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SD Receives High Marks For Special Ed Programs

June 21, 2010, 4:59 PM by Katie Janssen

SIOUX FALLS, SD - Nearly 18,000 South Dakota children need some form of special education in school to help with everything from very minor problems to severe learning roadblocks.

Now, the teachers and administrators who help implement these programs are getting proof that their efforts are paying off.

Special education programs are in nearly every school district in the state. The largest district, Sioux Falls, spends thousands of dollars on tools and technology to help kids on both ends of the spectrum.

"Some are disabilities you can see, like an orthopedic impairment or hearing, deafness or blindness,” Special Education Director Deb Muilenburg-Wilson said. “But some are less visible in terms of a learning disability or a health impairment."

Muilenburg-Wilson says each child is different and so is each plan of attack. And while progress can be slow, the state is doing something right; it's one of only 16 in the country to receive the highest scores possible under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA.

Muilenburg-Wilson says the recognition is especially important now, when there's increased accountability for the learning of all children.

"There are over 300 points in the law. When we write an individual education plan for a student, we have to meet all the compliance points," Muilenburg-Wilson said.

Things like the percentage of special ed students who graduate from high school, the drop-out rate for those students and how many pass state assessment tests.  Muilenburg-Wilson says the rating proves South Dakota's teachers are doing their very best, and students are beating the odds.

"To hear parents tell of a grim outcome they'd been told they would have and now to see the child making lots of progress," Muilenburg-Wilson said.

South Dakota's Birth to Three program also received high marks under IDEA. That program serves around 2,000 children who aren't yet in school.

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