Senate Plan Retains Testing Cap For Students With Disabilities
A bipartisan plan to reshape the nation’s primary education law would maintain strict limits on the number of students with disabilities taking less rigorous tests.
After months of negotiation, the top Republican and Democrat on the U.S. Senate education committee released a joint proposal this week to update the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, known as No Child Left Behind. The Senate education panel is slated to consider the bill next week.
Currently, students with severe cognitive disabilities are allowed to take alternate assessments in lieu of the general, grade-level tests mandated for most children. However, only 1 percent of all students — or about 10 percent of those with disabilities — may be counted as proficient by schools for taking alternate exams.
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The proposal from U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., would retain that rule. The plan would also continue a requirement that annual data collection to track student progress include figures specific to students with disabilities.
“Our agreement continues important measurements of the academic progress of students but restores to states, local school districts, teachers and parents the responsibility for deciding what to do about improving student achievement,” Alexander said of the plan which would scale back the federal role in defining academic standards, how teachers should be evaluated and what to do about failing schools.
Disability advocates were concerned by an earlier proposal from Alexander that would have done away with the cap on the number of students who could take less-rigorous tests, potentially leading to lower expectations.
Lindsay Jones, director of public policy and advocacy at the National Center for Learning Disabilities, said that an initial read of the new proposal suggests that it’s a “step in the right direction,” particularly with regard to testing.
“The overwhelming majority of students with disabilities can — and do — take the general assessment with or without accommodations. We believe the bill mirrors this reality and includes important protections that provide access to the general education curriculum for all students — those taking the general or the alternate assessment,” Jones said.
A separate plan to revise the education law stalled earlier this year in the U.S. House of Representatives.