Special Education Services

Focused Monitoring

Focused Monitoring =
Key Educational Procedures and Practices (federal and state regulations)
Educational Benefit (evidence based practices to positively impact student results)

Federal and state laws require the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) to monitor and enforce special education regulations.  The primary focus of the required general supervision activities is improved education results and functional outcomes for all students with disabilities.   Focused monitoring is one process that the ISBE uses to implement special education general supervision requirements.

Focused monitoring is a data-driven approach to monitoring that focuses on a small number of carefully chosen priorities that have demonstrated the greatest impact on improving results for students with disabilities.  This process purposefully selects priority areas to examine for compliance/results to maximize resources, emphasize important variables and increase the probability of improved results - i.e., improved student performance.  This approach is a shift from a culture of compliance to a culture of accountability.  It places the focus of a monitoring review on results versus process. 

The identification of findings of noncompliance is also data-driven.  Any finding of noncompliance is based on the data collected and triangulated through the focused monitoring process.  The ISBE team leader collects and reviews data submitted by the district, conflict resolution data, staff interviews and surveys, parent surveys, student file reviews, any classroom observations that may be completed, and information gathered at the public forum.

In an effort to promote collaboration and to ensure commitment and ownership on the part of the district, the ISBE involves the district’s superintendent throughout the on-site monitoring visit and improvement/corrective action process.  District interdisciplinary teams develop an improvement plan to address and correct the identified findings of noncompliance.  ISBE team leaders are available for guidance and to provide information on other resources and best practices.


Priority Area
Critical Performance Indicator 5A of the State Performance Plan (SPP) addresses the educational environment of students with disabilities, specifically:
  • Free appropriate public education (FAPE) in the Least Restrictive Environment, and
  • The percentage of students with disabilities, ages 6-21, inside the general education classroom 80% or more of the school day.

The focused monitoring priority area is determined based on the State Performance Plan, which includes 20 critical performance indicators.   Illinois school districts are required to submit annual reports on specific special education data related to each critical performance indicator.  The ISBE utilizes that data to rank school districts on the focused monitoring critical performance indicator.  Because districts are selected for a focused monitoring on-site review based on the data they report to the state, the importance of accurate district data is evident. 

The critical performance indicator 5A, Educational Environment (EE), has been chosen from the indicator pool as the priority area for focused monitoring.  Districts are selected for focused monitoring specifically on the percentage of students in the general education setting for 80% or more of the school day.



llinois School District Selection Based on District Type and Size
Like Group
Enrollment Range
Number of Districts
Number of Districts/Schools Selected
Group 1
Small Elementary Districts
Less than 284
Group 2
Medium Elementary Districts
284 – 1,881
Group 3
Large Elementary Districts
More than 1,881
Group 4
Small Unit Districts
Less than 546
Group 5
Medium Unit Districts
546 – 1,907
Group 6
Large Unit Districts
More than 1,907*
Group 7
High School Districts
All districts included
Group 8
Chicago Public Schools

* Large Unit District data does not include Chicago Public School data

Districts are selected for a focused monitoring review based on their ranking by the priority area within their enrollment range. Those districts in each group with the lowest percentage of students inside the general classroom 80% or more of the school day receive an on-site review. Selection for the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) uses the same priority area but at the school building level.

Districts/schools are selected for an on-site focused monitoring review based on their ranking within their group on the selected performance indicator. Using district-supplied data, the ISBE generates a Critical Performance Indicator Comparison report. Those districts/schools in each group performing lowest on the critical performance indicator will receive an on-site review.

Each district/school is ranked on the percent of students with disabilities served under EE code 01 (inside the general education classroom 80% or more of the school day). The minimum required N size is 30 total students with IEPs in the district. If there are no districts (or very few districts) within a cluster that meet the N size, districts will be selected randomly from that cluster. 

Any ties in district data are reconciled by selecting the district serving the largest number of students with disabilities.

Selected districts/schools have an opportunity to appeal their selection for an on-site review by submitting their appeal and supporting documentation to ISBE.  Appeals will not be granted for the following reasons:

  • a district submitted inaccurate data to ISBE
  • a dispute with the process and measurements used to select districts

If a selected district can provide overwhelming evidence that the reason for selection was due to data collection and reporting errors or the district has plausible reasons for the data, the next district on the list will be selected. The written evidence must be submitted to ISBE within the timelines prescribed in the notification letter to the district.


Focused Monitoring Teams

Focused monitoring on-site teams are comprised of an ISBE team leader, ISBE Special Education Services Division staff, peer and parent. Peer monitors are included on the on-site review for two purposes: (1) to assist ISBE in performing the focused monitoring process, and (2) to provide district personnel an opportunity to learn the process in order to inform and train their own district staff on the focused monitoring expectations and procedures.

