Assessing the Outcomes of Charter School Students with Special Needs: Research Design Brief

August 2013

How well do charter schools serve the students with special needs who choose to attend them? Finding the means to answer this question is complicated.

In March 2013, CRPE convened a group of nine experts, from leading economists to special education authorities, to determine the best ways for researchers to assess the learning and socio-emotional outcomes of charter school students with special needs.

Drawing on the panel’s conversations, this brief outlines the challenges associated with producing methodologically sound and practically useful research on how students with special needs fare in charter schools as compared to in district-run schools. These challenges include inconsistent approaches to identifying and tracking students with diverse learning needs, data and methodological limitations, and inconsistencies in state policy.

The authors include a set of recommendations for designing the kind of rigorous research needed to inform policy and practice and help policymakers and the public become wiser consumers of special education charter schools studies.

This brief is part of a series on how charter schools identify special education students. In late September CRPE will publish a report that provides new insights into the factors affecting rates of special education enrollment in New York City charter and district-run schools.