RYH Presents Report on HS Application & Placement for CPS Students with Disabilities to the BOE, 1.23.19

At the January 2019 monthly meeting of the unelected CPS Board of Education, Raise Your Hand presented a report entitled, "High School Application and Placement for Chicago Public School Students with Disabilities." You can find a summary of the report here as well as a link to the full 18 page report.

Below are the three prepared RYH testimonies given to the BOE to present the report and to explain its findings, including recommendations for the CPS district, CPS Elementary and High Schools, and CPS Parents of Students with Disabilities. 

Jennie Biggs, CPS Parent of 3, IL Raise Your Hand, Director of Communications & Outreach

Today we are here to present and discuss a research project RYH supported entitled, “High School Application and Placement for CPS Students with Disabilities.”

An education consultant who recently had both of her kids graduate from CPS noticed the tremendous amount of concern, frustration and anger expressed by CPS parents about the lack of information and support provided to parents of students with disabilities on the critical transition to high school. She reached out to RYH to ask if we might form a volunteer group to research the issue and unearth current problems as well as potential solutions.  

We assembled a task force including CPS parents with children who have disabilities and education researcher Federico Waitoller, associate professor of special education at UIC.

Some volunteers interviewed Elementary School Case Managers, while others did online research (From their websites: “New York and Boston Public Schools state that ALL students have the right to apply for all high schools.”) or requested information through email or by phone. Once collected, information was analyzed to provide deeper understanding about the High School placement process for Students With Disabilities.

A survey was sent out through all of RYH’s channels, requesting responses from parents of Students With Disabilities currently in 7th through 10th grades. The survey asked parents to share their opinions on needs and challenges encountered in the current system of High School application, selection and placement.

To better understand the survey’s results, the workgroup conducted a focus group which was facilitated by Waitoller who has expertise in qualitative research.

Results from all of the above were analyzed and compiled. The report contains key findings as well as a set of recommendations for multiple stakeholder groups: the District, High Schools, Elementary Schools and parents of Students With Disabilities.

In an incredibly short amount of time, this dedicated group carried out an impressive work plan in order to help CPS improve the high school transition process for its most vulnerable students. We are excited to present it to you today and look forward to the implementation of the recommendations.

Parents of Students with Disabilities struggle to understand how to access the most appropriate educational environment for High School in CPS. There are concrete ways that the CPS District, individual schools and families can improve this process.


Jennifer Jones, CPS Parent of 2, Raise Your Hand Action Board

I’m pleased to share several findings & recommendations from the report (High School Application and Placement for Chicago Public School Students with Disabilities) Jennie Biggs introduced.

Through our research we have confirmed that with the current application system and resources, finding information about high school programs for students with disabilities is incredibly difficult. We recommend CPS develops a publicly accessible, searchable database that includes details like: all High School programs at a given school; application and acceptance criteria for each program; and facilities information. We received feedback that open houses are not geared to students with disabilities and present little information about programs and supports. We ask for appropriate access to High School tours and open houses at all schools. This includes universal access and information about sped services on all general tours, creation of separate tours specifically for students with disabilities, and sped programming virtual tour development.

We also found that there is a lack of quality indicators for parents of students with disabilities to make school selections. We recommend that CPS provide both opportunities (such as, learning supports, services, opportunities for inclusion) and outcomes for students with disabilities by developing a set of quality indicators for monitoring sped programs at the individual school level. Parents and researchers should be included in development of these indicators.

Understanding the placement process is a critical aspect in deciding where students should apply for High School. We found that CPS families and staff lack understanding about the High School placement process for students with disabilities. We recommend that CPS clarifies the process for High School placement for students with extensive support needs by: making the list of all programs public; clarifying when and why students don’t use GoCPS for placement; and clarifying all possible placement options. Families deserve choice and understanding of all available options. They need to be fully included in placement decisions.

Thank you for your attention. My collaborator, will share our remaining findings and recommendations.


Dr. Federico Waitoller, Associate Professor in the Department of Special Education, University of Illinois-Chicago

Hello my name is Federico Waitoller. I am an associate professor in the Department of Special Education at the University of Illinois-Chicago. I'm going to expand on some of the findings and recommendations from a report that was discussed earlier by two parents from the organization Raise Your Hand and that focused on high school options for students with disabilities (SWD).

We found that , test scores as a primary admission criteria for High Schools reduces school options for SWD.

Through analysis of the CPS HS Program List obtained from the CPS website, we found that the incredible weight given to test scores is clearly a barrier to High School program access for SWD. Of the 298, 93 schools (31%) require and consider NWEA scores in the application. These requirements are clear obstacles for SWD and their parents at the time of considering and applying to High School and can significantly reduce the school options for SWD.

Accordingly, we recommend to CPS to allow Individual Educational Program (IEP) teams to decide if NWEA test scores are appropriate criteria to use for placement in High School programs. And waive NWEA requirements when the IEP team recommends a high school that fits the individual needs of the child in the Least Restrictive Environment.

We also found that transition planning is an opportunity for improving High School application and placement for SWD..

However, parents in focus groups and completing our survey mentioned that Counselors or Case Managers did not know all possible placement options for children with disabilities, and that in some cases some information was treated as a secret just to be shared with a few.

Transition teams (including parents, counselors and case managers) need to understand greater detail about offerings at High Schools in order to make decisions on where to apply. This includes access to the Least Restrictive Environment with respect to services, service delivery models, academic format and access to career pathways that are most appropriate, given the nature of the student’s needs, strengths and interests.

School Counselors and Case Managers need to play a key role supporting parents and SWD while selecting a school.

Accordingly, we recommend CPS create a training protocol for Elementary School Case Managers and Counselors to understand the High School application and placement process for students with SPED needs.