parental consent is received.
- IEP meeting: The IEP team reviews the results of the various assessments with the parent and, in consultation with the parent, determines the student’s eligibility for special education services.
Consistent with IDEA, Section 200.4 of the Regulations requires the initial evaluation (encompassing the various assessments) to be completed within 60 calendar days of receipt of parental consent unless extended by mutual agreement of the parent. According to the DOE, due to system limitations, the agency is not able to calculate the completion date of the evaluation in a reliable manner. Therefore, the DOE uses the date of the IEP meeting as a proxy for the evaluation completion date. The DOE’s methodology was used for purposes of determining compliance with the required time period.
New York City Local Law 27 of 2015 requires the DOE to annually report statistical measures, including the disposition of all initial referrals received during the school year (encompassing the period July 1 to June 30) to the New York City Council. The DOE compiles its Local Law 27 of 2015 Annual Reports on Special Education (Annual Reports) based on data in its Special Education Student Information System (SESIS), which the DOE uses to record and track student referrals, evaluations, and placement information. According to DOE data for SY 2016-17, which was also used for the Annual Report, 22,266 students in kindergarten through 12th grade were initially referred for special education evaluation. Based on our analysis of these data, we found that, as of October 2, 2017, of these 22,266 referrals, 3,745 closed before an IEP meeting was held, 17,454 culminated in an IEP meeting, and 1,067 were still open or awaiting consent (i.e., parental consent not yet given or IEP meeting not yet held).
The DOE had difficulty meeting the 60-calendar-day time frame requirement for completing evaluations, resulting in potential delays in the provision of services for affected students. Any delay in services could adversely impact students’ educational growth.
- Based on DOE data for SY 2016-17, and using the DOE’s methodology for determining completion of the evaluation, of the 17,454 students whose referral culminated in an IEP meeting, 5,102 (29.2 percent) were not evaluated within the required time frame as of October 2, 2017. For these 5,102 students, the evaluations took an average of 96 calendar days to be completed.
- There was wide variation across school districts in their ability to complete evaluations timely, ranging from a low of 51 percent to a high of 86 percent.
- Students from 13 school districts were more significantly impacted by delayed evaluations: School Districts 3, 4, and 5 in Manhattan; 9 and 12 in the Bronx; 13, 16, 19, 20, and 32 in Brooklyn; and 24, 29, and 30 in Queens, where non-compliance averaged 38 percent compared with 24 percent for the other 21 districts.
- Based on the DOE’s Annual Reports for other school years, for certain of these districts, non-compliance has been a persistent problem.
- Our detailed analysis of SESIS data for a random sample of 158 referrals from SY 2016-17 found a higher rate of non-compliance (40 percent) and identified specific factors that contribute to delays:
- Within the evaluation process, students’ psychoeducational and speech and language assessments were significant causes of delays.
- We also identified system shortcomings that hinder the DOE from properly monitoring the evaluation process.
- Assess the reasons for non-compliance with the 60-calendar-day requirement and take appropriate actions, especially where significant non-compliance has been consistently identified.
- For each assessment type, develop controls that will allow analysis of the time frames for completion, similar to the analysis presented in this report, and take corrective action where significant delays are identified.
- Develop data integrity controls to provide greater assurance of the accuracy and completeness of data.