Response to AASA blog: “Reclaiming the LRE Debate from the Courts”

July 8th, 2016

In a recent blog for the American Association of School Administrators titled “Reclaiming the LRE Debate from the Courts” Associate Professor Susan C. Bon suggests a number of remedies for what she terms the “increasingly destructive and contentious disagreements over interpretation and implementation of the IDEA in public schools.” We take issue with those proposed remedies and offer our combined 100 plus years of teaching, research, teacher education, systems change, large-scale assessment, policy, and advocacy work as evidence of the experience we bring to bear on this issue.

Professor Bon’s remedies – which imply that more students with intellectual and other significant disabilities would be kept out of general education classes – ignore the 40 years of research on students with disabilities that show a positive correlation between time spent in a general education classroom and performance on standardized measures of reading and math, communication skills, social skills, engagement, breadth of social networks, pro-social behavior, fewer suspensions and expulsions, and enhanced adult outcomes in the areas of independent living, employment, and participation in inclusive community activities when compared to students educated in segregated environments (Beukelman & Mirenda, 2005; Cosier, Causton-Theoharis, & Theoharis, 2013; Guralnick, Connor, Hammond, Gottman, & Kinnish, 1996; Helmstetter, Curry, Brennan, & Sampson-Saul, 1998; Hunt, Farron-Davis, Beckstead, Curtis, & Goetz, 1994; White & Weiner, 2004). In fact, these research findings are encoded in the introductory paragraphs in IDEA 2004, where Congress finds “Almost 30 years of research and experience has demonstrated that the education of children with disabilities can be made more effective by having high expectations for such children and ensuring their access to the general education curriculum in the regular classroom, to the maximum extent possible.”

Professor Bon calls for giving precedence to the potential academic benefit of various educational placements when students’ IEPs are being written and to downplay the potential non-academic benefits. We argue that separating academic from non-academic benefits is contrary to the last 100 years of public education in the U.S. It has long been recognized that successful adulthood requires much more than proficiency in “the 3 R’s.” All students need to demonstrate proficiency in communication, collaboration, use of technology, social skills, self-determination, problem-solving and the like. To suggest that educational teams might be able to quantify the educational versus non-educational benefits to students with disabilities ignores our understanding of how children learn and what really matters when it comes to being a successful adult.

The example of the student with an IQ of 46 who is “mentally retarded” represents not only outdated and prejudicial terminology, but overestimates the importance of IQ in predicting educational achievement. A rationale for extreme caution in using a number like a student’s IQ score to guide his education program is supported by research on how well IQ scores predict student achievement. McGrew and Evans (2004) concluded:

Given the best available, theoretically and psychometrically sound, nationally standardized, individually administered intelligence test batteries, three statements hold true.

  • IQ test scores, under optimal test conditions, account for 40% to 50% of current expected achievement.
  • Thus, 50% to 60% of student achievement is related to variables “beyond intelligence.”
  • For any given IQ test score, half of the students will obtain achievement scores at or below their IQ score. Conversely, and frequently not recognized, is that for any given IQ test score, half of the students will obtain achievement scores at or above their IQ score. (p. 6)

Micah Fialka-Feldman, a subject of the trailer of a soon to be released documentary called Intelligent Lives by Dan Habib (producer of Including Samuel), was asked how he felt when he learned that he had a 40 IQ. He responded “Well, I didn’t know what it meant so I Googled it. It said that people with 40 IQs could never live alone, go to college, or be employed. And I thought “Well, I am doing all those things!” (Habib, 2016).

Another flawed remedy is Professor Bon’s recommendation that students with disabilities who need to have “assignments modified more than 70%” would not be able to obtain educational benefit from a general education class. Even with all of our years of experience we don’t understand what Professor Bon means here. Does she mean that 70% of the general education standards are modified?

Perhaps Professor Bon’s reference to modified assignments means that the number of math problems given for homework is reduced for a student with a disability. We all have known students with cerebral palsy, for example, for whom manipulation of a pencil or computer to do 30 problems is prohibitively laborious. Yet this student could demonstrate her knowledge of the concepts of the assignment by only doing five problems. Can that student not benefit from being in general education?

