Education Letter to the Editor

Noting Conflict Between IDEA and ‘No Child’ Law

May 07, 2007 2 min read

To the Editor:

It was with great interest that I read “Panel Weighs NCLB and Students With Disabilities” in your April 4, 2007, issue. The idea that, rather than lowering standards for students with disabilities, schools should provide supports and modifications so these students can achieve the same levels of proficiency as their peers without disabilities is fundamental to the concept of standards-based education, and as such is to be applauded.

One intervention that has proven effective in helping students with disabilities achieve at high levels is to afford them additional time for learning. In many cases, this can be achieved within the length of the normal school day and year. The federal No Child Left Behind Act is encouraging the use of longer days and longer years for students in underachieving schools.

One often-quoted component of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is that schools are required to provide instruction beyond the regular four years of high school to help students with disabilities achieve. Many educational plans call on schools to educate students until they reach the age of 22.

At my high school, we have achieved a high level of success for students with moderately disabling conditions by following the model of many colleges and preparatory schools. If a student entering from grade 8 is far below grade level in skills, the special education team creates a five-year plan for the child’s education. The student completes all high school requirements and all federal testing standards. Similarly, prep schools use postgraduate years, and colleges have remedial prematriculation courses.

One of the less examined issues of NCLB is the conflict between that law and the IDEA. Students whose educational plans call for more than four years of high school are not, under No Child Left Behind, considered graduates because they fail to meet the law’s narrow definition of graduation, which requires all students to complete high school in four years.

This could easily be rectified by stipulating that any student who completes high school in the time outlined in an educational plan written before his or her first day of attendance in high school should be counted as a graduate. This would avoid possible abuses that could occur if plans were written after the fact to cover school deficiencies, and it would, at the same time, honor the achievement of these students with disabilities.

Douglas McNally


Taconic High School

Pittsfield, Mass.

A version of this article appeared in the May 09, 2007 edition of Education Week as Noting Conflict Between IDEA and ‘No Child’ Law