Special Education Issues Dog NCLB

K-12 Testing

As state education officials wade deeper into No Child Left Behind's many mandates, the issue of how special needs students fit into "adequate yearly progress" (AYP) and other requirements is causing strains among special education constituencies.


NCLB includes students with disabilities in the requirement that all students make AYP toward the goal of 100 percent proficiency. Many disability advocates see the inclusion of special needs students in state tests as the only way to ensure that their educational needs are met and schools held accountable. Others believe the expectation that all students, including those with severe cognitive disabilities, will score "proficient" by 2014 is an unrealistic hurdle that will doom both students and districts to failure. Still others fear that reliance on standardized tests to determine progress will undermine educators' ability to respond to students as individuals and may lead to schools pushing out students with disabilities.


In late October, the Council for Exceptional Children issued a press release on behalf of a group of 150 special educators who expressed their grave concerns about NCLB's potential harm to disabled students. The issues included a concern that state tests may not measure the great progress many disabled students are making and that the tests cause them to feel "humiliated, ashamed, and frustrated." Contrary to NCLB's promise to ensure that disabled students achieve at unprecedented levels, the educators fear the law creates pressures that will cause these students to be increasingly excluded from educational opportunities. "The acceptance of students with disabilities is being unraveled," the press release said. "Students with disabilities are now stigmatized as the 'group that keeps a school from meeting adequate yearly progress,' and they are not wanted."


The fear that special needs students will be increasingly viewed as a primary roadblock to NCLB's mandate of 100 percent proficiency took shape in September, with reports that Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) was considering introducing an amendment to exclude children with disabilities from the AYP calculation if a school is determined to be failing solely because of the scores of these students. Such an amendment was deemed to have little chance of passage, but it highlighted how the pressures of NCLB may be widening the divide between disability advocates and groups like school administrators and teachers' unions.