Archive for the 'Our Kids Count' Category

How the States Stack Up: 2022 IDEA State Determinations

Tuesday, June 28th, 2022

JUNE 28, 2022: The U.S. Dept. of Education (ED) Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) has released the annual IDEA state determinations for 2022. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires ED to annually assign every state a “rating” on its implementation of IDEA, based on the state’s performance on its State Performance Plan (SPP). The 2022 determinations are based on performance for fiscal year 2020. Each state is assigned one of the following ratings:
– Meets requirements and purposes of the IDEA Part B
– Needs assistance in implementing the requirements of IDEA Part B
– Needs intervention in implementing the requirements of IDEA Part B
– Needs substantial intervention in implementing the requirements of IDEA Part B

The OSEP Fact Sheet on 2022 determinations is here.

The map below shows the 2022 determination for each state.

Beginning in 2014 OSEP began using the “Results-Driven Accountability” (RDA) Matrix to arrive at state determinations. We have spent a great deal of time examining RDA. Our critique of the current RDA process is examined in depth in this report, “Results Driven Accountability Needs Substantial Intervention.” We discuss in detail what’s working and not working after several years of RDA-based state determinations. As the chart below shows, the number of states earning a “Meets Requirements” rating has not improved under RDA. Get ratings by state for 2014 to 2022 here. (PDF, 1 pg)

Documentation for each state’s determination will be posted in July.

Recommendations for Revised Section 504 Regulations

Monday, June 27th, 2022

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has announced that it intends to propose amendments to its regulations under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the landmark disability civil rights law. The Department is seeking suggestions from the public to help identify proposals that will best improve current regulations at 34 C.F.R. Part. 104. Interested parties may go to to submit suggestions.


  • OCR should revise the terminology used in the current regulations from “handicap” or “handicapping condition” to “disability” and other outdated language.
  • The ADA Amendments Act provisions must be explicitly integrated into the Section 504 regulations.


34 CFR Part 104 Subpart D – Preschool, Elementary, and Secondary Education

§104.31 Application of this subpart.

  • Charter schools

Revised regulations should explicitly state that all public schools, including public charter schools, public virtual schools, and typical public schools, as well as any non-public schools that receive federal financial assistance directly or indirectly, are bound by the provisions of Section 504, and that students with disabilities (and those seeking to attend) in these institutions have the same Section 504 rights as other public school students with disabilities. See, for example,   

  • Online/virtual schools

Revised regulations should explicitly identify that Section 504 applies to a public online school operated statewide by a public school district via contract with a private entity. (See Quillayute Valley (WA) School District, 49 IDELR 293 (OCR 11/26/07); see also Elkhart (KS) Unified School District 218, 51 IDELR 51 (OCR 3/26/08) Online school operated by school district and available to students across the country required to inform students of the procedures to request accommodations and should be able to provide, at a minimum, modifications to the regular education program including test taking and assignment deadlines).

  • Non-public schools

Further to the above, there is wide spread misunderstanding that private schools are exempt from Section 504. To address this, revised regulations should make clear that non-public schools, such as private schools including religious schools, that accept ANY form of federal financial assistance are required to adhere to Section 504. Federal financial assistance includes such funds as free and reduced lunch program, any funding program under the ESEA (Title I, etc.), IDEA grants. Providing a non-exhaustive list would help further understanding of this provision.

  • Juvenile Justice facilities

Revised regulations should explicitly identify that all juvenile justice residential facilities and any other entities that receive Federal funds–either directly or indirectly through another State or local agency–and that provide educational services in such facilities are subject to Federal civil rights laws including Section 504. See

  • Before and after-school programs & summer programs

Revised regulations should include specific language indicating that before and after-school and summer programs operated by, and/or functioning on the premises of, and/or advertised by a school or district as the school or district’s before and after-school or summer program, are bound by Section 504 even if they are run by a non-district entity and even if that entity itself does not receive federal financial dollars. The regulations must specify that districts may not provide significant assistance to outside entities such as before and after-school programs and summer programs if those entities discrimination, even if that outside entity is not covered under Section 504.

