CT-SEDS, the state’s new special education data system, has been the bane of special education teachers across Connecticut this year, causing extreme frustration, burnout, and forcing some teachers out of the profession.
At CEA’s urging, the State Department of Education (SDE) is holding CT-SEDS Fix-It Forums around the state right now to allow special education teachers to share the problems they are facing and offer suggestions for making the platform better.
A teacher at last Thursday’s forum at CREC headquarters in Hartford spoke for special educators across the state when she said to applause, “Everybody has this question—why was this released with so many glitches?”
She continued, “Most of us want to quit. We don’t want to be doing this anymore. This new platform is full of bugs and extremely onerous, and I don’t have the time in my schedule to be doing the amount of work it takes now to do one IEP.”
Bryan Klimkiewicz, special education division director for the SDE, acknowledged the many problems special education teachers have faced with CT-SEDS, which he said has added to the burden they were already facing due to educator shortages, increasing case loads, and the lingering effects of the pandemic on students and teachers.
“You’re all heroes for the work you do with your students,” he said. “One of the areas I know I need to improve on is open lines of communication with teachers.”
He said his team is focused on improving CT-SEDS and the IEP writing process for teachers and asked educators attending the forum to share what they valued about the old system, what’s missing from the new system, as well as aspects of the new system that they value.
Listing all the issues
The thirty plus educators attending the Hartford forum sat at tables with others who teach at the same grade level and talked through the issues they’re facing. After their discussion, each table shared major themes that came out in their conversation.
Some of the major problems special education teachers identified that need to be fixed with CT-SEDS include the following.
- A lack of autosave causes teachers to frequently lose their work.
- Start and end dates for IEPs are frequently incorrect.
- When writing goals and objectives, the window blocks teachers’ ability to see what they’ve already entered.
- The process for categorizing accommodations is cumbersome and, when printed out, the accommodations are no longer categorized.
- More support through a help desk phone number or chat is needed.
- The processes need to be simplified.
Teachers said the previous system they used saved their work automatically. With CT-SEDS, sometimes a green save icon appears, but the text entered is not always actually saved.
“It should autosave,” a teacher said. “A kid walks in to talk to you for three minutes and suddenly everything you’ve entered is gone.”
“Goals and objectives are what takes everyone the most time,” a teacher said. “Not being able to see what you entered is a big problem. The window that comes up blocks everything behind it. We’re all doing this work in five minutes here, 10 there, so we lose track of what objective we’re on and can’t see anything behind the window. It would be great to just have a nice big window that allows you to see everything at once.”
“I write everything out in a Google Doc and copy and paste it, but it’s still so time consuming because I have to paste the same beginning section every time,” another teacher said.
“Why are we spending so much time categorizing these accommodations when they print out as one uncategorized list?” another asked.
A colleague responded that a great fix to the problem would be to have the list of accommodation categories provided as a checklist or drop down, “That would save hours of time.”
“Those categories of accommodations are useful when talking with general education teachers,” another said. “It would help if those were listed within the IEP when it comes out and is shared with other teachers.”
“I have a student that I need to exit from special education,” a teacher shared. “I looked at the document that described the 16-step process to do so and I had to cry.”
In the previous system educators used, exiting a student only required checking a single box that indicated a student no longer qualified for special education services. The teachers urged a return to a similarly simple solution.
Educators shared that they are working nights and weekends due to the onerous nature of CT-SEDS and still falling out of compliance with students’ IEPs. One teacher shared that educators in her district have found it takes 4-6 hours to complete one typical IEP and 10-12 hours to finish a complex one.
“Why don’t we have an 800 number we can call at 2 a.m. when we’re working on IEPs?” a teacher asked.
Currently educators have to submit a request through a portal for support with CT-SEDS, and many have reported waiting over a week for a response, by which time a student’s IEP is out of compliance with timelines required by federal law.
Teachers also raised the concern that the IEP at a glance (the abbreviated document that provides a quick reference to a student’s IEP) generated by the platform doesn’t match the new IEP information entered. Kim Bean, the SDE’s Bureau of Special Education project manager, said that that issue will be resolved soon, and going forward, when an IEP at a glance is generated, it will be pulled from the active IEP.
Educators said that the videos provided to help them learn different aspects of CT-SEDS are often not helpful and require significant time to look through to find the answer to a simple question.
Klimkiewicz said that later this month a new feature will be released that will allow help documents and videos to be searchable.
“You have more of these Fix-It sessions next week, please don’t wait to take action on what we’ve shared,” a teacher urged. “People want to feel like something’s happening now.”
Klimkiewicz said that the SDE is collecting the information teachers share at the forums and sorting it into themes. “We’ll be sharing those back out with participants and also looking at them internally with our team and sharing them with PCG [the company that developed CT-SEDS]. We have a list of enhancements we’re working on for release and we want to match those to the issues you’ve identified and make sure we’re prioritizing the right issues.”
A teacher expressed surprise that more special education teachers hadn’t come out to the forum. “I’m worried we’re missing great feedback,” she said. “Between childcare and eldercare responsibilities and second and third jobs, lots of teachers can’t come to these sessions. I’d like to see a portal or email address or similar set up so that every special education clinician in the state can offer feedback, because we know we’re missing great feedback that could make all of our lives so much better.”
Another teacher said that through the forum teachers covered the main problems with CT-SEDS. “One thing I haven’t heard anything about though, is that I see a million requirements of teachers and none of districts. What can you do to make sure distrusts require protected time for writing IEPs and other paperwork? The state and federal governments have required us to do more than there is time for in a day.”
“I feel better knowing so many of us are struggling with this, that you’ve given us this forum, and that you’re hearing what we have to say. It’s been a dreadful year,” a teacher said. “There needs to be time to do this work and do it well.”