Efforts to limit the administrative burden schools face in serving students in special education have been met with little enthusiasm, a federal investigation finds.

Despite long-running concerns that educators are overwhelmed by the obligations of serving students with disabilities, schools have largely failed to take advantage of several provisions within federal law to minimize their paperwork requirements, according to a new report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

The 2004 reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act included several measures designed to mitigate the administrative responsibilities educators face. But more than a decade later, the GAO found that states and school districts have been reluctant to change their ways.

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No state signed up to take part in a pilot program intended to allow states to use multi-year individualized education programs, or IEPs, for students rather than creating new ones each year. There were also no takers for a pilot that would have waived certain federal paperwork requirements, the GAO report said.

The reasons: states worried that the benefits of participating in the initiatives would be too limited to justify the additional resources and staff that the programs would necessitate. The GAO also found schools were concerned that changes could expose them to lawsuits.

Meanwhile, efforts to create standardized IEP and parent notice forms at the federal level rather than have each state or locality develop its own made little impact, investigators said. Rather, states and districts insisted on using their own approach in order to meet local mandates and ensure “better protection against potential litigation.”

For the report, the GAO conducted focus groups with state and local administrators as well as educators from across the country. Teachers reported spending an hour or two each day dealing with administrative tasks.

“Despite perceived burdens, stakeholders widely acknowledged that IDEA’s requirements play an important role in accountability. For example, educators said the requirements provide information about student strengths and limitations that help them assist the student, while state administrators said requirements aid planning and program development,” the GAO report indicates.

Though schools have not taken advantage of many of the federal efforts to reduce paperwork, the GAO found that electronic documentation has helped. Additionally, some schools have hired data clerks and taken other steps to ease requirements.

In response to the report, Michael Yudin, assistant secretary for special education and rehabilitative services at the U.S. Department of Education, said the agency has worked to limit the reporting it requires from states and he urged administrators to use the agency’s model forms as a guide.

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