§104.32 Location and notification

  • Child Find

This is a critical area for regulatory strengthening. Data from the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) indicate a serious lack of compliance with §104.32. Disability advocates have attempted to highlight the evidence of serious violations as indicated by the CRDC. See,

The current regulatory language is too cursory to provide sufficient information to families, students, schools and districts of the requirements for identification/child find under Section 504: “A recipient that operates a public elementary or secondary education program or activity shall annually: (a) Undertake to identify and locate every qualified handicapped person residing in the recipient’s jurisdiction who is not receiving a public education; and (b) Take appropriate steps to notify handicapped persons and their parents or guardians of the recipient’s duty under this subpart.” In addition, this language could be interpreted to mean that a school or district only has to identify and locate potentially eligible students, or notify students with disabilities and their parents of their duty to do so, only once a year. To address this problem, the regulations must contain stronger language regarding the obligation of districts and schools to identify all potentially eligible children. Information about Section 504 and how to ask for 504 services must be shared in multiple ways with parents and on an ongoing basis. All staff must be aware of their obligations to identify all potentially eligible students. Section 300.111 of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) regulations provide some guidance for this language: “The State must have in effect policies and procedures to ensure that – all children with disabilities residing in the State, including children with disabilities who are homeless children or are wards of the State…regardless of the severity of their disability…are identified, located, and evaluated; and a practice method is developed and implemented to determine which children are currently receiving needed special education and related services…Child find also must include – children who are suspected of being a child with a disability…and in need of special education, even though they are advancing from grade to grade; and highly mobile children, including migrant children.” Note: Since the obligation for child find under Section 504 rests with the school/district, “State” in the above example should be replaced with “school and LEA.”

§104.33 Free appropriate public education

Across the nation, there is a major misunderstanding among schools and districts that only accommodations can be provided under Section 504. This is in direct conflict with the current regulatory language at
§104.33 (b).

Therefore, revised regulations must provide explicit language that both regular and special education services and related services as well as accommodations and nonacademic and extracurricular activities available to students with disabilities are available under Section 504 and at no cost to families except to the extent that there are fees that are imposed on all students and families including those without disabilities.

  • Compensatory Services Under Section 504

OCR should make clear in revised regulations that compensatory services can be awarded under Section 504. See

§104.34 Educational setting

  • Online/Remote/Virtual Instruction

Revised regulations should include specific language that Section 504 should not prevent any school from offering educational programs through distance instruction. See

§104.35 Evaluation and placement

  • Parent Consent for initial evaluation

OCR’s interpretation that Section 504 requires informed parental consent for the initial evaluation must be included in revised regulations. In addition, revised regulations should require such parental consent to be in writing, as well as any district notification regarding evaluation.

  • Requirements for evaluations

Revised regulations should include detailed information on (a) the need for qualified evaluators to do the evaluations, (b) the requirement for a timely evaluation (with a reasonable timeframe), (c) the right of parents to be part of the team that determines whether an evaluation will be conducted and if so, what it will entail, (d) the need to ensure that evaluations use tools and are conducted in ways that do not result in inappropriate identification or disproportionality, (e) that all evaluations must be conducted at no cost to the families and that families cannot be required to fund/produce their own evaluations, and (f) that any information, evaluations, etc. that parents bring to the Section 504 meeting must be reviewed and considered as part of the evaluation.

OCR guidance indicates that, if a child is not eligible under IDEA, the school/district must consider potential eligibility under Section 504. This should be explicitly included in revised regulations, as should OCR guidance that a district may not simply refuse to evaluate a child.

Revised regulations should also make clear that schools/districts should consider providing 504 eligibility for students with health conditions rather than providing such students with “health plans” which do not provide the same level of protection and procedural safeguards.

Independent Educational Evaluation

Revised regulations should address the right to an independent educational evaluation at public expense including frequency, etc.

