Maine Reaches Federal Milestone in Special Education

Maine is proud to be one of 20 other states in the nation to meet federal requirements for serving the needs of children with disabilities. This rigorous effort was led by the Maine Department of Education (DOE) Office of Special Services.

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), states are required to report each year to the US Department of Education regarding their progress in meeting “measurable and rigorous targets” to serve students with disabilities. This determination is based on how well schools address the needs of children with disabilities. As part of the review process, Maine and other states were evaluated based on several factors, including student performance and fulfilling IDEA’s procedural requirements.

Members of the Special Services Team at the DOE have been hard at work to partner with and support schools to ensure the quality of education for disabled students in Maine continues to improve. Their strategy has been to identify areas where the state has struggled and use targeted professional development and collaboration with district administrators and teachers to improve those areas. Child Development Services has also been utilized to enhance support for children with disabilities from birth to the age of five. As part of a broader Department-wide effort, this strategy has helped to further emphasize student support and achievement.

One, among many other, contributing factors for the 2019 review, was the increased amount of Maine students with disabilities who participated in standardized testing compared to the previous year. The state receives full points from the federal government if at least 90% of students with disabilities participate in standardized testing.

“We’ve been working really hard to make sure the Department is providing the support needed to help schools improve their practices with children with disabilities,” said Jan Breton, Acting Director of the Office of Special Services. “It takes a strong team of people, both here at the Department and in the field, to make sure that our State is meeting these requirements,” she added.

The commitment and collaboration of students, families, educators, and the Maine DOE has enabled Maine to meet requirements by several percentage points. Additionally, the support and guidance that enables students with disabilities to make smooth transitions from secondary school to post-graduation living has also improved, and the dropout rate for students with disabilities has decreased. With more Maine students receiving their diplomas, these young people can expect improved employability and a wider spread of higher education options after high school.

This milestone gives the Department the opportunity to refocus efforts on collaborative and student-focused growth, as well as areas in which Maine has not yet scored full points as part of the requirements. One example is around the team’s efforts to improve the state’s federal ratings for math scores through the Math4ME program. This program is grounded in hands-on activities and interactive professional learning experiences that allow participants to gain a deeper understanding of core concepts of mathematics and strategies. The program focuses on students with disabilities in grades 3-8.

Maine’s special education professionals are passionate and dedicated in their daily work to improve the lives and outcomes of children with disabilities. With our strong team of professionals here at the Maine DOE and our valuable partnerships with educators, administrators, families, and stakeholders statewide, we hope to continue our important work toward ongoing growth, improvement, and alignment in special education in our state.

A Hopeful Path Forward at Maine’s Opiate Crisis Summit

In her opening remarks at the Opiate Response Summit, Governor Janet Mills expressed her appreciation for Gordon Smith. One of the Governor’s first actions, post-inauguration, was to found the Opiate Response and Prevention Taskforce directed by Smith. Mills’ founding of this taskforce underscores what a large priority the Opiate Epidemic represents for Mainers. Turning the Tide: Maine’s Path Forward in the Opiate Crisis, a summit which packed the Augusta Civic Center with over 1,000 people on the 15th, represented an overwhelmingly hopeful attitude towards harm reduction and prevention. Several days prior to the event, Smith commented that the need to cap registration at 1,050 people was a good problem to have. Many are invested in solving this Crisis.

The Governor opened the event with a grave message stressing the urgent need for awareness, and what is at stake for Maine families. In the past five years, 1,700 Mainers have died of drug overdose. If 1,700 baby seals washed up dead on the beach, said Mills, there would be a massive public response. “These are not ‘druggies’,” said Mills, “they are neighbors.” The Governor stressed in her speech that people affected by substance use disorders are family members: they are sons and daughters and parents, employees and employers, neighbors and friends.

Commissioners from many government Departments such as Health and Human Services, Public Safety, and Law Enforcement were present. Department of Education Commissioner Pender Makin was also in attendance. Following the Governor’s remarks, attendees heard from Sam Quiones, author of Dreamland, a book which outlines the evolution of an American Opioid Crisis.

