Special Education

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Testing the educational progress of students with disabilities has long been a source of confusion for states, and in the past many excluded those students from assessments entirely. Participate in our new interactive TOWN MEETING, an electronic roundtable on improving schools

New research, though, shows that states appear to be struggling to develop guidelines to determine which students should be tested, and how the tests should be administered.

A close look at the guidelines that already have been issued shows that policies on participation, accommodations, and test result reporting vary widely. That needs to change, the author of the research says.

Using data from the National Center on Educational Outcomes,-- a University of Minnesota-based organization that monitors testing and outcomes for disabled students--the center's co-director, Martha L. Thurlow, concludes that many states are modifying their testing policies to include more disabled students. She presented her findings at the American Educational Research Association's national conference in Chicago last month.

At least 11 states seek to include as many disabled students as possible, and that number is increasing quickly, making the issue a tough one to study, Ms. Thurlow noted. "Most states are attempting to modify what they're doing to be more inclusive," she said.

Previous NCEO research found an increasing number of states with guidelines. But strategies one state might recommend, another might prohibit.

"Most participation and accommodations policies were based on opinions about what is best, with little evidence of research to back up these opinions," Ms. Thurlow writes.

She found that while some states have guidelines in place, letting disabled students take the tests, most of those states haven't figured out how to report such students' results.

The reauthorization of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act could change the situation. Drafts of reauthorization bills included language that would require states to test disabled students and report the results, and create alternative tests for severely disabled students.

With each disabled student's individualized-education-program team now making most decisions about whether the student should take a test, Ms. Thurlow believes more research-based state guidelines would be a big help.

For now, she suggests that teams base their testing decisions on what a student is studying, rather than his or her disability.

--JOETTA L. SACK [email protected]

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