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Department of Education Mandates General Exams for Special Education Students
posted by: Ruthie | August 27, 2013, 07:08 PM   

The equal treatment of special education students continues to be a focus of Secretary Duncan and the Department of Education. For special education students, current No Child Left Behind provisions permitted 2% of students per state to learn a curriculum based on “modified” objectives and be measured on an aligned test. These separate requirements for special needs students raised questions among disability advocates.

Several special education advocacy groups, such as Easter Seals, and the National Center for Learning Disabilities, have worked to end this 2% allowance in favor of consistent testing.

In July, the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) wrote, "The expectation should be that students presently taking the ... [alternate exams] will participate in the general assessment, with appropriate accommodations as needed."  In essence, while special education students may need increased testing time or assistance physically taking the test, all students should be held to the same assessments and standards.

On Friday, Secretary Duncan and the Department of Education responded by proposing that states already administering alternate tests use them for the last time this school year.

"We have to expect the very best from our students and tell the truth about student performance, to prepare them for college and career," Duncan said in a statement. "That means no longer allowing the achievement of students with disabilities to be measured by these alternate assessments aligned to modified achievement standards. This prevents these students from reaching their full potential, and prevents our country from benefitting from that potential."

Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) praised Secretary Duncan’s decision, along with several special education advocacy groups. However, some critics suggested the new law will not take into account the unique problems faced by special education students.

As curriculums and tests are evolving, it is necessary to adapt legislation for today’s students and assesments. "When this policy was originally developed in 2007, we were in a different world," said Michael Yudin, acting assistant secretary for special education and rehabilitative services. He concluded that new assessments aligned to the Common Core State Standards were designed to accommodate all students.

NCLD's Lindsay Jones added, "We agree that they need to be eradicated." According to the organization, too many students are placed in alternative exams and the results often mask low performance. 

The Department of Education will make the final decision on this law on October 7th.

What do you think of this new law?

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