School & District Management

Performance of Students With Disabilities Hard to Gauge in School Accountability

By Christina A. Samuels — October 29, 2013 1 min read
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Getting a clear picture of how students with disabilities have performed under the accountability measures once mandated by No Child Left Behind is difficult because of differences among states in measuring progress, says a report from the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, a project of the Institute of Education Sciences.

The Inclusion of Students With Disabilities in School Accountability Systems: An Update is the latest snapshot of how schools fared under an accountability system that required them to break out the performance of students with disabilities and move them towards 100 percent academic proficiency. The report looks specifically at the four school years from 2006-07 to 2009-10; school accountability has in recent months changed dramatically with the permission of accountability waivers that have now been granted to 42 states and the District of Columbia.

Looking at student performance, the report found that in the 31 states with relevant data that the researchers were able to gather, more than half—56 percent—of the public schools were not accountable for the students with disabilities subgroup in any of the four years examined. In contrast, 23 percent of schools were consistently accountable in each of those years.

The researchers then turned their attention to schools failing to make adequate yearly progress, and for that measure were able to collect information from 39 states and the District of Columbia for 2009-10. Six percent of schools in those states that did not make AYP did so solely because of the students with disabilities subgroup. Twenty-eight percent missed the mark because of the disability subgroup and some other factor.

Once a school was identified as being in need of improvement because of the performance of students with disabilities, it tended to stay that way: 83 percent of schools in that category in 2007-08 retained that classification through 2010-11. The same held true for schools that did not face any sanctions because of the disability subgroup: 74 percent of the schools not identified for improvement in 2007-08 continued in that status through 2010-11.

So what to make of all of these statistics? In their conclusion, the authors of the report say that it is hard to tell.

Although the ESEA may be straightforward in its overall objective to improve the achievement of all students, the numerous provisions and regulations may make it challenging to determine exactly how well [students with disabilities] have been performing. Adding to these complexities is the fact that states use different tests, adopt different proficiency standards, use different methods for measuring progress, and set different minimum subgroup size for accountability purposes. These differences lead to variation across states in how [students with disabilities] are included or excluded from school accountability systems and how [students with disabilities] performance affects schools' AYP determination and school improvement status, which make cross-state comparisons difficult to interpret.

An upcoming report from IES will focus on school practices that relate to student educational outcomes.

A version of this news article first appeared in the On Special Education blog.