Maybe Professor Bon’s standard of 70% modified means that the complexity of an assigned reading is modified to a lower reading level? We know many students with significant reading disabilities whose skills are 70% below grade level, yet they are clearly able to benefit from being in general education when they are provided with supplementary aids and services in the form of assistive technology. Nor is there typically a debate or inquiry about whether it is appropriate to educate in the general education classroom other struggling learners, e.g., immigrant students whose formal education may have been interrupted, and who may or may not be English learners, or students who are educationally disadvantaged attending Title I schools.

Professor Bon suggests that greater weight be given to the effect that a student with a disability has on a general education classroom. Here we agree with Professor Bon if she is talking about the “value-added” benefits that students with disabilities provide to a general education class. Those added benefits have been shown to occur in the realms of improved academic skills of all students (Choi, Meisenheimer, McCart, & Sailor, 2016; Theoharis & Causton-Theoharis, 2010); improved decision-making skills (Zhang et al., 2016); and improved attitudes towards diversity (Finke, McNaughton, & Drager, 2009).

Finally, Professor Bon suggests that the current LRE mandate in IDEA be preserved in future reauthorizations – not based on the plain language of the statute but on a selective review of case law. We join with a growing number of colleagues who believe that the actual mandate – “to the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities … are educated with children who are not disabled, and special classes, separate schooling, or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment occurs only when the nature or severity of the disability of a child is such that education in the regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily” [20 U.S.C. §1412(a)(5)(A)] – has not been fairly and consistently applied for thousands of students with disabilities who are systematically kept out of general education classes, as evidenced by the huge geographic disparities in the misapplication of the statutory presumption to placement decision-making.

According to the 36th Annual Report to Congress on the Implementation of IDEA (U.S. Department of Education, 2014), the percent of students with intellectual disability educated at least 80 percent of the day in general education classes ranged from lows of 4.4 in Washington, 4.8 in New Jersey, and 5.5 in Nevada, and to highs of 64 in Iowa, 48.6 in Puerto Rico, and 45.5 in Alabama.

For students taking their respective state alternate assessments, Kleinert et al. (2015) found that students with the most significant cognitive disabilities face even greater segregation.  In a study involving 15 states and nearly 40,000 students, these researchers found that the vast majority (93%) of students with significant cognitive disabilities were served in self-contained classrooms, separate schools, or home settings, while only 7% were served in general education or resource room placements. Most importantly, these authors found a positive correlation between expressive communication, reading and math skill levels with increasingly inclusive classroom settings.  Being educated in the general education classroom does make a difference!

In summary, too many students are “still caught in the continuum” (Sauer & Jorgensen, 2016).  The time is long overdue to implement and enforce the plain language of the statute and for the U.S. Department of Education to eliminate those regulatory provisions that create straw men that serve only to undermine the statutory mandate, weaken the legal presumption, and camouflage continued discrimination on the basis of disability.

We agree with Professor Bon that the time and energy spent in litigation between parents and educators might be better spent on teaching students. Our recommendations for making that happen, however, are radically different from hers. We support efforts to scale-up the use of universal design for learning principles to all classrooms. We support efforts to expand access to communication and assistive technology to all students who need it. And we support school improvement and restructuring efforts that align with those funded by the U.S. Department of Education to the University of Kansas’ SWIFT project, including greater family and community engagement, strong administrative leadership, multi-tiered systems of supports used with fidelity, values- and evidence-based inclusive policy and practice, and integration of all support services for the benefit of all students.

These remedies won’t widen the gap between parents and schools but rather unite them in a common purpose founded on a belief that “inclusion is not about disability, nor is it only about schools. Inclusion demands that we ask, what kind of world do we want to create? What kinds of skills and commitment do people need to thrive in diverse society? By embracing inclusion as a model of social justice, we can create a world fit for all of us (Sapon-Shevin, 2003).”


Cheryl M. Jorgensen, Ph.D., Inclusive Education Consultant, Author, Researcher

Kathleen B. Boundy, Co-Director, Center for Law and Education

Harold Kleinert, Ed. D., Director Emeritus, Institute for Human Development, University of Kentucky

Ricki Sabia, Senior Education Policy Advisor, National Down Syndrome Congress

Candace Cortiella, Director, The Advocacy Institute


Beukelman, D., & Mirenda, P. (2005). Augmentative and alternative communication: Supporting children and adults with complex communication needs (3rd ed.) Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes.

