Special Ed. and NCLB
- To: ARN State <email@example.com>, ARN Main List <firstname.lastname@example.org>
- Subject: Special Ed. and NCLB
- From: Bob Schaeffer <email@example.com>
- Date: Wed, 11 Jun 2003 13:43:18 -0400
- User-agent: Mozilla/5.0 (Windows; U; Win98; en-US; rv:1.0.2) Gecko/20021120 Netscape/7.01
Though this story is about one state, the implications are national.
Parents (and teachers) of special education students should be our
natural allies in our work to overhaul NCLB and state high-stakes
testing programs. But we have to do outreach that recognizes these
constituencies' unique concerns as well as the areas of overlap.
WHERE DOES SPECIAL EDUCATION FIT?
GOAL OF NEW FEDERAL LAW IS THAT EVERY CHILD SCORES AS PROFICIENT BY 2014
Deseret Morning News -- Salt Lake City
June 10, 2003
The federal government wants to leave no child behind in school. But
when the student is in special education, is there any way to get ahead?
It's a question being asked, and argued, nationwide, as the No Child
Left Behind Act extends sanctions to schools with stagnant test scores
and as policymakers hash out regulations on how states should apply the law.
The national goal is to ensure every child in every group, from children
who speak little English to those living in poverty, scores as
proficient on state tests by 2014.
So far, 31 percent of Utah third- through eighth-graders with
disabilities, which could range from speech therapy to learning
disabilities, have achieved those ranks in language arts on the state
core curriculum test, which is used to comply with NCLB. Twenty-eight
percent are proficient in math.
Clearly, special education students have a long ways to go. And some
education officials say many them don't have the means, at least within
NCLB regulations, to get there.
The 2001 No Child Left Behind Act is based on the idea all children can
achieve. It requires test scores for every student group be publicized,
mainly to give schools incentive to examine their practices and make
improvements. Schools whose test scores don't progress face sanctions.
"The aim is to help ensure these kids are not just disregarded by the
school districts," said Christine Wolfe, director of policy for the U.S.
Department of Education in the Office of the Undersecretary. "Once you
put high standards in place, you see achievement gains."
Carol Murphy, staff attorney at Utah's Disability Law Center, which
often takes on complaints aimed at getting schools to live up to
students' rights under the federal Individuals with Disabilities
Education Act, believes the law has merit.
"I think there are some advantages . . . in that (special education
students') progress or lack of progress is easier to track, and it's
easier to see trends and room for improvement and problem areas," she
said. "I think done correctly, there are some potential advantages for all."
But some educators don't think NCLB can be fairly applied to all groups
— particularly, those with limited English skills and those who receive
special education services.
Non-English speakers have boosted overall scores over time. On the 2001
core curriculum test, students categorized as formerly limited in
English proficiency outperformed native English speakers in 11 of 23
published test results.
Education officials acknowledge some special education students in Utah
could be held to a higher standard, and would show progress on state
tests under NCLB, too. But not all.
"What we're finding is that we have a large number of students with
disabilities who are taking core assessments and that with the
appropriate accommodations (such as larger print or extra time, as
allowed by law), many are scoring proficient and near proficient. Those
things are helping many students to show they've learned the skills,"
said Karl Wilson, state director of at-risk student services.
"But we're also finding as students move up through the grades . . . the
gap between their disabilities and their peer group (grows)."
And that leads to a whole new set of fears that many of Utah's 56,000
special education students will be viewed as dead weight in schools'
climb up the test score ladder.
"These kids have severe disabilities and probably never will be on par
with other kids," said Tinia Drennan, special education teacher at South
Jordan Elementary School, who teaches students who have had little
success in regular education and resource classes. But, she adds: "These
aren't kids who have been left behind, forgotten, or who have fallen
through the cracks."
Special education students have Individual Education Plans, with goals
drafted by their teachers and parents. Teachers meet with parents
regularly during the year to share test scores, concerns, or update
goals — and that's being held plenty accountable, Drennan said.
Drennan's 12 fourth- through sixth-graders have learning disabilities
and communicative disorders, but regular intellectual capabilities.
Many are visual learners and keen reasoners, but their brains don't
process language information the same way a regular education student's
can. And that stifles their learning, and ability to do well on
So Drennan expects to see tears when these year-round students take
statewide core curriculum tests next week.
Some kids, she says, will crumple up their exams. Others, unable to
guess or just move on to the next question if they don't know the
answer, will be overcome by anxiety.
"It breaks everyone's hearts to think that their work is going to be
invalidated" by the test. "How do you work toward an unattainable goal?"
But some believe the goal is actually within reach, particularly
considering NCLB's wiggle room.
Instead of taking the regular grade-level test, 1 percent of a school
district's population could take an alternative test. The alternative
test would be on the individual student's level, and their performance
will be interpreted as if they took the real grade-level test on
district overall scores, under proposed NCLB rules.
The figure is based on the education department's calculation of the
national incidence rate for severe mental retardation. The department
has taken public comment on the proposal, which will weigh into the
finalized rule, Wolfe said.
Utah's testing coordinator, however, says the proposed 1 percent rule
won't catch all the students that need the exemption.
"We have . . . the severely disabled, and kids who are able, and the
in-between kids," Louise Moulding said. "We're trying to let the very,
very bottom of the in-between kids take the alternative assessment, but
the vast bulk of those in-between kids (would) take the tests on grade
level. What we want is appropriate assessment for those students."
However, more than 1 percent of the population can use alternative
assessments, Wolfe said. Still, it appears under the proposal that the
spillover scores likely would count against overall district scores.
Also, proposed rules would allow school districts to ask for a larger
waiver if more than 1 percent of their student population is severely
Cal Evans, Jordan School District's director of compliance, plans to
apply for more exemptions as they surface.
"If there's a student who's really disabled, and they request an
alternative assessment in my district, they're going to get it," he
said. "These kids . . . already have challenges that marginalize them
with their peers, that makes them not as valued. And this is one more
thing, and I just don't like that."
Wilson has concerns, too. He hopes to find a way to let some special
education students demonstrate what they know outside of a standardized
test. That way, people will really know what special education students
have learned and can do.
But that will be difficult under NCLB. Standardization, after all, is
the foundation of the accountability system.
Other school districts nationwide are expected to follow Evans' lead,
and seek exemptions for students with disabilities outside the 1 percent
And if they're not all granted? Evans says he'll cross that bridge when
he comes to it.
"In this business, it's about having convictions about what you believe in."
Post a Message to arn-l: