The No Child Left Behind Act and Students with Disabilities
Status after the December 9, 2003, regulation:
Schools can now leave some kids behind.
A humble attempt to interpret the law in an outline.
(c) Copyright January 15, 2004, by Frank Stepnowski.
Q. How does the December 9, 2003, regulation change
the Act's implications for students with disabilities?
A. If the Law (NCLB) is enforced, schools
will be accountable for results.
Over time, the Act may force schools to use research-based methodologies
and other services to improve the education of children with disabilities and gain them access
to the general curriculum.
Unfortunately, the new regulation allows schools to leave one percent of
its students behind.
Prior to 12/9/2003, critics of NCLB raised two themes. First, many
schools said that some children were so cognitively impaired that they
could never learn to read. Second, some school districts which people
considered good, were failing the Act because those districts ignored children
with disabilities or other populations. Some districts spend more
time and money fighting against programs and accommodations than the programs
Districts lobbied the U.S. Department to allow students with disabilities to be excluded from the Act.
On December 9, 2003, the U.S. Department of Education resolved the
issues with a new regulation and accompanying commentary.
The regulation still leaves many questions.
The NCLB Act.
To oversimplify, the NCLB Act requires school districts to have all students
proficient in reading and math by the year 2014.
(All means 95%)
Districts must make incremental progress over the next 10 years
at a rate set by each State's Bd of Ed. (e.g.: 35% proficiency
in 2003, 40% in 2004, 45% in 2005, etc.). Illinois rate.
Each subgroup of a school must make Adequate Yearly Progress, including
economically disadvantaged students
students of racial and ethnic groups
students with limited English proficiency, and
students with disabilities.
A school which does not make adequate yearly progress must start a school
improvement plan, which may mean instituting:
Severity of improvement plan depends on whether there is one year or two
Adequate Yearly Progress is determined by standardized assessments against
the the State's learning standards.
offer supplement services
offering students a transfer to other schools
restructuring the school
other improvements, and ultimately, a restructuring of the school.
Other laws apply:
all protect children with disabilities.
The U.S. Constitution,
the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA),
the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and
section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act,
These laws state that it would be illegal to discriminate by excluding
children with disabilities from assessments.
Rationale for including all children in assessments:
Assessments are beneficial to students, and excluding students with disabilities
from these benefits of assessments would be illegal.
The purpose of the Act is not to leave anyone behind, not to leave leave
children with disabilities behind.
Exclusion from assessments could prevent someone from seeking a post secondary
Assessments are beneficial because they provide valuable information indicating
individual progress and evaluating educational programs.
Assessments show whether a school's program is worth anything or severely
- More attention is spent on drafting goals and methods in IEPs.
Thus, assessments lead to improvements for students.
The Compromise Regulation
The December 9, 2003, regulation now permits school districts to count
some of the disabled towards its proficiency score.
One percent of the population of students can be scored by "alternate assessments"
and still count as proficient.
These students will thus not be judged against grade-level standards, for
which they would not meet proficiency.
Schools are not limited to giving alternate assessments to 1%, but if they
exceed 1%, the excess will be counted against then.
Schools are not restricted to just the most cognitively impaired students,
but have flexibility to choose who gets one.
Why 1%? Many educators wanted a higher percentage.
In line with statistical studies of the most cognitively impaired population.
Studies cited say that if you increase the percent, schools will institute
more IEPs and call more students disabled to get them out of the assessment
Only 9% of disabled students are severely cognitively impaired.
Don't crimp expectations
Keep High Expectations
When teachers have low expectations of the students, they do not achieve.
When high expectations are made, students surprise teachers with results.
All students deserve a challenging curriculum.
What are they -- examples
teacher observation of student making progress
teacher judging samples of student work
completion of standardized tasks
In Illinois, teachers prepare a portfolio of a student's work. (See below).
The IEP team decides not whether the student gets an alternate
assessment; it is mandatory.
The IEP team specifies how to participate in the State's assessments.
However, the assessment should not be just a teacher saying the student
learned two new words in a year thus "passing".
Details: An alternate assessment must
be aligned with a State's content standards
yield results in reading and math separately
promote access to the general curriculum
designed to indicate Adequate Yearly Progress
Requirements for alternate assessments
Clearly defined structure
State Board of Education guidelines for IEP teams to apply when determining
whether a student's significant cognitive disability justifies alternate
A report format which clearly indicates student performance in terms of
academic achievement standards
The State Board of Education must
An accommodation is one which does not change the content of the
test but only the format, response, setting, timing or scheduling.
write these alternate assessment standards.
report to the Feds the number of assessments, alternate assessments and
regular assessments with accommodations.
document that students with the most significant disabilities are, the
extent possible, included in the general curriculum.
promote the use of accommodations to increase the number of children
who are scored against grade level standards.
Somehow ensure that regular and special ed teachers know how to administer
Modifications are changes which alter what the test is supposed
to measure or the comparability of scores.
The Change in Outlook
NCLB changes the way schools must treat children with disabilities.
It has significant differences from the Individuals with Disabilities
Education Act as interpreted by schools and courts, even as reauthorized
in 1997. Also, IDEA may also be gutted by pending congressional amendments
IDEA- Believed that by assuring parental involvement in the
process, schools will write good IEPs.