Choi, J. H., Meisenheimer, J. M., McCart, A. B., & Sailor, W. (2016). Improving learning for all students through equity-based inclusive reform practices: effectiveness of a fully integrated schoolwide model on student reading and math achievement. Remedial and Special Education [online], 1-14. doi: 10.1177/0741932516644054

Cosier, M., Causton-Theoharis, J., & Theoharis, G. (2013). Does access matter? Time in general education and achievement for students with disabilities. Remedial and Special Education, 34(6), 323-332.

Finke, E.H., McNaughton, D.B., & Drager, K.D. (2998). ‘All children can and should have the opportunity to learn”: General education teachers’ perspectives on including children with autism spectrum disorder who require AAC. Augmentative and Alternative Communication, 25(2), 110-122.

Guralnick, M. J., Connor, R., Hammond, M., Gottman, J. M., & Kinnish, K. (1996). Immediate effects of mainstreamed settings on the social interactions and social integration of preschool children. American Journal on Mental Retardation, 100, 359-377.

Habib, D. (Producer). (2016). Intelligent lives [Motion Picture Trailer] Durham, NH: University of New Hampshire, Institute on Disability.

Helmstetter, E., Curry, C. A., Brennan, M., & Sampson-Saul, M. (1998). Comparison of general and special education classrooms of students with severe disabilities. Education and Training in Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, 33, 216-227.

Hunt, P., Farron-Davis, F., Beckstead, S., Curtis, D., & Goetz, L. (1994). Evaluating the effects of placement of students with severe disabilities in general education versus special classes. Journal of the Association for Persons with Severe Handicaps, 19, 200-214.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act, PL 108-446, 20 U.S.C. §§1400 et seq. (2004).

Kleinert et al., (2015). Where students with the most significant cognitive disabilities are taught: Implications for general curriculum access.  Exceptional Children, 81(3), 312-328.

McGrew, K. S., Evans, J. (2004). Expectations for students with cognitive disabilities: Is the cup half empty or half full? Can the cup overflow? (Synthesis Report 54). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, National Center on Educational Outcomes.

Sapon-Shevin, M. (2003). Inclusion as a matter of social justice. Educational Leadership, 61(2), 25-28.

Theoharis, G., & Causton-Theoharis, J. (2010) Include, belong, learn. Educational Leadership, 68(2). Retrieved from,-Belong,-Learn.aspx

U.S. Department of Education. (2014). Thirty-sixth annual report to Congress on the implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 2013. Retrieved from

White, J., & Weiner, J. S. (2004). Influence of least restrictive environment and community based training on integrated employment outcomes for transitioning students with severe disabilities. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 21(3), 149-156.

Zhang, X., et al. (2016). Improving children’s competence as decision makers: Contrasting effects of collaborative interaction and direct instruction. American Educational Research Journal, 53, 194-223. doi: 10:3102/0002831215618663


Tell ED: States must distribute ESSA info via accessible web sites

June 30th, 2016

We encourage disability advocates to submit a comment to the U.S. Dept. of Education’s proposed regulations to 34 CFR Parts 200 and 299 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, as amended by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) regarding the use of SEA and LEA Web sites to distribute information required under ESSA.

Use the information below to compose your comment and submit at!submitComment;D=ED-2016-OESE-0032-0001

Please submit your comment by August 1, 2016.


SEA and LEA Web site accessibility

The proposed regulations include numerous references to the Web site of SEAs and LEAs as an acceptable means by which to meet the requirement to disseminate information to the public. For example, SEAs may provide their proposed state plan (for public comment), approved state plan and annual state report cards on their Web sites. LEAs may post annual report cards on their Web sites.

However, it is noteworthy that ED’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has recently reported receiving numerous complaints regarding the inaccessibility of Web sites operated by SEAs and LEAs, indicating that serious problems exist for people with disabilities. In a press release dated June 29, 2016, OCR announced agreements to resolve web site accessibility complaints made against SEAs and LEAs located in seven states and one territory.

It is clear from the language in proposed regulations to 34 CFR Parts 200 and 299 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, as amended by the Every Student Succeeds Act, that ED is failing to recognize the nature, scope and critical importance of Web site accessibility issues being reported to its Office for Civil Rights. It is not sufficient to suggest by merely cross referencing the proposed notice requirements of §§200.21(b)(1) through (3) that States, LEAs, and schools, as recipients of federal funds, are meeting the legal requirements for ensuring any information disseminated via their Web sites is accessible to all individuals, including those with disabilities consistent with their obligations under  Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and its implementing regulation at 34 C.F.R. Part 104.

Given the growing body of evidence that SEA and LEA Web sites are, with rare exceptions, not accessible to people with disabilities, ED should include in its final regulations a provision that SEA and LEA Web sites used for dissemination of information required under ESSA must meet minimum accessibility standards, such as the W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level AA and the Web Accessibility Initiative Accessible Rich Internet Applications Suite (WAI-ARIA) 1.0 for web content. These guidelines have been referenced by OCR in recent resolution agreements.


Specific references to dissemination via SEA and LEA Web sites in the proposed regulations:

§ 200.30 Annual State report card.

(c) Accessibility. Each State report card must be in a format and language to the extent practicable, that parents can understand in compliance with the requirements under § 200.21 (b)(1) through (3).
(d) Dissemination and availability.

(1)A State must—

(i) Disseminate widely to the public the State report card by, at a minimum, making it available on a single page of the SEA’s Web site; and

(ii) Include on the SEA’s Web site—

(A) The report card required under § 200.31 for each LEA in the State; and

(B) The annual report to the Secretary required under section 1111(h)(5) of the Act.

§ 200.31 Annual LEA report card.

(c) Accessibility. Each LEA report card must be in a format and language, to the extent practicable, that parents can understand in compliance with the requirements under § 200.21(b)(1) through (3).

(d) Dissemination and availability.

(1) An LEA report card must be accessible to the public.

(2) At a minimum the LEA report card must be made available on the LEA’s Web site, except that an LEA that does not operate a Web site may provide the information to the public in another manner determined by the LEA.

§ 200.32 Description and results of a State’s accountability system.

(b) Reference to State plan. To the extent that a State plan or another location on the SEA’s Web site provides a description of the accountability system elements required in paragraph

(a)(1) through (5) of this section that complies with the requirements under § 200.21(b)(1) through (3), a State or LEA may provide the Web address or URL of, or a direct link to, such State plan or location on the SEA’s Web site to meet the reporting requirement for such accountability system elements.

 § 299.13 Publication of State plan.

(f) After the Secretary approves a consolidated State plan or an individual program State plan, an SEA must publish its approved its approved consolidated State plan or individual program State plan on the SEA’s Web site in a format and language, to the extent practicable, that the public can access and understand in compliance with the requirements under § 200.21 (b)(1) through (3).

§ 299.18 Supporting excellent educators.

(v) The information required under paragraphs (c)(4)(i) through (iv) of this section in a manner that is easily accessible and comprehensible to the general public, available at least on a public Web site, and, to the extent practicable, provided in a language that parents of students enrolled in all schools in the State can understand, in compliance with the requirements under § 200.21(b)(1) through (3). If the information required under paragraphs (c)(4)(i) through (iv) is made available in ways other than on a public Web site, it must be provided in compliance with the requirements under § 200.21(b)(1) through (3).

§ 200.21 (b)(1) through (3) – referenced in all of the above sections, reads as follows:

(1) Be in an understandable and uniform format;

(2) Be, to the extent practicable, written in a language that parents can understand or, if it is not practicable to provide written translations to a parent with limited English proficiency, be orally translated for such parent; and

(3) Be, upon request by a parent or guardian who is an individual with a disability as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. 12102, provided in an alternative format accessible to that parent.

TUDA Spells Tough Times for Students with Disabilities in Many Large Urban Districts

October 30th, 2015

Along with the results of the 2015 NAEP for states and the nation, the results of the 2015 TUDA – the Trial Urban District Assessment were released on October 28, 2015. (We blogged about the release of the NAEP at the state and national levels earlier.)

The TUDA reports the reading and math achievement of public school students in 21 urban districts at grades 4 and 8. Results are broken down by racial/ethnic groups as well as special populations, such as students with disabilities and students eligible for free/reduced-price lunch meals. The TUDA was established in 2002 to support the improvement of student achievement in the nation’s large urban districts. Districts eligible to participate in the TUDA assessments must be large cities with a population of 250,000 or more in addition to having a majority (50 percent or more) of their student population being Non-White (Black or Hispanic) or eligible for the National School Lunch program. Students in the TUDA districts represent nearly one-half of the students who attend schools in large cities nationally.

