Special Education

Letter Clarifies Report Rules for Disabilities

By Christina A. Samuels — October 24, 2008 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

School districts are allowed to refer to a student’s disability or special education status on report cards, but they should generally refrain from such notations on student transcripts, according to new guidance released by the U.S. Department of Education.

The Oct. 17 guidance letter, from the department’s office for civil rights, or OCR, is intended to clear up a source of confusion for some educators, who have worried that referring to a student’s disability in any way on report cards or transcripts could be a violation of that student’s privacy rights.

“Under federal disability-discrimination laws, the general principle is that report cards may contain information about a student’s disability, including whether that student received special education or related services,” wrote Stephanie J. Monroe, the department’s assistant secretary for civil rights.

Those report cards should also contain information about the child’s progress in academic coursework, consistent with standard report cards, she wrote.

Transcripts, however, are generally provided to people other than parents, Ms. Monroe noted in her letter. Because of that, schools must be more circumspect on what information they include on them.

“Information about a student’s disability, including whether that student received special education or related services due to having a disability, is not information about a student’s academic credentials and achievements. Therefore, transcripts may not provide information on a student’s disability,” Ms. Monroe wrote.

Patti Ralabate, an in-house adviser to the National Education Association on special education, said the guidance from the department “provides some really good clarity” on what had been a confusing issue for some educators.

A ‘Misinformation’ Problem

“There has been, for a very long time, some miscommunication and misinformation that was shared with teachers about what they could put on a report card,” Ms. Ralabate said. For example, teachers wondered if they could include a notation on a report card that indicated a student was using a modified curriculum, she said.

In a question-and-answer document that accompanies the guidance letter, the department indicates that such notations are generally permissible on a report card. Because districts often already note whether a student is taking an Advanced Placement course or an honors course, noting that a course is for special education students is not treating those students any differently from their peers, the document says.

Report cards could also include notations that a student may have received certain accommodations in a general education class.

However, transcripts should have less specific information on them, the Education Department indicated. For example, it is acceptable to have a notation on a transcript that a particular class had a modified or alternate curriculum. But a transcript should not indicate whether a student received special education services, or accommodations in a general education class. To do so would reveal that the student had a disability, the department says.

Similar concerns about privacy were raised by disability-rights advocates, who successfully pushed for the New York City-based College Board and Iowa City, Iowa-based ACT Inc. to stop flagging the scores of students who need extra time to complete the SAT and ACT college-entrance exams. Both organizations dropped such notations on the tests in the 2003-04 school year.

The most complex piece of information for schools to handle appears to be how to refer to a “certificate of completion” or similar document. A transcript may make reference to such a document in some cases, as long as it does not indicate that a student received special education or has a disability, the guidance letter says.

A version of this article appeared in the October 29, 2008 edition of Education Week as Letter Clarifies Report Rules For Disabilities

Events

Classroom Technology Webinar Building Better Blended Learning in K-12 Schools
The pandemic and the increasing use of technology in K-12 education it prompted has added renewed energy to the blended learning movement as most students are now learning in school buildings (and will likely continue
Student Achievement Webinar Examining the Evidence: What We’re Learning From the Field About Implementing High-Dosage Tutoring Programs
Tutoring programs have become a leading strategy to address COVID-19 learning loss. What evidence-based principles can district and school leaders draw on to design, implement, measure, and improve high-quality tutoring programs? And what are districts

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Special Education Florida Changed Rules for Special Education Students. Why Many Say It’s Wrong
The new rule contains a more specific definition of what it means to have a “most significant cognitive disability.”
Jeffrey S. Solochek, Tampa Bay Times
7 min read
Richard Corcoran, the Commissioner of the Florida Department of Education sits next to Florida Department of Education Board Chair Andy Tuck as they listen to speakers during Thursday morning's Florida Department of Education meeting. The board members of the Florida Department of Education met Thursday, June 10, 2021 at the Florida State College at Jacksonville's Advanced Technology Center in Jacksonville, Fla. to take care of routine business but then held public comments before a vote to remove critical race theory from Florida classrooms.
Richard Corcoran, Florida’s education commissioner, and Andy Tuck, the chair of the state’s board of education, listen to speakers at a meeting  in June.
Bob Self/The Florida Times-Union via AP
Special Education 6 Ways to Communicate Better With Parents of Students With Learning Differences
For students who learn or think differently, a strong network of support is key. Here are 6 tips for bridging the communication gap between families and schools.
Marina Whiteleather
3 min read
network of quote bubbles
cagkansayin/iStock/Getty
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Special Education Whitepaper
4 Ways to Support Students at Risk for Dyslexia
Read this white paper: Dyslexia Screening and the Use of Acadience™ Reading and discover four distinct ways educators can improve student...
Content provided by Voyager Sopris Learning
Special Education New York City Will Phase Out Controversial Gifted and Talented Program
The massive change is aimed at addressing racial disparities in the biggest school system in the country.
Michael Elsen-Rooney, New York Daily News
4 min read
Students write and draw positive affirmations on poster board at P.S. 5 Port Morris, an elementary school in The Bronx borough of New York on Aug. 17, 2021. New York City will phase out its program for gifted and talented students that critics say favors whites and Asian American students, while enrolling disproportionately few Black and Latino children, in the nation's largest and arguably most segregated school system.
Students write and draw positive affirmations on poster board at P.S. 5 Port Morris, an elementary school in The Bronx borough of New York on Aug. 17, 2021. New York City will phase out its program for gifted and talented students that critics say favors whites and Asian American students, while enrolling disproportionately few Black and Latino children, in the nation's largest and arguably most segregated school system.
Brittainy Newman/AP