Feb. 22, 2017
By Brianna Calix
A group of students who make up more than 11 percent of Merced County’s enrollment was at the center of attention Wednesday during a presentation of the Merced County Office of Education’s annual report.
The roughly 5,000 students with special needs participate in more than 70 special day classes for those who have disabilities ranging from speech and language impairments to autism.
“The American model of education is an inclusive one,” said Steve Tietjen, county superintendent of schools, addressing the audience. “(It’s) one that cherishes the differences that exist among our students and help us to learn how to live together in our uniquely American society.”
The event highlighted county education statistics such as test scores, graduation rates and student demographics. The history of special education and various programs the county offers were featured in three video segments shown to the crowd of public officials, school administrators, community members and parents.
In the video segments, Susan Coston, MCOE assistant superintendent for special education, discussed early intervention programs, community partnerships and the concept behind many programs.
“They’re not their disability,” Coston said. “They’re a person first.”
The 2016 report showed that half of the county’s special ed students have a specific learning disability, 16 percent have a speech or language impairment, 12 percent have autism and 12 percent have an intellectual disability.
Before the presentation began, Tietjen addressed concerns he said he received regarding standards, assessments and student information under the new presidential administration.
Standards and assessments are adopted at the state level and will remain the same, Tietjen said, and student information is not shared.
“Merced County educators are here to protect the privacy of students,” he said.
In total, student enrollment in Merced County is about 58,000. More than 70 percent of students are Hispanic. El Nido Elementary School serves the highest percentage of English learners and Plainsburg the fewest.
Merced County schools’ budget was up $25 million in 2016, reaching nearly $650 million.
The county’s high school graduation rate also is climbing, hovering near 90 percent. Tietjen said a partnership between UC Merced and the Merced County District Attorney’s Office, a program called Merced County Project 10%, is contributing to the rise in graduation rates.
County scores on state tests remain low since the new California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress system was established in 2014. In English language arts and literacy, 38 percent of students countywide met or exceeded the standard, while 23 percent met or exceeded the standard in math, state data shows.