The districts that participated in the 2015 TUDA are shown in the map below.

Districts participating in 2015 NAEP TUDA

Map reads: 2015 Participating Districts were Albuquerque, Atlanta, Austin, Baltimore City, Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas, Detroit, District of Columbia (DCPS), Duval County (FL), Fresno, Hillsborough County (FL), Houston, Jefferson County (KY), Los Angeles, Miami-Dade, New York City, Philadelphia and San Diego.

The achievement of students with disabilities (which includes students with IEPs and 504 Plans) varied substantially across the 2015 TUDAs. The nationwide achievement levels and the Large City achievement levels appear in the table below.

NAEP 2015 Achievement levels of students with and without disabilities nationwide and large city

HIGH PERFORMING DISTRICTS. When comparing the achievement of students with disabilities in the TUDAs to that of Large Cities, a few districts stand out as doing exceptionally well. In Reading, these districts are Duval County (FL), Hillsborough County (FL) and Miami-Dade (FL). In Math, these districts are Austin, Boston, Duval County (FL), Hillsborough County (FL) and Miami-Dade (FL).

POOR PERFORMING DISTRICTS. When comparing the achievement of students with disabilities in the TUDAs to that of Large Cities, a few districts stand out as exceedingly poor performers. In Reading, these districts are Albuquerque, Baltimore City, Cleveland, Detroit, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia. In Math, these districts are Albuquerque, Atlanta, Baltimore City, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Fresno, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia.

The performance of students with disabilities compared to those without disabilities in each of the participating districts is shown below.

READING GRADE 4 (Click here to view this table as a chart)


TUDA 2015 Reading Grade 4 Students with Disabilities and students without disabilities

READING GRADE 8 (Click here to view this table as a chart)


TUDA Reading Grade 8 2015 students with disabilities and without disabilities

MATH GRADE 4 (Click here to view this table as a chart)


TUDA 2015 Math Grade 4 students with and without disabilities

MATH GRADE 8 (Click here to view this table as a chart)


TUDA 2015 Math Grade 8 students with and without disabilities



SEE ALSO: Blog on 2013 TUDA

2015 NAEP Shows Little Change for Students with Disabilities

October 29th, 2015

Results of the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in Reading and Mathematics were released October 28, 2015. Details are available here.

As in recent years, the 2015 performance of students with disabilities showed little if any improvement over the last three administrations (2009-2011-2013) and the gaps between students with disabilities and those without disabilities continue to be substantial. The majority of students with disabilities performed in the “below basic” achievement level in all areas except 4th grade Math. See table below.

NAEP 2015 Achievement levels SD vs. No SD

However, there has been a substantial improvement in the rate of exclusion of students with disabilities, i.e., the percentage of students with disabilities selected to participate in the sample who were not tested. This practice was addressed by a resolution of the National Assessment Governing Board in 2010. The resolution sought to have students with disabilities participating at a rate of at least 85% in every state. As a result, exclusion rates have plummeted, as shown in the table below. This high rate of participation makes the NAEP results for students with disabilities more representative of the group as a whole. (Details on exclusion rates by state on each NAEP assessment are available here.)

NAEP participation was also addressed by the US ED Office of Special Education Programs in 2014 when it began including NAEP participation and performance in the determination for each State under section 616(d) of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

The table below shows the rates of exclusion in NAEP administrations from 2003-2015.

NAEP exclusion rates for students with disabilities

In fact, the significant improvement in testing students with disabilities was noted by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan as possibly causing overall declines in Maryland, as reported in the Baltimore Sun “U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan noted to Maryland and Baltimore’s large declines, but said the drops were “good news” because they reflected the state’s efforts to be more inclusive of certain populations — such as students with disabilities and English Language Learners.” 

Below are achievement levels for students with disabilities and students without disabilities in each NAEP area from 2003 through 2015.


NAEP Reading Grade 4 achievement levels for students with disabilities 2003-2015


NAEP Reading Grade 8 achievement levels students with disabilities 2003-2015


NAEP Math Grade 4 achievement levels students with disabilities 2003-2015


NAEP Math Grade 8 achievement levels students with disabilities 2003-2015


See also: Our reports on 2015 TUDA and 2013 NAEP results.

New ACGR Data Show Graduation Gaps Persist

October 21st, 2015

On October 19, 2015, the U.S. Dept. of Education (ED) released preliminary graduation rates reported by states for the 2013-14 school year.

