Letter: Southborough School’s ranking in Boston Magazine is a farce

[Ed note: My Southborough accepts signed letters to the editor submitted by Southborough residents. Letters may be emailed to mysouthborough@gmail.com.]

To the Editor:

Southborough ranking of 30th and Northborough’s ranking of 39th in Boston Magazine’s recent “Best Schools in Boston 2013” is a farce if you are a special education child.

A performance tracking of special education students starting in grade 3 evolving to grade 7 shows that the overall MCAS figures are ever worsening in each District. Northborough’s 2012 MCAS failure results (categories of needs improvement or warning) for this group were 70% for English Language Arts (ELA) and 86% for Math. Southborough failure rate was only marginally better at 28% for ELA and 86% for Math. These two school systems are managed by a singular special education administration.

Approximately 85% of all special education students in both towns are educated alongside their non-disabled peers in a general education environment for part to all of their day.

Disturbingly, the response to this performance crisis was to cut funding in the Southborough special education budget by $400,000 and to add a scarce 1.2 staffing resources to Northborough’s special education budget. The net combined K-8 budget change was a $50,429 cut in special education while regular education was increased by $956,370.

In the manufacturing or business worlds, an 86% product failure would result in plant closure and cessation of the business line. No CEO, let alone division head, could stay employed with an ever increasing track record of failure. Certainly no board would think that cutting funding would be the remedy for product failure. Yet, somehow in the educational world, these results have provided the special education leadership with continued employment and delivered to both town’s a 2013-2014 budget that perpetuates the problem.

The Northborough, Southborough and Algonquin school committees must start managing the town’s education and more specifically, its special education, as a business designed to achieve success. They must go beyond budget adherence or reduction and recognize that any successful business is defined by quality production, satisfied customers, appropriate risk management and quantifiable results that demonstrate not only efficiency but effectiveness.

They must hold their leadership accountable for failures.

Anything less is gross negligence.

To continue on the same path, with the same leadership, expecting the same results is to knowingly discriminate against the special education students.

Cynthia Moore
Northborough, MA

[Ed note: Ms. Moore disclosed that she is the Vice President of the Northborough/Southborough Special Education Parent Advisory Council. But she is writing this letter as a concerned parent of a special education student. This letter is not on behalf of NSPAC.]

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Dean Dairy
10 years ago

Rather than a uniform manufactured product, aren’t special ed outcomes highly dependent upon the severity of the innate disability that creates the need in the first place?

How do those high Soboro/Norboro failure rates compare with other cities and towns? Is there any statistical control for type and severity of disability?

Moreover, aren’t parents in lower income communities incentivized to seek special ed status for greater numbers of less impaired children because more families in those towns meet the income criteria for SSI? Wouldn’t that incentive skew failure rates?


“The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program for children was created mainly for those with severe physical disabilities. But the $10 billion in federal benefit checks now goes primarily to indigent children with behavioral, learning and mental conditions. Qualifying is not always easy — many applicants believe it is essential that a child needs to be on psychotropic drugs to qualify. But once enrolled, there is little incentive to get off. And officials rarely check to see if the children are getting better.

A Boston Globe investigation finds that a $10 billion, federal disability program for indigent children has gone seriously astray. It is now a fast-growing alternative welfare system with troubling incentives – such as financial reasons to take psychotropic drugs. The top category for approvals is ADHD.”

SB Resident
10 years ago

I’m having a hard time understanding what you are suggesting the leadership do. By mentioning that 85% of special ed students are educated alongside their peers you are leading me to believe you think this is wrong. It has been my understanding that parents of special needs students have fought long and hard for this. I’m not judging either way myself, but it could just be a trade off that people are willing to accept.

It is also my understanding that your description of the budget cuts is misleading. We have been told that the budget decreased due to specific kids leaving the district.

Lastly, do you have a link to your data? I’d like to know how you are comparing 3-7 when MCAS is done in 8th. If it’s the 8th grade scores you are comparing to, I’d like to see the 5th and 10th results as well because the district clearly has an 8th grade MCAS issue. Also I’d like to know how many students are calculated in these numbers and what the numbers look like for the 5th and 10th grade comparisons. Also is this just calculated from last years scores or is this following the same kids from 3rd to 7th. I’m not trying to argue, I would just need more info than you provided to make an opinion.

Cynthia Moore
10 years ago

My apologies for a tardy reply. I hope these details help to further understanding.

Inclusion is the law of the land. As both a parent of a disabled child and a disabled person myself, I believe 100% in inclusion. This article was written to point out that the District is failing to deliver on the requirement to deliver on the promise of equal access to a free and appropriate public education to those with disabilities as evidence by the ever increasing rates of failure amongst our special education student population.

MCAS Figures:
All statistics related to student performance were sourced from the individual district MCAS results by year which are available on the Department of Education’s website at http://www.doe.mass.edu/mcas/results.html. There are multiple pages to reference – some provide the rolled up statistics and others provide the statistics by subgroups. These figures were determined by sourcing the results for the 3rd graders in 2008, who were then the 4th graders in 2009, etc. It may be of interest to note that this same student population in Southborough (those who were 3rd graders in 2008 who are now 9th graders) experienced the following 2013 MCAS failure rates : 50% ELA, 80% Math, 70% Science. This is a significant increase to ELA failures and a tiny bit of improvement in Math. None of these figures include the population designated “high needs” or those are tested using the MCAS Alternative/Portfolio. These are all kids high potential children.

Budget Figures:
All figures related to the budget were sourced from the Superintendent’s presentation to the school committee and the town’s annual report. On the perspective of the drain on the budget by special education, it may be interesting to note that in Northborough 60% of the budget increases over the last 5 years were attributable to REGULAR education. The budget allocation between regular and special education students only shifted 3% towards special education during the same time frame. The reality is that the marketing message of special education driving the budget increases is just not true in Northborough. To accomplish the same analysis in Southborough just take the annual reports starting in 2009 and go forward to the proposed budget for 2014 and number crunch the changes.

The children in Southborough who are considered “high needs” are those requiring special education services who also have a secondary condition such as low income (SSI qualified), non-native English language speakers, etc. The “high needs” population was specifically EXCLUDED from the figures represented above. If they had been included, the failures rates would have been higher. It may be of interest to note that having an IEP or a 504 does not automatically qualify the child for SSI. In general in order to qualify for SSI, the parent’s income has be to be below $710 per month for a single parent and $1,066 for a married couple plus the child must have a permanent disabling condition that is not expected to result in being able to be employed even in a supported environment.

Art Fay
10 years ago

“It may be of interest to note that this same student population in Southborough (those who were 3rd graders in 2008 who are now 9th graders) experienced the following 2013 MCAS failure rates : 50% ELA, 80% Math, 70% Science.”

wait a minute – so 80% of the Sboro 8th graders failed the Math part of the MCAS?
Is this why my taxes are so high?

Oh well at least its only half of them…..

Cynthia Moore
10 years ago

Art, 80% of the special education children (who are not in the high needs category) failed MCAS. These are largely the students who sit side by side the regular education students in the general education classrooms all or part of the day. In general, 90% of all children with disabilities do not have intellectual impairments. These children are expected to achieve passing grades just like their non-disabled peers. The town has a well funded budget. Yet, these students gap in achievement continues to grow and grow and grow.

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