Five years ago leaders in Virginia’s Henrico County Public Schools (HCPS) realized they were not meeting the needs of all of their students. While school achievement and graduation rates were notable in the aggregate, students with disabilities had higher disciplinary rates and lower graduation rates than their peers.
Henrico began providing parents of special education students with access to districtwide data, allowing them to compare school-by-school performance across a wide range of data points. Administrators and the public were hesitant about the public presentation of less-than-perfect data on how their students with disabilities were doing was met, but HCPS did not let this reluctance get in the way of identifying the places they needed to improve.
“The reality is, we can’t improve what we can’t talk about. I think this helped us talk about it in a way that wasn’t blaming, that wasn’t hurtful, but was just a reality, comparing students with disabilities against other students with disabilities,” said Dr. Bondy Shay Gibson, former deputy superintendent of instruction.
Effective parent engagement requires two-way communication. HCPS listened to what parents want to know and provided transparent information on their special education programs. Through surveys specific to parents of students with disabilities, Henrico measures parent engagement and community buy-in and shares this information with teachers and administrators. The district has seen increases in the number of parents who feel informed about their child’s progress. The district shares this information with teachers and administrators to make sure they are meeting the needs of the community. HCPS also created a Special Education Advisory Committee of parents who can access and compare data from 72 schools to ensure that every special education student across the district has the best possible experience.
Henrico’s engagement strategy has been paired with an individualized instruction strategy, the combined program resulting in the discipline of students with disabilities decreasing by 32 percent and graduation rates for students with disabilities increasing by 12 percent. Because leaders prioritized using information to understand student needs, students with disabilities and their families now have access to clear and concise data to engage families as active partners in using data to understand student progress, ensuring that they are informed advocates in each student’s education.
“We’ve gotten requests from other localities who’ve come and looked at our page. Or our parents have sent them: ‘Look what this county does, they give me all of this information. I can look across 72 different schools, specifically at students with disabilities, and see how they’re doing.’ And this should be available everywhere . . .” said Gibson.