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For students with severe disabilities, New York must do more to see if schools measure up

As a parent of a student who will be attending a high school program next year, it would be great to have access to information about individual schools to help me make informed decisions.

Right now, I don’t have that. My son is nonverbal and attends school in a District 75 setting, part of New York City’s network of programs for students with severe disabilities, and District 75 high school guides don’t exist.

[Read more: Under de Blasio, no measures of success or failure for schools serving the neediest kids]

I understand that measuring academic success for students in District 75 settings is not an easy task. Many of the criteria used for students in non-D75 settings do not apply in the same way, including standardized test scores, attendance, and suspensions.

But there are key factors that can be used to determine a school’s ability to effectively, meaningfully support the educational progress of its students.

As a parent, it would be helpful to know the extent to which a D75 program does the following:

Integrate students with non-disabled peers.

What is the frequency, length, and type of activities they take part in? Does the school integrate its recess, gym classes, and building-wide events, for example?

Bring students out into the community.

Doing so allows students to experience hands-on learning as it relates to independent life skills like going to the bank, using public transportation, and finding viable future workplaces.

How often do students spend time outside of the school and within the community—once a week, once a month, 10 field trips per school year?

Provide related services at school.

Those would include speech, occupational, and physical therapies along with counseling.

What is the two-year history of each school for the type of service delivered by month? The percentage of total services delivered? Information like, at this particular District 75 program in Manhattan, only four in 10 kids entitled to speech services received them in September 2015.

Provide access to someone who specializes in assistive technology.

Does the school have a credentialed assistive technology service provider, as opposed to a speech therapist?

This is one of the factors with a direct relationship to my son’s everyday safety because he needs to be in an environment where educators are knowledgeable about the way he communicates — via a touch screen application on an iPad.

Provide services and support related to students’ transitions out of school.

What percentage of time is there a full-time staff person dedicated to transitioning out of school? What percentage of students by age of students, have transition goals? What share of them meet those goals?

Provide dedicated arts instruction.

If so, what is it and how often does it occur?

Improve individual student outcomes.

What share of students meet the goals each year set out on their Individual Education Programs? What percentage of students remain in same type of classroom setting they were in the year before? What percentage of students moved to a less restrictive setting this year compared to last year?

It takes creative thinking to make this kind of information available. But these factors are measurable and within reach.

My son’s future depends on this. The ability for him to continue making educational progress, and the degree that he will have the skills he needs to be “college and career ready” when he graduates, depends on finding the right program.

Parents like me who have children in District 75 programs, and the students who attend these schools, need to know that our city values them the same way the city values their non-D75 peers.

This piece has been updated to clarify that the example of students not receiving services at one District 75 program was hypothetical.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.

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