Non-Discrimination/Access Issues

  • Access to Accelerated Programs

Students with disabilities are routinely denied the opportunity to participate in accelerated programs such as Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate classes or programs. OCR’s 2007 Dear Colleague Letter indicates that the practice of denying, on the basis of disability, a qualified student with a disability the opportunity to participate in an accelerated program violates Section 504. Revised regulations must explicitly address this. (See  

  • Access to Electronic Book Readers

Revised regulations should explicitly include language about the need to provide access to assistive technology including electronic book readers among other AT devices and tools in the regulations. See

  • Access to Extracurricular Athletics

OCR’s interpretation of Section 504 that students with disabilities must have an equal opportunity for participation in nonacademic and extracurricular services and activities should be explicitly included in revised regulations. See

  • Access to an education during public health emergencies

School officials have an obligation to avoid discrimination on the basis of disability under Title II and Section 504, while cooperating with public health authorities to ensure that students with disabilities have access to the school’s education program. This should be addressed in revised regulations. See

  • Bullying & Harassment

OCR should explicitly indicate in revised regulations that bullying of a student on the basis of his or her disability may result in a disability-based harassment violation under Section 504. See

  • Discipline protections: Manifestation determination, functional behavioral assessment, positive behavior support, limitations on exclusions (consecutive or a series of short-term)

Revised regulations should clarify requirements to conduct manifestation determination reviews and also to identify exclusion from school for more than 10 consecutive school days or for a series of short-term removals if the total days are more than 10 school days and there is a “pattern” of exclusion. OCR considers an exclusion from the educational program (for example, an out-of-school suspension) of more than 10 consecutive school days to be a significant change in placement. OCR also considers a series of short-term exclusions (each 10 school days or fewer) from the educational program to be a significant change in placement, if the short-term exclusions total more than 10 school days and create a pattern of removal.  (See Parent and Educator Guide to Section 504: Revised regulations should explicitly address this.

Note: In Springfield School District #186, 55 IDELR 206 (OCR June 29, 2010), the Office for Civil Rights determined that a school district violated Section 504 when it expelled a student with a 504 Plan without conducting a manifestation determination.

OCR should specifically address the use of restraint and seclusion by school districts as behavior/actions that may result in discrimination against students with disabilities, thereby violating Section 504. In many states, the only students who are allowed to be restrained or secluded are students with disabilities, which on its face should be discrimination and a violation of Section 504. See

OCR should include in revised regulations language indicating that all Section 504 plans and all communication related to Section 504 plans, such as notice of 504 meetings, must be in writing. Currently, OCR has indicated its position that schools may incorporate a 504 plan into a written document but are not required to do so. (See Parent Educator Resource Guide,

This approach makes it virtually impossible for families to participate effectively in the process, or even to know what is contained in the 504 plan and how to ensure that the necessary services are implemented. It is also unrealistic to expect teachers and other school staff to be able to implement a plan that is not in writing.

Since current regulations state that implementation of an IEP is one means of meeting the FAPE standard (104.339b)(2)) revised regulations should, at a minimum, require that the provision of FAPE require a written plan.

OCR should also include in revised regulations the requirement for parent participation in the development, updating, and/or revision to the 504 plan, and a requirement for at least annual review and revision, as necessary, of the 504 plan. Currently, OCR “urges” schools to allow for parental participation when considering any change in the student’s Section 504 provision of FAPE, including location of services, but does not require it. This minimizes the critical role of parents in the decision-making process and makes it less likely that the decisions that are made, including the contents of the 504 plan, will be appropriate and meet the needs of the student with a disability. Additionally, revised regulations should require the participation of the student with a disability starting no later than transition age and certainly when the student becomes an adult.

