External Reviews - Audits From Outside FCPS

The Office of Auditor General (OAG) manages audits on FCPS by external agencies or organizations

Special Education Review 

FCPS is committed to fostering a responsive, caring, and inclusive culture where our students and staff feel seen, valued, and supported. 

At the request of the School Board, FCPS Office of Auditor General engaged a consultant to conduct an independent, third-party review of FCPS’ special education program. The contract was awarded to the American Institutes for Research® (AIR) in October 2020. The comprehensive review is divided into two phases, both of which include data collection, data analysis, and reporting. We are currently in the second phase. 

AIR presented their final report during the School Board’s October 4 work session. Key findings include:

  • Data-Driven IEP Development: FCPS needs standardized processes and guidance to help staff develop Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) that are based in data, encourage the collaboration and input of families, and include meaningful methods of reporting progress.
  • Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS): FCPS should ensure school-level fidelity of MTSS implementation in academics and behavior while clarifying relationships among MTSS, local screening, and special education.
  • Instructional Supports and Resources: FCPS should prioritize equity and consistency in school-level programming with a focus on high-quality instruction in inclusive settings.
  • Staff Supports and Resources: FCPS can improve personnel retention efforts by ensuring manageability of caseloads, class sizes, and workloads and improve personnel recruitment efforts by providing detailed information for prospective special education employees.
  • Professional Learning Systems: FCPS needs a comprehensive, division-wide professional development plan with differentiated offerings by staff role.
  • Communications and Stakeholder Engagement: FCPS needs to establish consistent procedures for communication at the division level and between schools, families, and staff, with a focus on ensuring equitable access to translation services and improved understanding of the process. 

The graphic below shows the timeline for each of the two phases of the review. More details about elements in the graphic are included in the written section below.

timeline for phases of contractors report on special education

Special Education Comprehensive Review Goals

  1. Evaluate the system’s design, structure, and established processes. 
  2. Evaluate the adequacy of human capital resources. 
  3. Analyze the alignment of services with evidence-based practices.
  4. Evaluate the effectiveness of communication with stakeholders.

Year 1 Plan

The interim report summarizes emerging themes from Phase I data collection activities, including areas of strength and areas of focus referenced above.

Phase 1 data collection included:

  • Extant data on special education programming and student performance.
  • Documents related to FCPS infrastructure, strategic planning, guidance on policies and procedures, professional development offerings, and documentation of stakeholder feedback.
  • A review of IEPs for a randomly selected, representative sample of 300 students with disabilities.
  • School staff survey.
  • Survey of parents of students with IEPs and Section 504 plans.
  • Two focus groups with selected Central Office and school-based administrators leaders. 

Year 2 Plan

  • The two major data collection tasks in the second year of the project will be stakeholder focus groups and on-site classroom observations.
  • AIR will conduct 40 focus groups with a range of participants including parents of students with disabilities, teachers, administrators, and instructional support staff. 
  • Focus groups will address targeted topics pertaining to special education programming, instruction, human resources, and communication. 
  • AIR will randomly select participants for the groups based on the topic. Focus groups will occur between January and May 2022 and will be conducted virtually.
  • Additionally, AIR will perform 150 classroom observations across 50 schools between January and May 2022. Schools and classrooms will be chosen for observation via a random, representative sampling process. 

Special Education Review Timeline

December 2019: School Board forum topic requested Office of Auditor General (OAG) to amend the annual audit plan to include a review of FCPS special education services.

May 2020: FCPS issued RFP to solicit proposals for the provision of a comprehensive review of FCPS special education services. 

October 2020: FCPS engaged the American Institutes for Research® (AIR) to conduct an independent, third-party review of its special education program. 


December 2020-March 2021: Data collection

April-June 2021: Data analysis

September 21, 2021: AIR presented the Year 1 interim report and presentation document at a  School Board work session.


October 2021-May 2022: Data collection

November 2021: Based upon the feedback collected from the School Board in the September 2021 work session, the Audit Committee recommended additional funding for the Year 2 for stakeholder focus groups, classroom observations, and extant data analysis totaling $87,443. The Board voted to approve the modification. The original contract value was $375,398.  

January-May 2022: Year 2 focus groups conducted virtually.

June-September 2022: Data analysis