After passing the most sweeping changes in federal education policy by passing No Child Left Behind (NCLB) back in 2001, the Republicans in Congress now want to turn back the clock on education reform and accountability.
As noted in Why Students with Disabilities Need No Child Left Behind, NCLB has finally brought students with disabilities into state and district-wide assessments. Despite a requirement added to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in the 1997 amendments requiring all students with disabilities to be included in state and district-wide assessments, it was not until the passage of NCLB that schools, school districts, and states finally began to include all students in the state’s accountability system, to teach them what they have a right to learn and to report their performance.
In Rewards and Roadblocks: How Special Education Students are Faring Under No Child Left Behind, the groundbreaking report authored by The Advocacy Institute for the National Center for Learning Disabilities, we documented years of excluding students with disabilities from state assessments or testing them with tests designed for students in lower grades (a practice called “out-of-level testing” not allowed under NCLB).
Some argue that NCLB’s requirements are too harsh and students with disabilities shouldn’t be expected to become proficient on state standards in reading and math – that students are frustrated by tests they can’t pass and teachers are being asked to perform miracles. Excluding students with disabilities from accountability systems would let us get back to the real business of special education: making students feel good about themselves.
Those critics may just get their wish! A band of Republicans in the U.S. Senate have introduced a bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA, known as NCLB) that will roll back the clock on the progress made by students with disabilities because of key provisions of NCLB. It’s S. 1571, sponsored by Senator Johnny Isakson of Georgia, and its part of a package of bills to address NCLB.
While S. 1571 pretty much annihilates every aspect of NCLB – mainly by letting states do their own thing (I think we’ve been there, done that) it doesn’t stop there when it comes to students with disabilities. Rather, it takes direct aim at this particular group of students by providing states with the opportunity to put all students with IEPs into alternate assessments – those assessments designed for a very small group of students with disabilities and currently permitted by NCLB regulations with strict limitation.
Whether there is a continuing need for several alternate assessments, which students should take them, how to decide who takes what, and what restrictions should be placed on their use is really not the issue here. The issue is that S. 1571 discards all students with disabilities – simply because they have disabilities. Sounds a bit discriminatory.
Today the Senators sponsoring S. 1571 will receive a letter signed by 37 disability organizations and associations. The letter points out an array of issues that will work against students with disabilities if S. 1571 became law.
Soon we will see a bill to reauthorize ESEA from the Senate committee with jurisdiction, the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee – or HELP. We’re hoping for a more respectful approach to students with disabilities. We’ve never needed HELP more than now.