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The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D., Commissioner
April 13, 2012


Review of Special Education in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts

Special education is the topic for the special meeting of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education on April 23, 2012. This is a follow-up to the Board's meeting on special education on May 23, 2011.

The main focus for our discussion will be the recently issued report reviewing special education in the Commonwealth, prepared by Dr. Thomas Hehir and his associates. Dr. Hehir, who presented his initial research findings to the Board at the May 2011 special meeting, is a professor at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education, a former U.S. Education Department Director of the Office of Special Education Programs, and a former director of special education for the Boston and Chicago Public Schools.

Marcia Mittnacht, who heads our Office of Special Education Planning and Policy Development, will provide a brief overview of special education data. Madeline Levine, director of our Office of Tiered System of Supports, will also be at the session as a resource. Members of the Board's Special Education Advisory Council, including co-chairs Jennie DunKley and Patricia Schram, are expected to be in attendance.


Massachusetts has a long-standing commitment of ensuring that all students, including those with disabilities, receive an education that prepares them for success after high school. While I have been impressed by the many successful programs, services, and resources our public schools provide to students with disabilities, I have been concerned with the achievement gap between students with disabilities and their peers without disabilities and with the high percentage of students in our state who have been identified as having disabilities - currently, about 17 percent of our student population. Also, educators throughout the state have expressed to me their concerns about this achievement gap and its persistence despite the rising costs of providing services to students with disabilities.

To understand better the variation in identification, placement, and performance of the Commonwealth's students with disabilities, we asked Dr. Hehir to conduct a study of special education in Massachusetts. I convened a group of key stakeholders to assist Dr. Hehir with his research by exploring policies and practices that will ensure effective and high quality services and instruction for students with disabilities while addressing cost containment and management of available resources. He and his team performed extensive statistical analyses using the state student databases to examine district-level practices and policies.

Findings, Recommendations, and Next Steps

The findings and recommendations from Dr. Hehir's research are contained in the enclosed report. The report identifies ways to promote stronger outcomes for students with disabilities. I look forward to discussing the report, its recommendations, and next steps with you. It is my hope that the report also stimulates discussions across the Commonwealth on practices and services that increase the likelihood that all of our students will be successful in school and in post-secondary education and careers.

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Review of Special Education in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts

Last Updated: April 18, 2012
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