The report calls for states and districts to include students eligible for special education in all standards-based reform efforts. Moreover, administrators and teachers should be held publicly accountable for how such students are doing, the report released late last month says.
“While the standards-based reform movement unfolds, it is very important that all students be given access to the benefits that are expected from the movement,” said Edward Lee Vargas, the superintendent of the Santa Fe, N.M., district and a member of the congressionally appointed committee that wrote the report. “Too often, because of the nature of special education and the dual system that it operates in, special education is, in practice, eliminated from the strategic planning and implementation of standards.”
More than 5 million students, or about 10 percent of the school-age population, have disabilities and qualify for special education under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The complexity of the laws on education of the disabled often leads educators to place greater emphasis on procedural compliance than on student outcomes, according to the report, “Educating One & All: Students with Disabilities and Standards-Based Reform.”
Compiled by the 17-member committee during the past two years, the report is in line with new provisions of the IDEA approved by Congress in May that require states to include special education students in assessments. (See Education Week, May 21, 1997 and June 4, 1997).
The committee was established by Congress to consider the implications of standards-based reforms for special education students. The NRC is the research arm of the National Academy of Sciences, a congressionally chartered private, nonprofit agency.
“This report comes at the time when states and local districts are looking at how to implement IDEA, and many are right in the middle of coming up with their statewide assessments,” said Nancy D. Safer, the executive director of the Reston, Va.-based Council for Exceptional Children. “Hopefully, this will ensure that people knowledgeable about special education will be included in those discussions.”
The committee, however, acknowledges that the current funding, knowledge, and technology in the field may prevent all students from being integrated into such reforms.
Including special education students in standards and testing programs will translate into more reliable data on how well schools are meeting those students’ academic needs, the report says.
“Currently ... data about the achievement levels of many students with disabilities are absent when judgments about the effectiveness of educational policies and programs are made at the local, state, and national levels,” the report maintains.
The report also recommends that states and districts: design their content and performance standards and assessments to maximize participation of students with disabilities; determine for each student the testing accommodations necessary for offsetting the effects of his or her disability; strengthen individualized education plans that set goals for meeting the standards; and provide more information to parents to allow them to make informed decisions about their children’s participation in the reform programs.
A version of this article appeared in the July 09, 1997 edition of Education Week