According to ED “The vast majority of states – 36 – saw increases in overall graduation rates, while 6 states saw decreases and another 8 saw no change since 2012-13. The majority of states also shrank the achievement gap for black and Hispanic students, as well as students with disabilities, English language learners and low-income students”

ED reported that 21 states showed a decline in the graduation rate gap between all students and students with disabilities, 17 states had increases in the gap and 12 states showed no change.

Our analysis (below) found 21 states and D.C. decreased, 15 increased and 14 had no change (the difference could be caused by rounding). Two states are outliers  – Alabama (19 point gap increase) and Oregon (gap decrease of 11 points).

Most states had negligible changes (a decrease or increase of just 1-2 points) which could be characterized as statistically insignificant.

Without a doubt, the bigger issue continues to be the huge gaps between students with disabilities and all students earning a regular high school diploma in four years.

Four Year Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate
Gaps between All Students and Students with Disabilities
SY 2012-13 and SY 2013-14

Download ACGR Comparison Chart .

See also: Study Finds Wide Variation in Graduation Rates for Students with Disabilities; Little Relationship with Graduation Policies

California Kids with Disabilities Fare Poorly on New Assessments

September 12th, 2015

Results are out for the first full administration of the Smarter Balanced (SBAC) tests administered to California students in grades 3-8 and grade 11.

California is important because the state educates 11 percent of the nation’s students with disabilities ages 6-21 (622,602 of 5,847,624). It’s also important because the state has been firmly committed to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortia for several years, putting lots of money into transitioning to the CCSS. In previous years California administered a modified alternate assessment to a large number of students with disabilities.

Of the 3.2 million students tested in 2015, 313,076 were students with disabilities or 9.6 percent.

In English Language Arts 48 percent of students without disabilities met or exceeded the standard compared to 12 percent of students with disabilities. Seventy-eight percent of students with disabilities did not meet or nearly met the standard compared to 52 percent.

In Math 36 percent of students without disabilities met or exceeded the standard compared to 9 percent of students with disabilities. Ninety-one percent of students with disabilities did not meet or nearly met the standard compared to 63 percent.

These gaps are more troubling when examined at each achievement level. The vast majority of students with disabilities performed at the “Standard Not Met” level – 70 percent in English Language Arts and 75 percent in Math.

Achievement by grade level for each group of students is shown below.

Students with No Disability – English Language Arts

Students with Disabilities – English Language Arts

Students with No Disability – Math

Students with Disabilities – Math

Complete statewide results can be downloaded here (PDF). Results can also be accessed by county, district, or school from the California 2015 Test Results page.

A New ESEA? Senate/House Bills Offer Little to Like for Students with Disabilities

August 11th, 2015

With passage of bills to reauthorize the ESEA in both the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives (details here) the likelihood of getting an update to current law – known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB) – seems probable for the first time since NCLB “expired” in 2007. While few supporters stand behind all the original tenets of NCLB, some of its requirements helped improve education for students with disabilities.

However, few states are still operating under NCLB rules, most having obtained ESEA Flexibility from the U.S. Dept. of Education starting back in 2012. The new accountability plans states were allowed to develop under their ESEA Flexibility (to replace Adequate Yearly Progress or AYP) raised many questions about just how students with disabilities would be impacted,  as we laid out in our 2013 report, ESEA Flexibility: Issues for Students with Disabilities.

Now Congress is moving toward a new ESEA that will completely eliminate many of the provisions of current law (maintained in ESEA Flexibility) that have worked to gain needed attention to the specialized services and supports necessary for students with disabilities to benefit. A few are recapped below.

INTERVENING IN LOW PERFORMING SCHOOLS. The overarching issue – for all historically under-performing groups of students including students with disabilities – is the lack of any requirement for states to take action in poor performing Title 1 schools in either the Senate or House ESEA bills. This concern has been best articulated by the Leadership Conference & 41 organizations in their letter to Senate HELP Committee leadership. The Education Trust also stands firmly opposed to this abandonment of accountability and encourages action via its All Kids Matter campaign. Intervention should be required in low performing schools and schools with significant gaps in the performance of student groups/categories.

MAKING STUDENT GROUPS COUNT. A major driver in the identification of low performing schools is the issue of “n” size. Schools and districts are held accountable only for the student groups that meet or exceed this minimum number of students.