NCLB- Believes that from checking assessment results, force schools
to make changes.
IDEA- schools waited for students to fail before taking action
NCLB- schools must be proactive and teach children while their minds are still open to reading.
IDEA - Schools interpreted laws to say schools decide on a methodology.
NCLB - Schools must use research-based methodologies.
IDEA- Schools said students need only make some progress.
NCLB- Schools must use best practices.
IDEA- Schools need only assure process with no accountability for results.
NCLB- Schools are accountable for achieving results.
Goals- must now be written to achieve and to reference State standards.
All students must have access to the general curriculum.
IDEA- Parents enforce through due process individually for each student.
NCLB- State Bd of Ed and Fed OSEP enforce compliance broadly.
IDEA - Schools could put students into a "Functional Curriculum" of
life-skills with little academics
NCLB - Reading, Writing and Arithmetic are essential workplace, functional
IDEA- schools spent too much fighting programs that worked.
General Effects of NCLB
Positive benefits for children with Learning Disabilities such as dyslexia
and speech delays who are not in the 1%, since schools will be forced
to use research-based methodologies to get them to read.
- Since more General-Ed children will learn to read, fewer children will be placed in Special-Ed, conserving resources.
- Funding for more training of teachers
Uncertain future for the most-impaired one-percent of students.
Schools will suspend students rather than assess them.
In a disturbing trend, some agencies have already reported that schools
are increasingly attempting to use the juvenile court system to rid themselves
of students they do not want to educate. The juvenile court system
seldom checks to see if the student was a low achiever because of a learning
disability. IDEA requires schools to evaluate students for disabilities
if the student shows signs of a disability. Also, IDEA states once
a student is identified as a student with a disability, a school cannot
suspend a student for more than 10 days per year for an action which is
a manifestation of the disability. In 2003, schools administrators
approached Congress to enable themselves to suspend students even when
the school is the cause of the misbehavior and the school has failed to
implement the IEP which would have prevented the misbehavior. The
proposed legislation is still pending in Congress.
Schools slowly build up to 95% proficiency- gradually rising to the year
Schools use improvement plans with extra programs only after they fail
to show adequate yearly progress.
The level of intervention increases as the years of failing to meet adequate
yearly progress build up.
By high school, fewer assessments, too late for many children.
Questions for the future
Will State Bd of Ed enforce-
Will OSEP enforce-
when neither has shown much interest in enforcing IDEA?
How will the State Board of Education overview alternate assessment standards?
(The National Council for Disabilities reported that the government
is not enforcing IDEA, leaving the expense and burden to parents.
to School" report.)
Under IDEA, States were required to implement an alternate
assessment as of July 1, 2000.
What about expectations for those in the 1%?
Does it make sense that those who are supposed to be held accountable
are the ones preparing the results?
- (Teachers prepare the student's alternate assessment
portfolio which is the work to be evaluated for progress)
- Districts say that the compiling of a portfolio is so tedious
that it in itself is a disincentive to placing a child on an alternate
- In Illinois, portfolios are sent downstate for uniform review.
Questions existing before the regulation:
NCLB Act requires "highly qualified" teachers for special ed by the end of the 2005-06 school year. Where will they all
Will students with disabilities qualify for the "21st Century " Reading
programs of NCLB?
Witnesses Urge Congress to “Stay the
Course” on No Child Left Behind Standards
March 2, 2004, Congressional Hearing: Witnesses say schools can be accountable and those that try do show results.
Dept. of Ed Press Release Dec. 9, 2003.
Regulation in .pdf
"Children with Disabilities Under No Child Left Behind: Myths and Realities"
pdf : http://www.wrightslaw.com/nclb/info/myths.realities.napas.pdf
For a comprehensive analysis of NCLB, see:
Special Education Outcomes:
Marching On A good discussion of alternate assessments
panel discussion after the regulation
Three articles on how schools are implementing the Act
Assessment (IAA) home page
Illinois Alternate Assessments
The IAA isn't like a standard paper-and-pencil test. Instead it
is a portfolio of student work and other materials collected
at two points in the school year. The materials can include samples
of student work, photos of the student doing work
in school or at home and teachers’ summaries of what students have
learned. The portfolio demonstrates students’
learning in reading, writing, and mathematics at grades 3, 5, 8, and
11, and in science and social science at grades 4, 7,
Trained scorers (certified teachers) evaluate each portfolio on several
A student’s scores go to the students home school for the student's teacher
and parents. The home school receives
Student progress in the academic subject.
Relevance of the portfolio items to the
Illinois Learning Standards.
the scores because it is accountable for the students performance,
and the information becomes part of the School
Report Card. If a student does not attend his or her home school, then
the home school should share the student’s IAA
results with the school of attendance. Schoolwide, districtwide, and
statewide scores are public information and
available on request.
The portfolio is compiled of works and photographs. These items
will not be returned to the school or parents, so you may want to
duplicate a precious item. The portfolios are sent to an
ISBE center in Bloomington where they are graded by trained student
Chicago Tribune article states that portfolios are atime-consuming subjective ordeal.
Illinois NCLB Reading and Math Proficiency Targets
back to outline