Afterward, the nine morning breakout sessions began. These were hosted by a variety of experts. The diverse topics from both morning and afternoon sessions included the following critical subjects:

· Addressing Stigma: Using Researched-Based Evidence

· Building Public Health Infrastructure

· Needle Exchanges and Naloxone Distributions

· Challenges in Recovery Centers and Housing

· Community Prevention Services at Work

· Data to Action: Harnessing Information to Tackle the Opioid Crisis

· Emerging Threats: Current and Predictive Trends

· Harm Reduction with Neonatal Focus

· How to Best Navigate Jobs and Transportation During Recovery

· Improving Access to Medications for OUD: Considerations for Special Populations

· Improving Access to Medications for OUD: Engaging More Clinicians to Offer Treatment

· Law Enforcement and its Role of Bringing Hope to Recovery

· MaineWorks: Offering Dignity, Trust, and a Path Forward

· OD Mapping and Overdose Response Through Community Partnerships

· Responsible Prescribing and Pain Control Debate: Has the Pendulum Swung Too Far?

· State Prevention Services: Opioid Task Force Update

· The Importance of Law Enforcement in Community Based Recovery

· The Power of Community Coalitions

· Voices of Recovery: Panel of Individuals in Recovery

Summit2
Peter Michaud, Debate Moderator addressed the audience at the Responsible Prescribing and Pain Control Debate breakout session.

At lunch, the parents of two young men who lost their lives to substance abuse disorders spoke and shared their story before the assembled audience. Former White House Director of National Drug Control Policy, Michael Botticelli, then spoke on the importance of community support in the recovery process. Speaking on his own experience with the disorder, he highlighted the stigma which only perpetuates the issue. “Epidemics don’t happen in a vacuum,” he said. Botticelli stressed the ways in which the epidemic is exacerbated by poor data, over-prescription, and lack of information and resources. He closed his remarks by pointing out the number of options that Maine should employ moving forward, saying “We cannot dictate other people’s paths to recovery.”

The panel of speakers who following the afternoon breakout session demonstrated a deluge of support from state government bodies all over New England and the North East. The Senior Advisor to the Governor of Rhode Island Tom Coderre, Senior Advisor to the Governor of New Hampshire David Mara, and the Commissioner of Health in Vermont Dr. Mark Levine sat on the panel, as well as the President of the American Medical Association Dr. Patrice Harris. Coderre succinctly represented the mentality of support shared by those in attendance when he encouraged Maine to “flatter Rhode Island by mimicking any of their ideas.” The goal of the Summit was to build on existing positive information so New England can better tackle this unprecedented Crisis.

Turning the Tide: Maine’s Path Forward in the Opiate Crisis served as a lightning rod for activists who wish to generate a reason for hope. And there are reasons to be hopeful. The Summit alone demonstrates an effort by the administration and the public to address an Opiate

Crisis sweeping Maine and America. Those in the recovery process are being given a larger voice at the table. Maine Law Enforcement is now prepared to administer Naloxone to those experiencing an overdose. In fact, 2017 was Maine’s high water mark for overdoses. We are turning the tide, and this Summit was among the first steps of many more to come.

Updated Maine DOE Home Instruction Portal Release  

In March of this year, the Department of Education (DOE) released the online Home Instruction Portal. Since then, home instruction parents all over the state have begun to utilize the new portal, and have reported that the new process is less burdensome than the former paper-only process, which required double-reporting and greater expense and time due to mailing and requesting proof of receipt.

Many have also provided valuable feedback about what was confusing, or concerning, from a parent perspective. As a result, the DOE revisited the online forms to make some technical improvements, and has released an updated Home Instruction Portal as of July 9, 2019. If you submitted your Notice for 2019-2020 prior to this date, please be assured that it is still properly filed, and there is no need to repeat the submission.