For example, if a state established an “n” of 35, a school with only 20 students with disabilities in the tested grades would not be held accountable for this group of students. Under current law and both the Senate and House bills, states will continue to determine the minimum number of students necessary to hold schools and districts accountable for the performance of each student group (called “categories” in the Senate bill) directed only by a requirement for it to be statistically significant and not disclose personally identifiable information. This latitude in determining “n” size resulted in significant numbers of students with disabilities being left out of accountability systems. A 2013 report, The Inclusion of Students with Disabilities in School Accountability Systems, found that as many as 85% of students with disabilities in one state (AZ) were excluded from accountability systems due to “n” size.

One glimmer of hope in getting states to be more responsible in setting “n” size is contained in the Senate bill (Title I, Sec. 1016). It requires the U.S. Dept. of Education to publish a report on “best practices for determining valid, reliable, and statistically significant minimum numbers of students for each of the categories of students for the purposes of inclusion as categories of students in an accountability system.” (The National Center for Education Statistics recommends an ‘n’ size of 10) Presumably states would look to this report to determine “n” sizes going forward. However, there is nothing binding about this and furthermore, it is not specified in either bill that the “n” size must be the same for all student groups/categories (as is the case in current law).

MAKING TEST PARTICIPATION MATTER. Three important issues here:

(1) While both the Senate and House bills include a requirement that schools and districts test a minimum of 95% of all students and a minimum of 95% of each student group/categories, neither bill puts the same emphasis on this requirement as does current law (failing to reach the 95% testing threshold was automatic failure of the school regardless of academic achievement). The veracity of this provision was also relaxed in some of the accountability plans approved under the ESEA Flexibility program (discussed in our report, ESEA Flexibility: Issues for Students with Disabilities).  Simply maintaining the requirement while not assigning any weight to it within the accountability system is likely to result in diminished attention to ensuring the testing of all students. (More about this from our friends over at Third Way.)

(2) Another threat to this provision is found in the House bill which provides that students who are “opted out” of testing – in states that allow such parental action – will not be counted against the school or district for purposes of the participation rate requirement. (More on state opt-out policies here.)

(3) While neither Senate nor House bills speak specifically to this, current NCLB regulations require that students with disabilities are assessed on the assessment for their enrolled grade level. This requirement helped to eliminate the practice of “out-of-level testing” (OOLT) of students with disabilities and resulted in schools and parents getting information on how students with disabilities perform vs. their same age/grade non-disabled peers. It will be important to maintain the prohibition on OOLT in any ESEA re-write.

ALTERNATE ASSESSMENTS. About the only issue that is specific only to students with disabilities is that of participation in alternate assessments. Both bills allow states to develop and administer alternate assessment on alternate academic achievement standards (AA-AAS) for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities. However, the bills vary significantly:

  • Limitation. Senate bill limits the number of students with disabilities who can be assessed using an AA-AAS to one percent of all students assessed – which equates to roughly 9%-10% of students with disabilities. This provision is similar to a NCLB federal regulation and is designed to ensure that students with disabilities are not inappropriately assigned to an alternate assessment. The House bill contains no such limitation and would open the door for abuse of alternate assessment.
  • Prohibition. The Senate bill also contains a prohibition on any state developing any other alternate assessment for students with disabilities. Maintaining this provision in any ESEA re-write is critical to ensuring that students with disabilities – other than those with the most significant cognitive disabilities – participate in states’ general assessment at their enrolled grade.

GRADUATION. Attention to the graduation rate of all students, including students with disabilities, was significantly enhanced via the promulgation of federal ESEA regulations in 2008. The new regulations ensured that graduation received enhanced focus, particularly in those high schools failing to graduate at least 60% of students in four years (called drop-out factories) by disaggregating graduation rates by student subgroups, setting annual graduation rate targets and linking those targets to Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). Most of these advancements are lost in both the Senate and House ESEA bills. While both bills maintain the requirement to report graduation rates using the 4 Year Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate (ACGR) for all students and student subgroups, neither incorporates serious consequences for failing to achieve annual targets or make significant improvements. More from AEE.

BOTTOM LINE: In their current form, neither the Senate nor House bill to reauthorize ESEA is good enough for students with disabilities. With these as starting points for conference, we can anticipate only an unacceptable produce to emerge.



