Parents of students in the Ann Arbor Public School system received a letter last week detailing statistics of student behavior and disability ratios based on race and ethnicity.
The Sept. 27 letter written by Elaine Brown, assistant superintendent for student intervention and support services at Ann Arbor Public Schools, included data from the 2009-2010 school year which revealed the school system suspended and expelled more African-American students compared to students of other races and ethnicities.
According to the letter, the district is expanding the Positive Behavior Intervention Support model — a program that aims to establish an academic environment that increases scholastic growth — in more schools to try to decrease the ratio of disciplinary actions taken against students.
“(The school system) is promoting and teaching and implementing what good behavior should look like, so we can address some of the concerns we have about suspension and expulsion,” Brown said. “Therefore, if you (are) proactive about it, then you eliminate some of those poor behaviors.”
As part of the Individuals with Disability Education Act, the state must collect data to determine if there is an unequal amount of students in a racial or ethnic group with disabilities, the letter states. The data is broken down into four categories: “identification of children with disabilities,” “identification of children with disabilities in a particular impairment category,” “placement of children in particular education settings” and “incidence, duration, and type of disciplinary actions, including suspensions and expulsions,” the letter states.
The state is required to inform parents if there is a significant disproportionate of any race or ethnic group in the four areas.
Data from the 2010-2011 school year also revealed that the school system exceeded the maximum ratio of 3.0 for a race or ethnic group that is considered “cognitive impaired.” The ratio of African-American students with cognitive impairments for the 2010-2011 school year was 3.11 — a decrease from 4.37 during the during the 2009-2010 year, according to Brown.
Brown said this high ratio is “nothing new,” and the school is working to decrease the ratio to meet the IDEA guidelines.
“This year we’re still working on reviewing and revising our processes and procedures and trying to improve and get off the so-called list,” Brown said.
According to Brown, if the district exceeds the acceptable ratio, it must spend 15 percent of the total grant money it receives from IDEA to improve the numbers. Brown said 15 percent of the grant money totals to $400,000 for the 2010-2011 school year.
To decrease the ratio of African-American students with cognitive impaired disabilities, Brown said the school system is reevaluating its cognitive testing procedures.
“We’re constantly monitoring our (Individual Education Programs) so that we’re using the most appropriate assessment and that we’re not using any biased assessments so that we can make sure and ensure that we are doing the most appropriate things for all students,” she said.
Andrea Horvath, the mother of a sophomore at Community High School and a kindergartener at Ann Arbor Open School, said she was confused upon initially reading the letter.
“When I read it, I had to read it two times to understand exactly what it meant,” she said.
Horvath also expressed concern about the issues addressed in the letter.
“If that’s what the statistics are, then it’s probably a big problem,” Horvath said.