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Regulations for Testing Students with Disabilities Fall Short

NEA Analyzes Education Dept. Final Rules on Alternative Assessment

Final federal regulations for NCLB-required testing of students with disabilities take some steps in the right direction, but will not result in the educationally responsible testing policy that NEA is asking Congress to enact as it considers reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act -- the current version of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

The Department of Education released the final regulations this month. They went into effect on May 9, 2007. According to NEA's analysis, some elements are consistent with NEA recommendations, but the final rules still don't provide states and local school districts enough flexibility to address the needs of students with disabilities.

The issue is how students with disabilities are to be tested and how their test scores will be counted for purposes of the Average Yearly Progress requirements for schools and districts. Original NCLB regulations required students with disabilities to take the same test as all other students and for their scores to be counted the same, as well.

Over the past several years, the Department of Education has provided some flexibility to address the basic unfairness of these requirements by allowing small percentages of students to be tested by alternate assessments. In some cases, test scores of certain categories of students are not counted as part of AYP requirements. Those percentages remain in the final regulations.

Joel Packer, Director of NEA's Education Policy and Practice Department, said NEA and others are urging lawmakers to eliminate the concept of percentages and to allow schools to use whatever assessment process is most appropriate to each individual student. Packer said such assessment should not be artificially limited by federal percentage caps.

NEA's comprehensive Positive Agenda for ESEA Reauthorization spells out NEA's position on this issue:

"Appropriate systems provide for common-sense flexibility in assessing these student subgroups, including more closely aligning ESEA assessment requirements with students' Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) under IDEA, and eliminating arbitrary federal limits on the number of students who may be given assessments based on alternate or modified achievement standards." [Page 20, NEA's Positive Agenda for the ESEA Reauthorization]

NEA believes students with disabilities should continue to be included in state assessment and accountability programs.

However, additional funding is critically needed to help states establish appropriate alternate achievement standards and to develop appropriate assessments for students with disabilities, including alternate assessments based on alternate achievement standards and alternate assessments based on modified achievement standards.

In announcing the final regulations, the Department of Education said it will provide $21.1 million in grant funds for technical assistance as states develop new assessments for students with disabilities, but NEA believes this falls far short of what will be needed.

Related improvements that NEA will be seeking in the reauthorization process include allowing all states to use "growth models" to demonstrate how all students, including students with disabilities, are making progress. Growth models of assessment measure each individual students' academic progress from one point in time to another. More than a single test score must be used to assess what students know.

In addition, NEA believes that all students should be assessed on the curriculum they have been taught.

(April, 2007)