Every year, the U.S. Department of Education visits states to see how well they are complying with the requirements of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act—but those reviews haven’t taken into account what or how much students with disabilities are actually learning.
They will soon, say Education Department officials, who intend to revamp how the agency rates states to better address the achievement gap between students with disabilities and their peers.
“For too long, we’ve been a compliance-driven bureaucracy when it comes to educating students with disabilities,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a statement this month. “We have to expect the very best from our students—and tell the truth about student performance—so that we can give all students the supports and services they need.”
Department officials said they will suspend annual visits for the 2012-13 school year for annual compliance reviews and work out a new system with stakeholders that takes a results-driven approach to assessing how states are educating students with disabilities.
Special education advocacy groups complimented the department’s move.
Now, states can meet federal special education compliance standards, even if “student proficiency is nowhere near where it should be for reading,” said Laura Kaloi, the public-policy director for the New York City-based National Center for Learning Disabilities.
The department’s action comes as it’s giving some states leeway on requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Some advocates worry the shift could make it easier for states to ignore the performance of students with disabilities.
“We have been asking the department for the past six years to reduce the focus on minor compliance issues and to focus instead on the work that states and local districts are doing to improve outcomes for students with disabilities,” said Bill East, the executive director of the Arlington, Va.-based National Association of State Directors of Special Education. “We welcome this opportunity to work with [the department] toward our shared goal of improved outcomes for all students with disabilities.”
A version of this article appeared in the March 14, 2012 edition of Education Week as Oversight Reviews of Special Ed. Slated for Revision