  • Transition – Legal Rights and Responsibilities of Students with Disabilities as They Transition from High School to Institutions of Postsecondary Education

OCR is encouraged to incorporate requirements regarding the critical transition from school to adult life in revised 504 regulations, including a requirement for schools to coordinate and collaborate with state and local adult service providers/systems and assisting students to connect with those adult services providers/systems. This will help avoid the current situation where students with disabilities who are not covered under IDEA are not aware of their potential eligibility for Section 504 protections in post-secondary education or the availability of adult services from agencies such as vocational rehabilitation. See

§104.36 Procedural safeguards

  • Impartial hearing/complaints

Revised regulations should make clear that 504 eligible students maintain their current placement during the pendency of any impartial hearings requested by the parents (i.e., stay-put).

  • Burden of proof

Revised regulations should include language indicating that the burden of proof to demonstrate compliance with the requirements of Section 504 is on the school/district and not the parent, as the school/district is the entity that has access to all the documents needed to show compliance, and further, the district commits to complying with Section 504 as part of its receipt of Federal funds.

  • Parent participation in decision-making

Revised regulations should significantly strengthen the procedural safeguards, including requiring informed, written parental consent for evaluations and at least the initial 504 plan; written notification of parental rights including the right to participate in all meetings related to Section 504 eligibility, evaluation and identification, and plan development and revision.

34 CFR Part 104 Subpart E Postsecondary Education

§ 104.42 Admissions and recruitment

Require institutions to give “considerable weight” to documentation of both disability and the auxiliary aids and services previously provided (such as an IEP, 504 Plan, and/or Summary of Performance), and expand to non-examination contexts such as course, eligibility, and school services.

34 CFR Part 104 Subpart C Accessibility

  • Building Accessibility (§104.23)

The regulations must be amended to clarify that building accessibility must meet the ADA accessibility requirements, keeping in mind the post-1977 construction standards that buildings must, to the maximum extent feasible, be readily accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities including not only students but also families and staff.

UP AHEAD: Six Years of Low Expectations for Students with Disabilities

Wednesday, April 27th, 2022

Over the past few months states have been busy formulating new annual targets for their state performance plans (SPP) for FFY 2020-2025. The new 6 year targets were to be submitted to the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) at the U.S. Dept. of Education along with states’ SPP Annual Performance Report (APR) on February 1, 2022.

These new targets were to be developed with stakeholder involvement, as this OSEP memo points out. SPP targets are used to annually review states’ performance on the implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). And, in turn, states use the targets to evaluate IDEA implementation of local school districts. The SPP/APR submissions are currently under review at OSEP – including the new targets for FFY 2020-2025.

Here’s the problem …

Based on information shared with stakeholders in several states (see AR, CO, FL, KY, MD, SD) the data being used to set 6 years of expectations on the participation and performance of students with disabilities on state assessments (known as SPP Indicator 3) are data from the state assessments conducted in the 2020-2021 school year.

This is a BIG problem since the participation and performance of students with disabilities in 2020-2021 was heavily impacted by continued school closures, remote instruction, high absenteeism as well as lack of implementation of students’ Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and a shortage of qualified special education and related services personnel.

So … using data from 2020-2021 to set targets on participation and performance for the next 6 years ensures low expectations. Essentially, the learning loss of students with disabilities will be baked into performance targets for 6 years!

As the U.S. Dept. of Education’s Office for Civil Rights reported in Education in a Pandemic: The Disparate Impacts of COVID-19 on America’s Students, “[f]or many elementary and secondary school students with disabilities, COVID-19 has significantly disrupted the education and related aids and services needed to support their academic progress and prevent regression. And there are signs that those disruptions may be exacerbating longstanding disability-based disparities in academic achievement.”

Now, setting 6 years of annual targets for performance on state assessments in math and reading based on 2020-2021 results will exacerbate the disparate impact of COVID-19.

According to this article from the Region 15 Comprehensive Center (funded by the U.S. Dept. of Ed):

“While 2021 assessment data can still be a helpful barometer of how well educators and schools supported students’ grade-level learning, it is not appropriate to use these data alone to make inferences about student success or school quality, particularly if such inferences are attached to significant decisions or consequences. To avoid drawing incorrect conclusions from assessment data about student success or school quality, policymakers and education leaders should consider lowering or removing any high stakes attached to 2021 assessment results.”

