The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has issued a report on special education titled “Improved Performance Measures Could Enhance Oversight of Dispute Resolution.” According to the GAO report, from 2004-2012 the number of special education due process hearings substantially decreased nationwide as a result of steep declines in New York, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia.

Officials in these locations attributed these declines to greater use of mediation and resolution meetings, which are meetings that the IDEA has required states to implement since 2004. However, the GAO report did not explain why these three locations saw such dramatic results while other states did not see similarly dramatic reductions.

In its report, the GAO analyzed federal dispute resolution data from 2004 to 2012, conducted a national survey, compared the Department of Education’s performance measures to leading practices, and interviewed Department of Education officials and stakeholders. The GAO survey found that states and territories used mediation, resolution meetings and other methods to facilitate early resolution of disputes and to avoid potentially adversarial due process hearings.

Some officials noted that the lack of awareness of these alternative methods limited the ability of school districts to expand their use, but efforts are being made with various forms of outreach, such as disseminating information through parent organizations.

The GAO recommends that the Department of Education improve measures for overseeing states’ dispute resolution performance, including being more transparent with data on due process hearing decisions and parental involvement data. Interesting, the Department of Education neither agreed nor disagreed with these recommendations, and the GAO did not believe that its proposals would address “the weaknesses in the Department of Education performance measures.”