Special Education in Franklin County 

This report presents an overview of the 2016-2017 school year special education profile in Franklin County based on the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) districts profile data. Special education profile data focus on districts’ progress to meet goals for students with disabilities, and aim to help districts in improving special education programs. Additionally, the data provide details across a range of topics that include the percentage of students with disabilities, kindergarten readiness, achievement levels, and graduation rates. Sixteen school districts and two residential schools (Young girl readingOhio School for the Blind and Ohio School for the Deaf) are included in the report. Findings are reported according to income levels of school districts: low-income level districts (Groveport Madison, Southwestern, Hilliard, Columbus City, and Whitehall), middle-income level districts (Bexley, Worthington, Gahanna Jefferson, Westerville, Reynoldsburg, and Grandview Heights), and high-income level districts (New Albany-Plain, Dublin, Upper Arlington, Hamilton, and Canal Winchester).

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA, 2004) requires a free and appropriate public education for students with disabilities. “The law requires that children with disabilities be educated in the ‘least restrictive environment appropriate’ to meet their ‘unique needs.’ And the IDEA contemplates that the ‘least restrictive environment’ analysis will begin with placement in the regular education classroom” (Huston, 2007, p. 2). However, IDEA (2004) recognizes that a regular education placement is not appropriate for all children. Therefore, the law does not require inclusion, but supports it.

Residential schools or specialized schools are considered to be the most restrictive environment for students with disabilities. In the State of Ohio, residential schools for students who are deaf and blind are in Franklin County. The Ohio School for the Blind only serves students with disabilities; 55% of its students have visual impairments, and 35% of students have multiple disabilities. Whereas at the Ohio School for the Deaf, 2.3% of students do not have disabilities, 98.8% of students have hearing impairments, and only 1.2% of students have multiple disabilities (Special education profile public summary [SEPPS], 2017).

General education is the least restrictive environment for students with disabilities. According to Smith and colleagues (2015), 13% of all public-school students have disabilities; the number increases to 14.8% in the state of Ohio (SEPPS, 2017). Based on the income levels of the districts, the number of students with disabilities within the schools varies. Low-income districts enroll a greater percentage of students with disabilities than high-income districts. High-income districts have percentages of students with disabilities between 10% to 12.82%, middle-income districts have between 10.27% and 15.12% of students with disabilities, and low-income districts have between 11.82% and 16.38% of students with disabilities. Columbus City Schools, Groveport Madison Local School District, and Gahanna Jefferson City School District have the largest percentage of students with disabilities at around 15% to 16%. On the other hand, Dublin City School District, Hamilton Local School Districts, and Grandview Heights City School District have the lowest percentages of students with disabilities at around 10% (SEPPS, 2017).

Diverse group of students with teacherIDEA (2004) states that school districts are required to provide educational services for children with disabilities in the least restrictive environment “to the maximum extent appropriate.” This requirement extends beyond the traditional school age (5-18) to include preschool education. The Ohio Department of Education (2017) set the arbitrary target, based on historical data, of at least 52% of preschool-age students with disabilities to receive the majority of their special education services in the regular early childhood education program. During the 2016-2017 school year, 14 of the 16 school districts in Franklin County met this target. The two districts that report having nearly 50% of their preschoolers with disabilities serviced in a more restrictive environment fall into the lowest third of median household income. Furthermore, the two districts that did not meet the threshold are also in the lowest quartile of academic achievement for students with disabilities (SEPPS, 2017).

Another important shift for school age children with disabilities is the transition from high school to life after high school. According to IDEA (2004), children and young adults with disabilities are permitted to remain in schools until the age of 21. Ohio Department of Education (2017) sets the goal that 80.9% of children with disabilities graduate from high school in 4 years. Only fifteen school districts in Franklin County reported graduation rates for children with disabilities, and 6 of those districts met the 80.5% threshold. Of the school districts that met graduation requirements, 67% of them are in the top quartile of median household income in the county.

A trend emerges that school districts in the more affluent communities are providing more consistent transition services for their children with disabilities. Some outliers exist within the data, for example, the school district with the lowest median household income, Whitehall, reported one of the highest rates of preschool children with disabilities educated in the least restrictive environment (SEPPS, 2017).

Academic achievement is one critical component for ensuring students with disabilities experience future success. Two critical academic indicators found on the SEPPS (2017) website include reading proficiency rate and math proficiency rate. These indicators measure the percentage of students with disabilities who scored at or above the proficiency level on statewide math and reading assessments.

All districts in Franklin County are required to report student performance on various academic indicators for students with disabilities; SEPPS (2017) provides a clear record of these results. The average goal for reading proficiency in the State of Ohio is 38.56% or greater for students with disabilities. Out of 16 districts in Franklin County, seven districts (Hamilton, Canal Winchester, Reynoldsburg, Groveport Madison, Southwestern, Columbus City, and Whitehall) do not meet these minimum criteria. Interestingly, four of these seven districts fall into the lowest median household income categories. Schools exceeding Ohio’s goals for reading proficiency include Hilliard, Grandview, Westerville, Gahanna Jefferson, Worthington, Bexley, Canal Winchester, Hamilton, Upper Arlington, Dublin, and New Albany. None of these schools fall into the lower third of districts based on median household income (SEPPS, 2017).

Young boys working on math worksheet in classThe State of Ohio’s math proficiency goal is lower than reading proficiency at only 34.19%. Results from districts’ math proficiency rates mirror reading proficiency; schools in the bottom half to lowest third of median household income did not meet the basic math goal (Reynoldsburg, Columbus City, and Whitehall). The top three districts meeting basic math proficiency are unsurprisingly, the districts with the highest household median income: Upper Arlington, Bexley, and New Albany.

It is important to highlight the pervasive low expectations that exist for students with disabilities. Setting goals of 38.56% for reading proficiency and 34.19% for math proficiency help to paint the picture of the inequity in special education when compared with general education. Furthermore, when looking at the results of these statewide academic achievement tests, there is a strong correlation between the median household income and the success of students with disabilities. Wealthier districts tend to have higher performances than lower socio-economic districts. For students with disabilities in high-poverty areas, the outcomes appear to be far bleaker than those with greater monetary means.

These findings emphasize the inequity that still exists within Franklin County. To this day, these data show that schools with greater financial means are able to provide superior services for students with disabilities. From preschool readiness to graduation rates, inequity in the schools starts early and is threaded throughout students’ academic careers. Furthermore, for students with disabilities, pervasive low expectations continue to be problematic and set the bar so low that future success prospects for these students is bleak. As future teachers, current educators, administrators, professors, and policymakers, it is critical that we intervene and reanalyze the standards that we set for students with disabilities to determine how we can raise the bar and make sure that all students are successful.