This Education Week article on results of 2021 testing points out “even though educators are hungry for insight, assessment experts are urging caution. This year, more than any in recent memory, calls for extreme care and restraint when analyzing statewide test scores, drawing conclusions, and taking action, they say.”

And, as this NCIEA article points out, efforts should be made to “minimize the long-term influence of ‘fragile indicators’ such as proficiency rates when forced to use the imperfect assessment data from 2020-2021.”

Allowing states to set SPP targets using 2020-2021 state assessment data is sure to maximize the impact of COVID-19 on students with disabilities for years to come. Buckle up.

Comment on Your State’s Application for IDEA Part B Federal Funds for FFY 2022

Friday, March 25th, 2022

States are required to submit an annual application for Federal funds to the U.S. Dept. of Education (ED) in order to be eligible to receive their IDEA Part B Federal funds.

States must make their FFY 2022 IDEA Part B applications for Federal funds available to the public at least 60 days prior to submission to ED’s Office of Special Education Programs (due by May 27, 2022 ), accept public comment for at least 30 days, review and consider all public comments and make any necessary modifications to the application or policies and procedures, as appropriate. This means applications should be posted to SEA websites by March 28, 2022.

Through these applications, states must make a number of “assurances” regarding compliance with IDEA including assuring FAPE is available to all identified students, services are provided in the least restrictive environment (LRE) to the maximum extent practicable, identifying significant disproportionality and many more! States must also provide information on their maintenance of state financial support. 

Direct links to states’ applications are provided below.

More information about the annual application is available in the following documents:






























ND: (under Compliance Data and Reports)





















New Data: Number of IDEA eligible Students Ages 3-21 Shows Little Change From 2019. Number of Infants and Toddlers Drops Significantly.

Tuesday, March 8th, 2022

The U.S. Dept. of Education has released new data on students with disabilities (eligible under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or IDEA). Section 618 of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that each state annually submit data about the infants and toddlers, birth through age 2, who receive early intervention services under Part C of IDEA, and children with disabilities, ages 3 through 21, who receive special education and related services under Part B of IDEA.

The new data – the first since start of the COVID-19 pandemic – shows the number of eligible children in 2020 remained essentially the same as in 2019, ending a steady stream of significant increases over prior years.

Because of a change in the way schools are to report children with disabilities who are 5 years old, the number of students in the 3-5 age range has declined and the number of “school age students” has increased. Beginning in 2020, schools were required to report 5 year olds in kindergarten as School Age Students with Disabilities.

The percent of the population served continues to vary significantly across states, ranging from a high of 12.98% in Maine to a low of 6.56% in Hawaii


The distribution across disability categories of School Age Students with Disabilities in 2020 remained largely unchanged, with a slight increase in the number of children in the Developmental Delay category which is frequently assigned to students in the early grades. The Autism category continues to grow while other categories such as Specific learning disabilities and Speech/language impairments continue to decline.


While the 3-21 group was unchanged, the number of children served under IDEA Part C saw a significant decline. The number of children (birth through age 2) declined by 63,847 or 15% from 2019 and the percent of population served fell from 3.7% to 3.2%. This decline is quite troubling and could reflect the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on very young children including such things as foregoing regular check-ups which could recognize developmental delays.

The percent of the zero to 3 population receiving early intervention services under IDEA Part C varies significantly across states, ranging from a high of 10.45% in Massachusetts to a low of .82% in Hawaii. All but 3 states (DC, SC, WY) reported drop in percent being served. See this table for change by state.

The section 618 data collection has been migrated to a new (very user- unfriendly) platform – the “Open Data Platform.

