Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
Go to Selected Program Area
Massachusetts State Seal
Students & Families Educators & Administrators Teaching, Learning & Testing Data & Accountability Finance & Funding About the Department Education Board  

The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Presentation on Special Education Research and Department Strategic Actions

Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D., Commissioner
November 14, 2014


Special education is the topic for discussion in the second hour of the special meeting of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education on Monday evening, November 24, 2014. We will hear and discuss a presentation by Dr. Thomas Hehir along with Department staff members Senior Associate Commissioner Russell Johnston and State Special Education Director Marcia Mittnacht. The presentation will focus on selected parts of Dr. Hehir's research reports and our Department's planned strategic actions. This memorandum provides an overview

Background: At my request, Dr. Thomas Hehir and his associates have reviewed data and prepared several reports on the status of special education in the Commonwealth. Dr. Hehir, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, is a former Director of the Office of Special Education Programs at the U.S. Department of Education, and the former director of special education for the Boston and Chicago Public Schools.

To understand better the variation in identification, placement, and academic performance of the Commonwealth's students with disabilities, Dr. Hehir and his team performed extensive statistical analyses using the state student databases to examine district-level practices and policies. In addition, Dr. Hehir met with various stakeholders, and presented to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education after his first report was completed in April 2012.

The findings and recommendations from Dr. Hehir's research are contained in three reports: one about special education in typical K-12 schools, one on vocational-technical schools, and the third on use of out-of-district placement options for students with disabilities. Each report identifies ways to promote stronger outcomes for students with disabilities. The reports are useful to stimulate discussions across the Commonwealth about special education practices and services that increase the likelihood that all students will be successful in school and in post-secondary education and careers.

Dr. Hehir and his associates completed an "overarching" report looking at recommendations across the three previous reports and will report to Board at the November 24 special meeting on the integrated recommendations. All four of these reports can be found on the SPED website. Additionally, I have included a hard copy of the 2014 overarching report with this memorandum. We have prepared a responsive action plan for the Hehir Recommendations which will also be presented to the Board.

Attached is a summary of the research findings and the strategic actions we have identified in response to the research. Our action plan is premised on the following understanding: Special education is not a curriculum, a place, or a program distinct from general education; it is a service informed by significant research, policy, and regulation.

In Massachusetts, a student's Individualized Education Program (IEP) describes the specially designed instruction and related services that are needed for the student to overcome the barriers presented by the disability and to access the general curriculum in order to progress effectively in the general education program. IEPs are skills-based, rather than standards-based. State standards are defined in the curriculum frameworks and are the same for all students; therefore, students with disabilities are working toward the same outcomes as any other student. However, a student's IEP Team can modify how the student may best learn or demonstrate knowledge of a standard in response to a student's disability.

The information in the section of the attached summary entitled "Research Findings" is organized according to these overarching and interconnected themes from the research reports:

  • Identification of students as having a disability and becoming eligible for special education services;
  • Access of students with disabilities to the general curriculum and to high quality instruction; and placement of students with disabilities in the least restrictive environment (that is, in classrooms with students without disabilities as much as possible).

The information in the section of the attached summary entitled "Responsive Strategic Actions" is organized based on five desired outcome areas:

  1. Provide early interventions to improve student outcomes.
  2. Increase the capacity of general education classrooms to meet the needs of diverse learners.
  3. Reduce inappropriate identification of low-income students as eligible for special education.
  4. Increase inclusion of students with disabilities in general education settings.
  5. Reduce inappropriate use of substantially separate settings and out-of-district placements.


Download PDF Document  Download Word Document
DESE Implementation Plan: Research Findings and Strategic Actions
Download PDF Document  Download Word Document
Review of Special Education in the Commonwealth, A Synthesis Report
Download PDF Document  Download Word Document
Massachusetts Special Education Fact Sheet

Last Updated: November 18, 2014
E-mail this page| Print View| Print Pdf  
Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Search · A-Z Site Index · Policies · Site Info · Contact DESE