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Education Equity Insights Part 6: Improving Inclusivity for Preschoolers with Disabilities

May 2, 2022

Despite a federal policy mandating that children ages 3 through 5 with disabilities receive their special education services in the least restrictive preschool environment, nearly 1/4 of American preschoolers receive services in separate classes. “This lack of inclusion restricts their participation in equitable learning experiences and, affects their emotional, social, and academic development,” says Vera Stroup-Rentier, Ph.D., a Westat Senior Study Director who specializes in early childhood intervention and special education.

To help increase access for preschool children with disabilities, Westat developed the Preschool Environments Toolkit for the IDEA Data Center (IDC). “This user-friendly toolkit helps state and local education agencies (SEAs and LEAs) collect, report, analyze, and employ high-quality data to determine exactly where preschoolers with disabilities are receiving services so they can increase their time spent in inclusive programming,” explains Dr. Stroup-Rentier. “These data are reported annually to the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs,” she adds.

Vera Stroup-Rentier

Dr. Stroup-Rentier says the graphic-rich resource provides essential information related to federal data reporting requirements, including:

The specific EDFacts data collection about how many preschool children receive special education and related services, where they receive their services, their demographics, such as race/ethnicity and disability category, and how these EDFacts data relate to Indicator 6 of the State Performance Plan/Annual Performance Report (SPP/APR). This Indicator requires that states collect and report how many children with disabilities ages 3, 4, and 5 receive their special education and related services in certain early childhood educational environments.
An interactive decision tree, which helps states and LEAs identify the correct federal reporting category when collecting preschool educational environments data.
A Preschool Environments Calculator and Data Analysis Tool, which allows SEAs to enter data from their systems and analyze child-level data.
“If states’ data are of chronically low quality, we help them figure out why the data look like they do and help them improve the quality,” says Dr. Stroup-Rentier.

In addition to providing support to LEAs and SEAs to promote inclusion, Dr. Stroup-Rentier, as project director, assists the Nebraska Department of Education’s Early Development Network state team with trainings and its special education state team with data analysis and technical assistance in the areas of equity, parent involvement, preschool, and State Systematic Improvement Planning. For the Center for IDEA Fiscal Reporting, she assists states in improving the quality of their fiscal data for IDEA Part C— the Program for Infants and Toddlers with Disabilities.

The past 2 years have been particularly challenging with the pandemic having an especially significant impact on children with disabilities. “These children are among our most vulnerable populations, and they need additional support from states, local programs, and districts because their learning needs are often complex and diverse,” she says. “I’m glad I’m in this field to support the states in their efforts so our early intervention and special education systems function well and deliver promised services to our infants, toddlers, children, and youth and their families.”

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