The new release provides data on the following:

· School Year 2019-20 Part B Assessment
· School Year 2020-21 Part B Child Count and Educational Environments
· School Year 2019-20 Part B Discipline
· School Year 2019-20 Part B Dispute Resolution
· School Year 2019-20 Part B Exiting
· Federal Fiscal Year 2019/ School Year 2019-20 Maintenance of Effort Reduction and Coordinated Early Intervening Services
· School Year 2019-20 Part B Personnel
· School Year 2020-21 Part C Child Count and Settings
· School Year 2019-20 Part C Dispute Resolution
· School Year 2019-20 Part C Exiting

American Rescue Plan Act Funds: New Opportunity for Assistive Technology!

Friday, October 15th, 2021

The American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act is the third and, by far the largest, federal law providing money to schools to assist with the impact of COVID-19 – known as the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief or ESSER Fund. See graphic below.

The ARP provides $122.8 billion in ESSER funds.
Allocations to states are based on the proportion that each state received under Title I, Part A of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) in the most recent fiscal year. Allocations for each state can be found in this State Allocation Table. Two-thirds of states’ allocations ($81.3 billion) were distributed to the states in late March 2021. The remaining one-third ($40.7 billion) is distributed after submission of a plan that describes how ARP ESSER funds will be used to safely return students to in-person instruction, maximize in-person instruction time, operate schools, and meet the needs of students, and that addresses other requirements of the ARP ESSER Fund. State plans are available here.

States must distribute at least 90 percent of their ESSER allocation to local educational agencies, or LEA also known as school districts. LEAs must spend a certain amount on specific activities as shown in the graphic below.

Each LEA is required to develop its ESSER plan in consultation with stakeholders and post the plan on its website.

Guidance from the U.S. Dept. of Education makes clear that ESSER funds can be used to address the assistive technology needs of students with disabilities. Here are some specifics:

Frequently Asked Questions
An LEA may use ESSER funds for the broad range of activities listed in section 18003(d) of the CARES Act, section 313(d) of the CRRSA Act, and section 2001(e) of the ARP Act including
– Any activity authorized by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
– Purchasing educational technology (including hardware, software, and connectivity) for students who are served by the LEA that aids in regular and substantive educational interaction between students and their classroom instructors, including low-income students and students with disabilities, which may include assistive technology or adaptive equipment. (Check out this WIRED article for recommendations on AT for students with dyslexia)

ESSER funds may also be used for:
– Improving the use of technology in the classroom and/or in a remote setting for children with disabilities to enhance learning;
– Software/online/virtual programs, screen capture/recording software, online/virtual cultural curriculum/programs, online/virtual tutoring curriculum/programs, learning management systems;
• Technology accessories, such as headphones, speakers, laptop cameras; and
• Assistive technology devices, such as dedicated communication devices and applications for text-to-speech, graphic organizers, or word prediction.
Additional U.S. Dept. of Ed documents with specific mentions of assistive technology for students with disabilities:

As the above document points out, it may be necessary to revise a student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) in order to address new needs arising from lost instruction due to school closures and remote learning. Such a review/revision should include a consideration of the student’s need for assistive technology devices and/or services.

So …go for it, AT, that is! LEAs have several years to expend their ARP funds. Money should not be an issue when considering the need for AT.

Listen to this podcast with AT expert Dave Edyburn for a discussion of how ARP funds can be used for AT. And read Dave’s updated AT Advocacy article for tips on negotiating AT for students with disabilities.

How the States Stack Up: 2021 IDEA Determinations

Wednesday, June 30th, 2021

In June 2021 the U.S. Dept. of Education (ED) Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) released the annual IDEA state determinations. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires ED to annually assign every state a “rating” on its implementation of IDEA, based on the state’s performance on its State Performance Plan (SPP). The 2021 determinations are based on performance for fiscal year 2019. Each state is assigned one of the following ratings:
– Meets requirements and purposes of the IDEA Part B
– Needs assistance in implementing the requirements of IDEA Part B
– Needs intervention in implementing the requirements of IDEA Part B
– Needs substantial intervention in implementing the requirements of IDEA Part B

The map below shows the 2021 rating for each state. Based upon these ratings, 60 percent of the nation’s IDEA-eligible students are educated in states that “Need Assistance” in implementing the requirements of IDEA Part B.