If you have not yet filed your Notice, please check out the updated online portal. Other ways to file include submitting the revised Notice of Intent to Provide Home Instruction, or other form or letter, to either the Superintendent of Schools in the public school administrative unit where you reside, or to the DOE. You no longer need to file paperwork in both places. You may provide Notice in a different format, provided it contains all required information:

  • Applicable School Year
  • Parent/Guardian Full Name
  • Physical Address, City, Zip Code; and Mailing Address (if different)
  • Child’s Full Name
  • Child’s Date of Birth
  • Indicate First or Subsequent Year of Home Instruction
  • Date Home Instruction Will Begin (if First Year)
  • Assurance (if First Year): FIRST YEAR HOME INSTRUCTION PARENT ASSURANCE :  The home instruction program will provide at least 175 days annually of instruction and will provide instruction in the following subject areas: English and language arts, math, science, social studies, physical education, health education, library skills, fine arts and, in at least one grade from grade 6 to 12, Maine studies. At one grade level from grade 7 to 12, the student will demonstrate proficiency in the use of computers. The home instruction program will include an annual assessment of the student’s academic progress that includes at least one of the forms of assessment described in 20-A M.R.S. § 5001-A (3)(A)(4)(b).
  • Prior Year Assessment (if Subsequent Year)
  • Statement of Intent to Continue Providing Home Instruction (if Subsequent Year): SUBSEQUENT YEAR HOME INSTRUCTION PARENT STATEMENT: I intend to continue providing home instruction and enclose the prior year annual assessment of the student’s academic progress as outlined in 20-A M.R.S. 5001-A(3)(A)(4)(b).
  • Signature
  • Date of Signature
  • A valid email address if parent would like an acknowledgment

As a reminder, the updated process will allow parents to provide first/subsequent year notice “simultaneously to the school officials of the administrative unit in which the student resides and to the commissioner” in one of three ways:

  1. Enter information once annually directly on the new Home Instruction Portal, uploading any required prior year assessment information;
  2. Complete the form or letter on paper once annually and take it, with any required prior year assessments, to the resident superintendent’s office; or
  3. Complete the paper form or other form/letter once annually and mail it with any required prior year assessments to the Department of Education or to the Superintendent’s Office.

Submission using any of the methods described will result in the automatic generation of an acknowledgment to the parent/guardian via email, provided a valid email address is provided.

More information is available at https://www.maine.gov/doe/schools/schoolops/homeinstruction.

Please direct any questions or concerns to Pamela Ford-Taylor at pamela.ford-taylor@maine.gov or 207-624-6617.

Successes Shared by Districts at Closing Event of 4-Year Preschool Expansion Grant

(Pictured: Kindergarten teacher Heidi Sturgeon, pre-k teacher Olesia Pazdro, and Curriculum Director Suzanne Day from MSAD 55- Sacopee Valley, talk to the audience about their goals for their Birth – Third Grade Action Plan.)

The Maine Department of Education hosted a closing event of the 4-year Preschool Expansion Grant (PEG) that was awarded to Maine DOE in December 2014 by the US Department of Education.  Eighteen states were awarded grants to support local school districts in the development of new preschool classrooms, and to expand access to high-quality, full-day pre-k programs for children whose families were at or below 200%  Federal Poverty Level.

Maine used the grant to launch and expand pre-k programs for 13 districts in Maine, 8 of which used the opportunity to partner with local Head Start programs. The districts included RSU 12, RSU 13, MSAD 17, RSU 23, SAD 37, SAD 44, RSU 55, RSU 74, Cornville Regional Charter School, Cherryfield, Lewiston (Longley Elementary), Millinocket, Vassalboro. The 13 districts were chosen for their percentage of students with an economic disadvantage and willingness and availability to embark on the effort.

The grant allowed these districts to add or expand their pre-k classroom spaces and resources, hire and train needed teachers in using evidence based curricula and instructional practices, align appropriate assessment of pre-k students with kindergarten assessments, develop a plan for kindergarten transition, and form a community literacy team, all as part of a long-term “Birth to Third Grade plan” that aligns with the districts’ strategic goals. The grant implementation was supported by grant coordinators at each of the participating districts, and trained coaches, all of whom were former Maine educators.

