As Congress debates the role of testing, a new report finds that schools with the greatest accountability for students with disabilities are most likely to promote inclusion.

Schools held to more stringent academic reporting standards are more likely to deliberately transition kids with disabilities from self-contained to mainstream classrooms, according to the study from the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute for Education Sciences.

The findings suggest that educators may be more motivated to help students with disabilities achieve alongside their typically-developing peers when schools must account for progress.

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Under federal education law, schools must regularly measure and report on the academic performance of students with disabilities as part of their obligation to make adequate yearly progress. However, the requirement is waived for some schools if their population of students with disabilities falls below a minimum threshold set by states.

Looking at schools in 12 states, researchers found that elementary schools that always reported on the progress of their students with disabilities purposefully moved children from segregated to regular classrooms at a rate that was 15.8 percentage points higher than those who never made such accountability reports. Among middle schools, the difference rose to 16.7 percentage points, the study found.

For the report, schools were asked in 2011 about the previous five years. Researchers also reviewed federal government data for the years 2005 to 2008 to identify schools considered “always accountable” — those that had to report on students with disabilities each year — and schools that never had to provide accountability during the time period.

Across the board, always-accountable schools were larger and had more students with disabilities. They also had more special education teachers and were more likely to have classrooms co-taught by such educators in conjunction with regular teachers, the report indicated.

The report comes as lawmakers on Capitol Hill consider changes to the nation’s primary education law, known as No Child Left Behind. Among the most controversial issues is the role of testing.

The U.S. House of Representatives’ education committee passed a bill this week that would ease federal accountability standards, granting more authority to states. Meanwhile the top Republican and Democrat on the U.S. Senate’s education committee have pledged to work together to produce a bipartisan proposal.

Disability advocates have widely come out in favor of continued testing and accountability for students in special education, arguing that measuring progress ensures high expectations.

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