The method for determining the rating is described in this document:
How the Department Made Determinations – Part B

Here is how to locate information for your state’s 2021 rating:
– Go to this page
– Locate your state’s 2021 SPP/APR Submission Part B and State Determination Letters PART B
– Click and download the MS WORD document of the 2021 SPP/APR Submission PART B
– Go to the end of the MS WORD document and click on the PDF icon that says “results matrix -2021b.” This document – titled “2021 Part B Results-Driven Accountability Matrix” – provides the scoring for each element of the matrix used to determine the state’s rating.

Beginning in 2014 OSEP began using the “Results-Driven Accountability” (RDA) Matrix to arrive at states rating. We have spent a great deal of time examining RDA. Our critique of the current RDA process is examined in depth in this report, “Results Driven Accountability Needs Substantial Intervention.” We discuss in detail what’s working and not working after several years of RDA-based state determinations. As the chart below shows, the number of states earning a “Meets Requirements” rating has not improved under RDA. Get ratings by state for 2014 to 2021 here. (PDF, 1 pg)

See also:
Federal Monitoring and Enforcement of IDEA Compliance, National Council on Disability, 2018

State-by-State Graduation Rates for Students with Disabilities :: 2018-2019

Thursday, April 1st, 2021

States are required to report annually to the U.S. Dept. of Education (ED) the “4-Year Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate (ACGR)” for all students and separately for many student subgroups, including students with disabilities. The 4-Year ACGR for the 2018-2019 school year was released on March 22, 2021.

ABOUT THE ACGR: The ACGR was put into place in 2008 via Federal regulations to help bring uniformity to the way states calculate the high school graduation rate. Reporting began with the 2010-2011 school year. The ACGR was subsequently included in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) passed in 2015. It is also the subject of non-regulatory guidance released by ED in January 2017.

States are to report only those students who graduated with a “regular high school diploma” in four (or fewer) years. ESSA defines a “regular high school diploma” as the “standard high school diploma awarded to the preponderance of students in a State that is fully aligned with the State’s standards.”

The ED guidance makes these important points regarding the ACGR for students with disabilities:

  • A State may not include a recognized equivalent of a diploma as a regular high school diploma for the purpose of calculating the four-year or extended-year ACGR. (ESEA section 8101(43)(B)). Thus, students who graduate with a credential other than a regular high school diploma, such as a general equivalency diploma, modified diploma, certificate of completion, certificate of attendance, or a diploma based on meeting a student’s IEP goals, may not be counted in the numerator as having earned a regular high school diploma, but must be included in the denominator of the four-year and extended-year ACGR. (A-14, pg 13) A diploma based on meeting IEP goals will not provide a sufficient basis for determining that the student has met a State’s grade-level academic content standards; rather, it will only demonstrate that the student has attained his or her IEP goals during the annual period covered by the IEP. Therefore, a diploma based on attainment of IEP goals, regardless of whether the IEP goals are fully aligned with a State’s grade-level content standards, should not be treated as a regular high school diploma.(A-15, pg.13)
  • States may count a student with the most significant cognitive disabilities who graduates with a State-defined alternate diploma in the cohort for a four-year ACGR within the time period for which the State ensures the availability of a free appropriate public education under section 612(a)(1) of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)(A-16, pg.13)

However, because the U.S. Congress invalidated the Federal regulations governing accountability under ESSA, some issues regarding the calculation of the ACGR remain unsettled. These include:

  • How states determine who is a “student with a disability” for inclusion in the subgroup. Therefore, states may be determining who is included in a variety of ways (started the cohort with an IEP, exited the cohort with an IEP, etc.) This lack of clarity impacts the comparability of the ACGR for students with disabilities across states.
  • How states count students with the most significant cognitive disabilities who graduate with a State-defined alternate diploma in the four-year and extended-year ACGR. Therefore, states may be using different methodologies for this purpose.