USED announces 2015 state determinations on IDEA Implementation

July 3rd, 2015

July 3, 2015

The US Dept. of Education has released its 2015 determinations of how states are implementing the IDEA. In 2014 the Department added a new procedure in making these determinations – known as a Results Matrix. The Results Matrix and the existing Compliance Matrix now make up what is called the “Results Driven Accountability Matrix (RDA).” The Department has made a few very significant changes to the Results Matrix in 2015. These include:

  • In 2014 states were evaluated on the performance gap between students with disabilities and all students on state assessments in reading and math. These elements have been ELIMINATED in 2015. Proficiency on state assessments is no longer part of the results matrix.
  • In 2015 the Department ADDED two new elements:
    • the percentage of students with disabilities exiting school by graduating with a regular diploma (this is a different calculation than the 4-year adjusted cohort graduation rate (ACGR) that states report each year under NCLB rules)
    • the percentage of students with disabilities exiting school by dropping out.

The Department has not yet posted details of each state’s determination. These should be available here in the coming days. (We reported details of the 2014 Results Matrix here.)

Meanwhile, here is a list of each State’s performance in meeting the requirements of IDEA Part B, which serves students with disabilities, ages 3 through 21 (also available here):

Connecticut, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Republic of Palau, Republic of the Marshall Islands, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming

Delaware, Federated States of Micronesia, Georgia, Ohio, Virgin Islands

NEEDS ASSISTANCE (two or more consecutive years)
Alabama, Alaska, American Samoa, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Florida, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Washington, West Virginia

NEEDS INTERVENTION (two consecutive years)

NEEDS INTERVENTION (four consecutive years)
Bureau of Indian Education

NEEDS INTERVENTION (nine consecutive years)
District of Columbia

IDEA identifies specific technical assistance or enforcement actions that the Department must take under specific circumstances for States that are not determined to “meet requirements.” If a State “needs assistance” for two consecutive years, the Department must take one or more enforcement actions, including, among others, requiring the State to access technical assistance, designating the State as a high-risk grantee, or directing the use of State set-aside funds to the area(s) where the State needs assistance. If a State “needs intervention” for three consecutive years, the Department must take one or more enforcement actions, including among others, requiring a corrective action plan or compliance agreement, or withholding further payments to the State.

Details on how the Department made the 2015 determinations are available here:

The 2014 determinations are available here:

Smarter Balanced Field Test Results Show Major Gaps for Students with Disabilities

January 1st, 2015

Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium
Disaggregated 2014 Field Test Data

The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) released results of its 2014 field testing on December 22, 2014. Results included projections of student performance on the assessments based on the field test demographic sample by content area, grade level and demographic groups as defined by No Child Left Behind.

Projections of student results are valid only for the Consortium as a whole and cannot be interpreted on a state-by-state basis. SBAC states are listed here.

Below is a comparison of the percent of all students and students with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) performing at each of the following achievement levels:

Level 4 – Highest Level  – At Gr. 11 – Ready for credit-earning college work

Level 3 – At Gr. 11 — Ready for credit-earning college work if continues to progress in Gr. 12

Level 2 – Approaching readiness

Level 1 – Lowest Level




Level 1

Level 2

Level 3

Level 4




Level 1

Level 2

Level 3

Level 4

Gr. 3






Gr. 3


























Gr. 4






Gr. 4


























Gr. 5






Gr. 5


























Gr. 6






Gr. 6


























Gr. 7






Gr. 7


























Gr. 8






Gr. 8


























Gr. 11






Gr. 11


























Compiled by The Advocacy Institute
Disaggregated Field Test Data (DOCX) (PDF)



Fall 2014 Education & Disability Policy Webinar Series

October 13th, 2014

Education & Disability Policy
3 Part Webinar Series

This three part webinar series addressed federal policy as it relates to disability and education.  The series was hosted by nine national organizations focused on students with disabilities, listed below.

Webinar Archives

Topic: Introduction to Education Policy ~ Understanding ESEA and IDEA

Conducted October 30, 2014
View archive  ::  Download handout

Topic: High Expectations, Assessments, and Quality of Education

Conducted November 20, 2014
View archive

Topic: Graduation ~
Considerations and Implications for Students with Disabilities

Conducted December 11, 2014
View archive
  ::  Download handout



Webinar sponsors