Special Education

Study: States Including Special Education Students in Tests

By Christina A. Samuels — March 14, 2006 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

States and school districts appear to be making good progress toward including students with disabilities in statewide assessments and reporting accountability statistics for such students, but they still need to work on reducing dropout rates and preparing general education teachers to work with students with special needs, a federally sponsored study says.

Read interim reports from the Study of State and Local Implementation and Impact of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act .

Known as the Study of State and Local Implementation and Impact of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the 6- year research project was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education’s office of special education programs and conducted by the Bethesda, Md., office of Abt Associates, a policy-research firm.

The final report is under review by the Education Department. The firm released a preview of the findings, however, during a March 3 presentation in Washington.

The researchers examined nine areas as mandated by Congress in the 1997 reauthorization of the IDEA, the federal law that governs the education of 6.8 million children with disabilities. Among the issues examined were: progress among the states in establishing accountability systems, the placement of special education students in the least restrictive environment, as the federal law requires, and the dropout rates for such students.

The study included four surveys of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, as well as three surveys of a national sample of districts and schools.

The study was useful for the Education Department as a measurement tool, said Louis Danielson, the director of the research-to-practice division of the special education programs office. “What it’s really providing is a gauge for us to make some judgments on whether or not we’re making progress,” he said.

One of the major themes uncovered is that states appear to be making progress in aligning their academic standards for students with and without disabilities. The vast majority reported that they had the same content standards for students with and without an individualized education program under the IDEA in the four core subjects of mathematics, English, science, and social studies.

Most states are also providing resources to schools and districts to improve the participation and performance of students with disabilities on state tests. The mandates and sanctions under the federal No Child Left Behind Act appeared to be a driving force in moving states toward improving their accountability, said Ellen Schiller, the study project director at Abt Associates.

Lagging Progress

Where states and districts appeared to lag was in the capacity of general education teachers to teach students with disabilities. For instance, a national survey of principals in the 2004-05 school year showed that 74 percent believed their special education teachers were prepared to help students gain access to the general education curriculum, but only 41 percent of principals thought their general education teachers were prepared.

Beverly McCoun, the director of student services for the 2,200-student Mount Horeb school district outside Madison, Wis., helped provide technical assistance to the researchers. She said she was not surprised that the findings seemed to show that mandates were generally being followed.

“Compliance issues that we can do from the office are not nearly as hard as changing people’s perceptions,” Ms. McCoun said. And, she said, a perception still exists among many general education teachers that they don’t have enough knowledge to work with students in special education.

Margaret J. McLaughlin, another member of the technical-assistance group, said the Abt study, like others, shows that standards-based improvement efforts have made a big impact on the education of students with disabilities. Even though the IDEA has long required certain actions by the states, the 4-year-old No Child Left Behind law prompted new attention to the issue, she said. Districts are now evaluated on how well subgroups of students, including students with disabilities, perform on standardized tests.

“It says something to me that it wasn’t until these kids mattered to general education that states stood up and took notice,” said Ms. McLaughlin, a professor of special education at the University of Maryland College Park.

A version of this article appeared in the March 15, 2006 edition of Education Week as Study: States Including Special Education Students in Tests


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.
IT Infrastructure & Management Webinar
From Chaos to Clarity: How to Master EdTech Management and Future-Proof Your Evaluation Processes
The road to a thriving educational technology environment is paved with planning, collaboration, and effective evaluation.
Content provided by Instructure
Special Education Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table - Special Education: Proven Interventions for Academic Success
Special education should be a launchpad, not a label. Join the conversation on how schools can better support ALL students.
Special Education K-12 Essentials Forum Innovative Approaches to Special Education
Join this free virtual event to explore innovations in the evolving landscape of special education.

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 How to Make Gifted Programs More Equitable
Experts discussed new, equitable models for advanced education, moving away from traditional "gifted and talented" programs.
6 min read
Student in classroom who is focused and working hard.
Special Education Video Students With Disabilities 'Have Gotten Their Dignity Back' at This High School
A state partnership involving 16 schools aims to ensure that students with disabilities spend more of their time in mainstream classrooms.
3 min read
Special Education Video How One School Fosters Belonging for Students With Disabilities
The school transformed what has traditionally been a model of exclusion in U.S. education.
3 min read
Kindergarten students in Washington, D.C. explore various activity centers in their classroom on Tuesday, April 4, 2017.
Kindergarten students in Washington, D.C. explore various activity centers in their classroom on Tuesday, April 4, 2017.
Allison Shelley/EDUimages
Special Education Why Special Education Teachers Quit—and What Schools Are Doing About It
States and districts take creative approaches to retain special education teachers.
5 min read
men and women entering and exiting open doorways on an isolated blue background