Special education advocacy groups offered a mixed assessment of the effect a draft proposal for reauthorizing the No Child Left Behind Act would have on students with disabilities.
Several provisions in the “staff discussion draft” released by the House Committee on Education and Labor on Aug. 28 would codify policies that the Bush administration put into effect through regulations. One such policy allows the state test scores of as many as 2 percent of all students—about 20 percent of students with disabilities—who take modified assessments to be counted as proficient under the law’s provisions on academic progress.
The draft would also codify an existing regulation that allows the scores of 1 percent of all students who take “alternate” assessments based on alternative standards to be counted as proficient. That provision is intended for students with severe cognitive disabilities, and would be equivalent to about 10 percent of students with disabilities.
The Department of Education crafted those regulations in response to calls from the states for more flexibility in how special education students are tested.
Nancy Reder, the director of governmental relations for the National Association of State Directors of Special Education in Alexandria, Va., said her organization supported the move to make the testing policies a permanent part of the NCLB law.
“We need to have high expectations for students with disabilities, but we also need to have an element of realism,” she said.
However, Candace Cortiella, the director of the Marshall, Va.-based Advocacy Institute, which develops projects and services for people with disabilities, said she was disappointed to see the testing flexibility in the draft. The flexibility allows too many students with disabilities to take easier tests than those given their peers in general education, she believes.
The draft plan also would allow some districts to count as proficient the scores on modified assessments for up to 3 percent of their student populations, or roughly 30 percent of students with disabilities.
That provision would mean that up to 40 percent of students with disabilities in some districts could be counted as proficient, even if they were taking a test different from the one given to students in general education.
The expansion from 2 percent to 3 percent for some districts has a sunset provision, though, that would end it at the close of the 2009-10 school year.
“It is confusing. If it’s only good for a couple of years, why would you do it?” Ms. Cortiella said.
The draft bill would also cap “N-sizes” at 30 students. N-size refers to the minimum subgroup size that counts toward schools’ and districts’ accountability under NCLB. A larger N-size means that it is less likely that a school will have to report test results for a particular subgroup. States’ current N-sizes range from five to 75.
Dan Blair, a senior director for the Council for Exceptional Children, a professional group for special educators based in Arlington, Va., said his group supports the cap.