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Students with Disabilities – The 2% Rule

Until this year school districts could use an “alternative” testing approach for students with disabilities. Districts were allowed to make the judgment themselves and were allowed to identify up to 2% of the student population.

From an article in The Washington Post dated August 27, 2015:

Effective Sept. 21, 2015, the official rule summary says:

The Secretary amends the regulations governing title I, Part A of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, as amended (ESEA) (the “Title I regulations”), to no longer authorize a State to define modified academic achievement standards and develop alternate assessments based on those modified academic achievement standards for eligible students with disabilities. In order to make conforming changes to ensure coordinated administration of programs under title I of the ESEA and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the Secretary is also amending the regulations for Part B of the IDEA. Note: Nothing in these regulations changes the ability of States to develop and administer alternate assessments based on alternate academic achievement standards for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities or alternate assessments based on grade-level academic achievement standards for other eligible students with disabilities in accordance with the ESEA and the IDEA, or changes the authority of IEP teams to select among these alternate assessments for eligible students.

The new rule is an attempt to get away from what is known as the “2 percent rule,” in which states were allowed to develop alternate tests aligned to modified academic standards for some students with disabilities and count as proficient scores up to 2 percent of students using the alternate tests for accountability purposes.

What are the implications and questions that go with this change?

1) Do children with disabilities need different testing? Most agree that they do need special help and educational materials based on their particular challenges. Most would also agree that there is not enough money nor trained personnel to help special need students. So if their needs are notably different are they likely to do well on standardized tests that assess standardized education?

2) Should the federal government be able to tell States and local school districts what to do and how? The federal government is explicitly prohibited from controlling education at the State level. However, use of money as a tool to “suggest” actions and efforts has been a stealth method of taking defacto control of local education. The open question is whether State and local authorities should be able to determine what students with disabilities need and how they should be assessed.

3) Is this change significant or more political in nature? The rule change does allow for up to 1% to have special testing “only to the 1 percent of students who have severe cognitive disabilities”. Those who view this change as a positive step say it’s good for students. Those who oppose the change say that three isn’t enough money and resources to adequately support those with disabilities now so using standardized testing isn’t appropriate not valid.

Summary:

I don’t think anyone questions the need for resources for students with disabilities. I think that we would also agree that disabilities cover a wide range which means that support needs vary as well. It makes sense that the testing probably needs to vary as well. Whether that is 2% or 1% or some other percent may well vary by area, school, district and state. In the end flexibility rather than hard percentages probably make more sense and decisions should be made at the State and local level an not the federal.

Here are some links to references on the subject:

http://rre.sagepub.com/content/39/1/165.short

http://www.disabilityscoop.com/2015/08/24/new-rule-ends-modified-tests/20589/

http://www.jattjournal.com/index.php/atp/article/view/48354

http://jattjournal.com/index.php/atp/article/view/48352

http://www.nau.edu/health-services/disability-resources/alternative-testing/

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