The No Child Left Behind Act and Students with Disabilities

Status after the December 9, 2003, regulation:

Schools can now leave some kids behind.ribbon

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.

ribbon The Controversy

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 cost.   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.

  1. To oversimplify, the NCLB Act requires school districts to have all students proficient in reading and math by the year 2014.
  2. (All means 95%)
  3. 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.
  4. Each subgroup of a school must make Adequate Yearly Progress, including
    1. economically disadvantaged students
    2. students of racial and ethnic groups
    3. students with limited English proficiency, and
    4. students with disabilities.
  5. A school which does not make adequate yearly progress must start a school improvement plan, which may mean instituting:
  6. Severity of improvement plan depends on whether there is one year or two of failures.
  7. Adequate Yearly Progress is determined by standardized assessments against the the State's learning standards.

Other laws apply:

all protect children with disabilities.

These laws state that it would be illegal to discriminate by excluding children with disabilities from assessments.

Rationale for including all children in assessments:


The Compromise Regulation

The December 9, 2003, regulation now permits school districts to count some of the disabled towards its proficiency score.

The rule:

One percent of the population of students can be scored by "alternate assessments" and still count as proficient.

Why 1%?  Many educators wanted a higher percentage.

Keep High Expectations


 Alternate Assessments

What are they -- examples

Who decides

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

Requirements for alternate assessments

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.
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 in 2004.
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 skills, too.

IDEA- schools spent too much fighting programs that worked.


 The Effects

General Effects of NCLB

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.

Time Delays


 Questions for the future

Will State Bd of Ed enforce-
Will OSEP enforce- How will the State Board of Education overview alternate assessment standards?
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?

Questions existing before the regulation:

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.
Press Release
Witness Testimony



U.S. Dept. of Ed Press Release Dec. 9, 2003.
Fed Fact Sheet
Fed Regulation in .pdf
"Children with Disabilities Under No Child Left Behind: Myths and Realities" 

pdf :

For a comprehensive analysis of NCLB, see:
EdWeek panel discussion after the regulation

2003 State Special Education Outcomes: Marching On  A good discussion of alternate assessments
Online Accommodations Bibliography
Three articles on how schools are implementing the Act

Illinois Alternate Assessment (IAA) home page
IAA Manual (pdf)


 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,
and 11.

Trained scorers (certified teachers) evaluate each portfolio on several dimensions:

A student’s scores go to the students home school for the student's teacher and parents. The home school receives
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 teachers.

Chicago Tribune article states that portfolios are atime-consuming subjective ordeal.

Illinois NCLB Reading and Math Proficiency  Targets

      2003 40% 
2004 40%
2005 47.5%
2006 47.5%
2007 55%
2008 62.5%
2009 70%
2010 77.5%
2011 85%
2012 92.5%
2013 92.5%
2014 100%
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