A cross-section of state employees from Maine DOE, Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and Child Development Services (CDS) worked collaboratively on this project,  with facilitation provided by the Education Development Center (EDC).

IMG_0229
(Left to right) Sarah Adkins, Kathryn Zwicker, Nena Cunningham, Karen Bergeron, Nicole Madore, Lee Anne Larsen, Dee Saucier, Sue Reed, Crystal Arbour, Jessica Nixon, Rich Meserve, David Jacobson.

Three years into the 4-year grant, tremendous improvements in child outcomes were celebrated, including:

  • 76%-86% of children moved out of the high-risk identification in all developmental domains
  • 76%-96% of children moved out of high-risk identification in literacy skills (predictive of kindergarten success)
  • 53% of children moved out of high-risk identification in the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test, which assesses receptive language and is a predictor of later reading success

The end of the year event was an opportunity for each of the participating districts to present their Birth to Third plans to their peers and to reflect on their successes, lessons learned, and plans moving forward.

IMG_0196_cropped
RSU 12 Curriculum Coordinator, Deb Taylor (right) and Southern Kennebec Child Development Center Head Start Director Cristina Salois (left) shared details of their  action plan with the full audience which included a “ghost walk” to each pre-k classroom across the district’s 4 elementary schools. This was an opportunity for pre-k teachers to share and collaborate on environmental design and instructional practices and learn from one another.

The gathering included presentations by each participating district, who all began by sharing varied and often-times unique community challenges. For example, while some experienced a lack of licensed child care providers to connect with and engage families early on, another had migrant families with students in and out of school frequently. There were many other unique community characteristics shared, yet all of the districts had the common challenge of a high percentage of families facing economic disadvantage.

The common areas of focus for each Birth to Third Grade action plan included a focus on quality, shared teaching and learning practices, family engagement starting before children enter pre-k, a focus on positive transitions from pre-k to kindergarten, social emotional learning and trauma informed teaching.

The closing event was a successful day of presenting, idea sharing, and collaboration by early childhood educators from across the state who will now be able to continue their research based, and collaborative birth to third grade plans for district-wide success and beyond.

 

Maine DOE Announces 4th Annual Read to Ride Summer Reading Challenge

Summer vacation is a welcome break from the daily school routine for children and parents alike, but the summer months can be detrimental to students’ learning if young minds do not remain active. Summer learning loss is a well-documented phenomenon, particularly with respect to reading achievement.  Students can lose up to three months of reading progress during the summer if they don’t keep reading.  When combined across a child’s PK-8 school career, this can result in 1-2 years of lost reading progress.

Fortunately, the summer slide can be prevented or greatly reduced when students continue to read on a regular basis. By encouraging children to read for enjoyment from a variety of resources and to explore topics of interest, they continue to practice applying the skills they have learned, build their vocabulary, and widen their knowledge of the world.  For students who are not yet reading independently, or just beginning to read, reading to and with parents is equally beneficial.

Once again this year, the Maine Department of Education is collaborating with the Freemasons of Maine to sponsor the Read to Ride Summer Reading Challenge for students in grades PK-8.  The Maine Freemasons have generously donated 48 bikes with helmets as prizes for the Read to Ride Summer Reading Challenge.  During the first three years of this initiative, thousands of Maine children completed the challenge of reading 500 minutes during the summer vacation.  Maine DOE hopes to see this number grow even higher during the summer of 2019.

Any school with students in the PK-8 grade span may register to participate. Participating schools will collect documentation from students who have completed the challenge. They will hold school level drawings to select two students (one boy and one girl) whose names will be entered into the state level drawing to be held on September 25, 2019.   Schools are encouraged to participate in this challenge, to coordinate it with any other summer reading challenges/programs they offer, and to consider soliciting their own local level prizes for students who complete the challenge.  Find details and the link to register your school at the Read to Ride Challenge website.

Questions may be directed to Maine DOE’s Elementary Literacy Specialist, Danielle Saucier at danielle.m.saucier@maine.gov.