Collect and Analyze Accurate Data to Make the Most of Your Budget
Would you even consider driving a car without a working dashboard?
Probably not. How would you know if the engine was working properly? Whether you had enough gas? How fast you were going?
Yet too many school administrators, responsible for their districts’ special education spending and regulatory compliance, are “driving without a dashboard” as they manage their district’s related services programs.
Are you one of them?
Yes, you get monthly bills stating how many hours therapists worked. You may even get a list of students who got special education services.
But how usable is that information? Does it tell you whether the services are really meeting your students’ needs? Does it give you a clear picture of emerging trends and how well your program can handle them?
Not enough data leads to too much anxiety!
We know. We felt it when Pediatric Therapeutic Services (PTS) was expanding rapidly.
We had no way to be out in the field every week with every therapist working for the company. Even the on-site observations we could do didn’t give us the ability to predict what our client districts’ programs would need going forward.
We had to have an easy, cost-effective, accurate way to track data on the services being delivered, so school administrators could analyze and, most importantly, act on the information.
So we created one—and it’s still a key component of our service model today.
It’s called BudgetWatch,™ and it’s the “dashboard” you need to drive your district’s program to increased reach and effectiveness without increased costs.
BudgetWatch™ Technology in Action
How does BudgetWatch™ help you manage your district’s spending on special education? Here’s a case study to consider.
After seeing one of our client district’s speech costs go up, we used this bar graph to analyze the impact of the client’s new Developmental Kindergarten. The data revealed additional Kindergarten billing accounted for 100% of the increase.
The district had been able to meet nearly a dozen significantly involved students’ programming needs without resorting to out-of-district placements. With those placements running $50,000-$80,000 each, a mere $15,000 increase in speech costs suddenly looked terrific!
Thanks to our BudgetWatch™ technology, we were even able to track those 11 specific students’ current costs and calculate the actual savings for the Special Education Director. Her brave move to start a new program, especially when special education funding issues are top of mind for superintendents and school boards, saved her district hundreds of thousands of dollars—and she had data to prove it.
Using BudgetWatch™ Data as a Compass
We collect data on our clients’ programs from day one of working with them. But we’ve found the information becomes really relevant and valuable once we do a year-to-year comparison in year two. As the bar graph above illustrates, side-by-side comparisons can quickly make clear how changes in policy and procedure affect special education spending.
We worked with a district client that implemented block scheduling. Therapists could now only see students in a given grade for a single, one-hour block per day.
BudgetWatch™ reports showed us a sudden spike in costs for all therapy types and revealed the block scheduling had greatly reduced therapists’ ability to create efficient schedules. The change had made forming small groups harder, and created times when therapists couldn’t schedule any sessions at all.
Because the reports isolated the cost increase due to block scheduling, the district’s Director of Special Education was able to negotiate some much-needed scheduling flexibility for the therapy team.
When you collect data over three to four school years, you can track trends, predict where various metrics will head, and make an appropriate staffing plan. Predictive analytics can also help identify opportunities for savings by isolating less efficient parts of the program.
Get Good Data By Keeping Collection Simple
If there’s one thing we’ve learned in our adventures with technology, it’s this: People are NOT good about inputting accurate data.
Anyone whose district uses an online IEP system knows how many fields get left blank and boxes go unchecked. Entering data into a system is just “one more thing” no one has time to do. They need a big incentive to do it and to do it right.
That’s why PTS built the BudgetWatch™ system around therapist billing. Therapists must enter their data correctly to get paid! And by combining billing and data collection, we didn’t give an even greater administrative burden to our therapists, which they definitely appreciate.
What’s the moral of our story? Be sure to follow the KISS principle, as we did: ”Keep It Super Simple!”
Five More Tips for Data Collection in Special Education Programs
Here are a few more suggestions to help you stop driving your school district’s program without a dashboard:
- Use Your Existing IEP Platform’s Capabilities
While several of these systems don’t allow many reporting options, you should be able to see trends in the amount of service on IEPs, the sizes of caseloads, and the number of students coming on and off various kinds of services.
- Collect Data on What Matters Most
Focus on data that help you make your most pressing management decisions. Is cost your big issue? What are the main issues driving costs in the wrong direction? Once you start collecting data you may realize, as we often have, they’re not what you’d think.
- Analyze Data at the School Building Level
Each school runs slightly differently. Knowing how each building allocates resources can be very eye-opening, and can help you highlight problems with process and efficiency.
- Don’t Overlook Referrals
Enlist your team’s help in tracking data on referrals for evaluations. Referrals ultimately drive the number of special education students served, and therefore your program’s total costs.
- Make the Most of Data You Already Have
You don’t have to wait until your perfect data collection system is in place to start making progress monitoring your special education program. Leverage your existing information technology and share your findings. Somewhere in all those numbers, you’ll likely find ways to make your program better while saving money!
Let PTS Help You Make Data-Driven Spending Decisions
If you’re ready to find even more opportunities for strengthening your program while controlling your special education spending, claim your Free Related Services Audit from PTS.
By looking at your data for you and your related services provider’s latest monthly invoice, we’ll point out immediate steps you can take to maximize your budget and serve your students more effectively.
Click here to claim your Free Related Services Audit today.