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 Article of Interest - Arizona Special Education

Software Aids Special Ed Teachers
Program created by Mesa district to cut paperwork
by Mel Melndez, The Arizona Republic, Feb. 15, 2003
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A Mesa Unified School District software program for special-education teachers could become a chief recruitment tool for the district, while also generating substantial revenue, school officials said.

Designed in-house, the Integrated Special Education Computerized System (ISPED) is a browser-based program that links numerous files required by federal and state laws. The forms include initial referrals, notices, tracking sheets and the Individualized Education Programs (IEP) that detail students' services.

Benefits of the system include teachers spending more time with students, clearer documents for parents, and the ability to hire more teachers, said Joe Zello, the district's special-education director.

Arizona has about 6,500 special-education teachers serving nearly 100,000 students. About 6,300 of those students are taught by nearly 370 Mesa teachers. Still, districts annually scramble to find qualified special-education teachers. They often hire people who are given emergency credentials to teach special education.

Richard Mainzer, a spokesman for the National Clearinghouse for Professions in Special Education, said a recent survey by the group shows teachers' "overload of paperwork" likely fuels the shortage.

"They're frustrated because these forms take considerable time away from their students, which is why they picked this career to begin with," he said. "So using programs that cut back on that manual paperwork is definitely the way to go."

The system will slash hours from teachers' reporting process, said Ryan McLay, a special-education teacher at Franklin Northeast Elementary School.

"Even changing one thing in a child's IEP can require hours of redoing many documents," he said. "On ISPED it's not even an hour, so I'm thrilled."

The system's integrated features should make it easy to market, Zello said.

"It's too early to say yet, but I suspect this could prove to be a substantial revenue source," he added.

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