The overrepresentation of Palo Alto's Hispanic and African-American students in special education will be the subject of a report to the school board tonight.
Palo Alto is one of 17 out of California's 1,000 school districts to be labeled by the state Department of Education as having "significant disproportionality" in special ed.
School board members tonight will get an update on the district's plan to reduce the "disproportionality," which is the subject of special monitoring by the state.
"A high percentage of students of color are in special education by the end of fifth grade and the numbers rise by the end of eighth grade," Associate Superintendent Virginia Davis said in a report to the board.
For example, at one unnamed middle school in the district, 50 percent of Hispanic fifth graders and 25 percent of African-American fifth graders were in special education in 2006-07. At the same school three years later, 55 percent of the Hispanic students and 33 percent of the African-American students were in special ed.
Davis described a four-pronged plan to remedy the disproportion, relying heavily on early intervention for students showing signs of difficulty, known in education parlance as "response to intervention," or RTI.
"The 2010-11 school year has been focused on building institutional and school-level capacity," Davis said, including understanding of a "three-tiered" RTI model.
"These efforts should yield results with students as schools move into application during Year 2 and Year 3 of plan implementation."
Davis said each of Palo Alto's 17 campuses has developed a team of regular and special educators who have gathered for joint planning and training sessions on how to address the disproportionality.
In the future, "monitored student data must show fewer referrals to special education, specifically for students of color," she said.
Overall, about 10 percent of the district's 12,024 students are in special education.
As of last fall, Hispanic students comprised 10.2 percent and African-American students 3.1 percent of the district's total enrollment.
The meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. in the board room of school district headquarters, 25 Churchill Ave.