Special Education Program Reviews

Teacher with elementary school students

Program reviews, also known as audits or program evaluations, can help district leaders learn which areas of a program are working well and what needs improvement.

AIR’s team of experts partners with districts across the country to conduct customized reviews of special education programs that yield actionable recommendations for continuous improvement. We can help you:

  • Strengthen your district’s special education program;
  • Decide where to prioritize your efforts;
  • Find research- and policy-based suggestions for improving services; and
  • Develop innovative strategies for addressing issues.

What does a special education program review, evaluation, or audit look like?

The goal of a program review is to examine the legal compliance, instructional quality, and effectiveness of a special education program. These reviews identify strengths, areas in need of improvement, and recommendations for addressing prioritized needs.

Reviews vary based on district needs:

  • Duration: From several months up to multiple years.
  • Focus: Special education only or part of a larger educational review.
  • Approach: Examine current practice, trends over time, or performance across sites using different data sources (see sidebar).

Program reviews may include some or all of the following data sources:

  • Extant data (e.g., student demographics, achievement or graduation data)
  • Document review (e.g., procedural documents, professional learning plans)
  • Individualized Education Program (IEP) review
  • Feedback from key informants (e.g., parents, staff)
    • Surveys
    • Interviews
    • Focus groups
  • Observations of instruction

Why choose AIR’s special education program review team?

If you have questions or would like to learn more, please email us.
  • We have more than 25 years of experience providing special education consulting and evaluation services at the federal, state, district, and school levels.
  • We use a research-based approach, grounded in an understanding of special education law and best practice, to identify strengths, areas in need of improvement, and recommendations.
  • We have conducted comprehensive, mixed methods program reviews for widely varied districts ranging from single-school districts with fewer than 200 students to some of the largest districts in the U.S.
  • We adapt established data collection protocols to specific district contexts and evaluation priorities, making our reviews both efficient and customized.
  • Our team includes former hearing officers, administrators, faculty, school psychologists, and teachers, enabling us to make actionable recommendations based on review findings and, when desired, to provide follow-up implementation support.
  • We use a collaborative approach, partnering with you to tailor our review to your district.

Sample Recent Projects

Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) Special Education Program Review

FCPS, a large and diverse district in Virginia, contracted with AIR to conduct an independent, third-party review of its special education program. This comprehensive review covered four broad goals with respect to FCPS’s special education program: (a) evaluate the system’s design, structure, and established processes; (b) evaluate the adequacy of human capital resources; (c) analyze the alignment of services with evidence-based practices; and (d) evaluate the effectiveness of communication with stakeholders. The comprehensive review of FCPS’s special education program occurred in two phases. Phase I included extant data analysis, document analysis, an audit of a random yet representative sample of individualized education programs (IEPs), staff and parent surveys, and key informant focus groups. Phase I culminated in the delivery of an interim report and presentation to FCPS leadership. Phase II included on-site classroom observations and additional stakeholder focus groups. AIR shared final findings and recommendations in a written report and an oral presentation to FCPS leadership.

Houston Independent School District (HISD) Special Education Program Review

HISD, a large district in Texas, contracted with AIR to conduct a third-party, independent “Special Education Program Review” over a 10-month period. Data sources included extant data on student performance, special education identification and placement, and staffing; district documents; IEPs; staff and parent surveys; and focus groups and interviews with district leaders and school staff. AIR triangulated findings across these data sources to an assessment of HISD’s strengths and recommendations for HISD to consider for improving services for students with disabilities in the district. AIR presented final findings and recommendations in a written report and an oral presentation to the HISD Board of Education.

Shoreline Public Schools (SPS), Washington: Special Education Program Review

The purpose of the special education program review at SPS was to assess the alignment between the structural supports and continuum of services available for students with disabilities and the priorities of the district’s Strategic Instructional Plan and mission statement: “to provide a collaborative learning community which engages all students in learning the academic and work-life skills needed to achieve their individual potential and become responsible citizens.” To examine the extent and nature of the alignment, AIR conducted a mixed method review of the special education program using multiple data sources including focus groups with stakeholders across multiple roles related to special education and surveys of staff and parents. Findings from the review were used to inform the development of a final summative report for SPS leadership.

Rebecca Zumeta Edmonds
Managing Researcher
Laura Kuchle
Senior Researcher
David Bateman
Principal Researcher