Peer members are typically employed by a school district or special education cooperative and have a working knowledge of special education. University faculty and others may function as team members at the discretion of the team leader. Parent members of the team are generally employees of the ISBE parent mentor project. All parent team members are a parent of student with a disability and receive annual training by the focused monitoring team leaders. Parents are full team members during the on-site visit and they are responsible for facilitating a portion of the public forum. All parent and peer team members are required to complete annual training to participate in an on-site visit.

Illinois districts are encouraged to support administrators and parents who may be interested in becoming a focused monitoring team member. Such participation not only assists ISBE in performing the focused monitoring process, but also provides district administrators and parents an opportunity to learn the process in order to inform and train their own district staff on the focused monitoring expectations and procedures.


Public Forums

Each on-site focused monitoring visit includes a public forum. The purpose of the public forum is to collect constructive feedback from parents of students with disabilities and community stakeholders to identify contributing factors for district performance on critical performance indicators. Parents and community stakeholders are given an opportunity to understand the focused monitoring process and provide input regarding the educational environment.

The forum is facilitated by the team leader and the parent member of the team. The meeting begins with an explanation of the focused monitoring review, including reinforcing that the purpose of the meeting is to obtain input on the particular indicator being investigated. The parent team member facilitates the portion of the forum that specifically relates to parent input on the critical performance indicator.  The team leader and other team members assist in maintaining the focus of the forum and collecting information from attendees.


Final Report

Following an on-site visit, the ISBE team leader develops a final report which is issued to the district within 45 calendar days of the visit. The final report presents conclusions based on the data collected and analyzed through the focused monitoring review and includes the following components:

  • Methodology
  • District strengths
  • Findings related to indicator
  • Year of Correction
  • Improvement Plan
  • Year of Change

Focused monitoring is based on a two-tiered system of improvement for districts: (1) improvement plans are developed and implemented within the first year of the final report to meet the required evidence of correction, and (2) improved outcomes/performance as evidenced in data two years from the date of the final report and which demonstrates the required evidence of change. The evidence of correction of the selected critical performance indicator and evidence of change are designed to ensure that modifications have been made and will lead to improved performance on the indicator as reflected in the district’s data.

Evidence of correction is the first year of the process, during which time the district develops and implements the district improvement plan and corrects the areas that were identified as noncompliant. A district must provide evidence of correction of the supporting evidence that is specific to the critical performance indicator within one year from the date of the final report.

Evidence of change is verified through district-level data that is specific to the selection data. The data analysis is conducted demonstrate the required evidence of change two years from the date of the final report. The data change is specific to the critical performance area; the ISBE prescribes the specific data change the district must demonstrate in order to be released from focused monitoring status. The evidence of change is designed to ensure that changes have been made within the district that have ultimately led to improved performance on the indicator as reflected in the district’s data.


Improvement Plans

School districts with identified findings of noncompliance are required to develop and implement activities into their new or existing district improvement plan to correct the noncompliance. The plan must be developed by the district team in order to assure that the improvement plan is comprehensive, interdisciplinary, and district-wide. Each plan must include activities aimed at students, staff, and parents that will address and correct the noncompliance within the one-year period. The plan must not be a uniquely special education response developed in isolation from other district initiatives.

In developing the district improvement plan, the district team must review the findings, supporting evidence, required corrective action, and the evidence of change identified in the final report. The supporting evidence contains the specific reasons why the district was found to be identified for needing professional development and technical assistance. It is critical that the improvement plan activities are directly tied to the supporting evidence. This ensures that the improvement plan activities are responsive and directly tailored to the district’s specific needs that led to their selection and identification of findings of noncompliance.

Each improvement plan must be approved by the ISBE team leader and local school board. The district submits improvement plan progress reports to the ISBE throughout the year of the correction process. The ISBE team leader is available as a resource to the district throughout the development and implementation of the improvement plan.


Resources (11/6/15)
Note: If you experience any difficulty viewing the video segments please refer to our Video Tips document.

  • LEA Focused Monitoring Selection 2015-2016 Webinar for sd 299 selected schools new
    September 25, 2015
  • Webinar Videovideo format (37:40)
  • LEA Focused Monitoring Selection 2015-2016 Webinar
    September 10, 2015
  • Webinar Videovideo format (33:20)
  • Focused Monitoring Peer/Parent Webinar
    September 24, 2013
  • Webinar Videovideo format (32:30)
  • CPS School Focused Monitoring Selection 2014-2015 Webinar
    October 23, 2014
  • Webinar Videovideo format (17:11)
  • PowerPoint Presentation PDF format


For further information, please contact Special Education Services at 217/782-5589.