In comparing ACGRs across states, the substantial differences in the requirements for a regular high school diploma used by states must also be taken into consideration. A 2017 report by the National Center on Educational Outcomes examined the diploma options, coursework and exit exam requirements for students with IEPs compared to those without IEPs.  A regular high school diploma (as defined by ESSA) does not represent the same knowledge and skills across states nor does it necessarily indicate college and career readiness.

The ACGR plays an important role in the accountability plans that states were required to develop and implement as required by ESSA. States must set long-term goals and measurements of interim progress for the ACGR, including by student subgroups.

While ACGR comparisons across states are difficult due to the issues discussed above, what is worth scrutiny is the GAP between students with disabilities and all students on the 4-year ACGR within each state. The table below provides the GAP for 2018-19 by state. (Keep in mind that the GAP would be larger if it were possible to compare students with disabilities to those without disabilities.)
Download the chart (PDF)

4-year adjusted cohort graduation rate students with disabilities by state 2018-2019

The chart below shows the performance of students with disabilities over the nine years since ACGR reporting began. Download the chart (PDF)

4-year adjusted cohort graduation rate for children with disabilities by state 2011-2019

See also:

State-by-state Graduation Rates for Students with Disabilities:

Diploma Options, Graduation Requirements, and Exit Exams for Youth with Disabilities: 2017 National Study (National Center on Educational Outcomes, 2019)

Diplomas that Matter: Ensuring Equity of Opportunity for Students with Disabilities (Achieve, 2016)

Almost all students with disabilities are capable of graduating on time. Here’s why they’re not (Hechinger Report, 2017)

Graduation Issues and Considerations for Students with Disabilities Webinar presented by The Advocacy Institute and the National Center on Educational Outcomes (archived recording) Webinar Handout (PDF)

Diplomas at Risk: A Critical Look at the Graduation Rate of Students with Learning Disabilities (2013)

What We Know about IDEA-eligible Students

Sunday, February 28th, 2021

This short presentation – just 10 minutes – provides an overview of the IDEA Section 618 data released in February 2021.

PowerPoint presentation (PDF, 14 pages)

Links in this presentation:
IDEA Section 618 data collection
Webinar: Finding and Using Section 618 Data

Happy Birthday, ESSA!

Thursday, December 10th, 2020

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) – the latest version of the Elementary & Secondary Education Act (ESEA) – turns FIVE YEARS OLD today, December 10, 2020.

The Act states clearly “The purpose of this title is to provide all children significant opportunity to receive a fair, equitable, and high-quality education, and to close educational achievement gaps.”  

So, five years in, let’s look at how students with disabilities are faring and if the achievement gaps are closing:

GRADUATION: The latest data on high school graduation rates showed no improvement for students with disabilities from the previous year. The 4-year adjusted cohort graduation rate gap between students with disabilities and all students remains at 18 points (67% vs. 85% respectively).

ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT: As measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the achievement of students with disabilities in reading and math at grades 4 and 8 has either remained flat or worsened. Meanwhile, the variance in NAEP achievement across states is astonishing.

PARTICIPATION IN STATE ASSESSMENTS: ESSA brought a new requirement regarding assessment participation – limiting the use of alternate assessments based on alternate academic achievement standards to 1% of all students assessed. Yet many states have requested a waiver to exceed this limit for multiple years. And the U.S. Dept. of Education has abandoned its responsibilities to require states to adhere to Federal regulations and most recently asked states exceeding the limit to submit improvement plans in lieu of formal waiver requests.

Meanwhile, several states fail to meet the ESSA requirement to include at least 95% of students with disabilities in their state academic assessments. Missing the test participation mark is the reason some states received a failing grade in IDEA implementation in 2020.

Significant lack of progress in these important indicators are even more critical when we consider the increase in the number of students identified for special education in recent years. The latest year with data available showed an increase of 185,000 students ages 6-21 (2017-18 to 2018-2019). So many more students are affected by the lack of impact of ESSA.