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U.S. Provides Rules to States for Testing Special Pupils

Below this news item, find the press release from the U. S. Department of Education. Note its emphasis on Guidelines reflect the latest scientific research. Every statement issued from these thugs travels under the banner of "latest scientific research." Repetition. Repetition. Repetition. Once the public hears a claim often enough, they'll believe it's true.

We could learn from these federal press releases (once we've cleaned up the vomit they induce).

That said, what on earth is Spellings referring to in this claim: Recent advances in medical interventions also hold considerable promise for many of our students with the most significant disabilities.

Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings announced guidelines yesterday for states that plan to take advantage of new, short-term flexibility in the way special-education students are tested under the federal education law, No Child Left Behind.

To gain the extra flexibility, Ms. Spellings said, states must show that they are in compliance with other facets of the law and that their efforts to raise the achievement of students with disabilities are working.

Some state education officials and advocates for special-education students quickly criticized the requirements as too stringent.

Until now, the Bush administration has allowed only 1 percent of all students, those most severely handicapped, to be given special tests to assess whether they are comprehending material at grade level. All other disabled students have been required to take the same tests as the general student body.

Last month, Ms. Spellings said the Department of Education would give some states increased flexibility, allowing them to administer alternative tests to an additional 2 percent of students, those who have extreme difficulties with standard instruction and assessment.

Officials confirmed the offer yesterday, but only on a short-term basis, which was left unspecified. They also set a deadline of June 1 for states to apply for the concessions and said they would take effect next school year. In addition, Ms. Spellings restated the department's commitment to allocate $14 million in technical assistance and other help to eligible states.

"I believe this is a smarter, better way to educate special-education children," Ms. Spellings said at a news conference at her Washington office.

Later, she added: "In the past, we simply ignored special-education kids as 'over there.' That's not the case now."

Some policy analysts and state education administrators said they were pleased that the administration was offering more flexibility but said they doubted that many states could fulfill the eligibility requirements to take advantage of the change.

"The flexibility that they put out there is something that every state needs - it's not like those students are concentrated in one state or another," said Patty Sullivan, the director of the Center on Education Policy, a research group based in Washington. "I'm concerned that not many states are going to be able to meet the guidelines. It says 'eligible states,' and the guidelines set a pretty high bar."

Betty J. Sternberg, the education commissioner in Connecticut, said, similarly: "The percentages are fine. They help us. The problem may be in the details of what they are requiring us to do to have access to the flexibility."

Connecticut officials announced plans last month to sue the federal government for forcing the state to conduct more testing without providing the money to pay for it. The department has repeatedly said it is unwilling to waive or weaken that part of the law.

When asked how children would benefit from the changes, one official at the news conference, Reid Lyon, branch chief for child development and behavior at the National Institute for Child Health Development, said it would be in the area of instruction.

By using alternative testing for the most challenged children, Mr. Lyon said, teachers will be better equipped to deal with the specific needs of each child.

"There is a much clearer focus on how the children are progressing as a function of instruction," he said. "That attention has not been there in the past. That attention has been on whether someone met a bar."

Here's the federal press release.


Spellings Announces New Special Education Guidelines, Details Workable, "Common-Sense" Policy to Help States Implement No Child Left Behind

Guidelines reflect the latest scientific research to help students with disabilities States continue to be accountable for results of all students

May 10, 2005 Contact: Susan Aspey, (202) 205-4038
Chad Colby, (202) 401-4401

U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings today announced the details of a new No Child Left Behind policy designed to help states better assist students with disabilities, and pledged to continue working with states to ensure they have the flexibility needed to raise student achievement. The guidelines follow up on the Secretary's announcement last month to chief state school officers that she would provide states with additional alternatives and flexibility to implement No Child Left Behind.

The new guidelines reflect the latest scientific research that shows 2 percent of students with academic disabilities can make progress toward grade-level standards when they receive high-quality instruction and modified assessments. Under the new flexibility option announced today, eligible states may adjust their state-set progress goals to reflect the need for modified assessments; this is a separate policy from the current regulation that allows up to 1 percent of all students being tested (those with the most significant cognitive disabilities) to take an alternate assessment.

"There is a new equation at the Department of Education: the 'bright-line' principles of No Child Left Behind, such as annual testing and reporting of subgroup data, plus student achievement and a narrowing of the achievement gap, plus overall sound state education policies, equals a new, common-sense approach to implementation of the law. Today's special education guidance is the first example of this new approach," Secretary Spellings said.

"Under this policy, to be made final under a new rule, students with academic disabilities will be allowed to take tests that are specifically geared toward their abilities, as long as the state is working to best serve those students by providing rigorous research-based training for teachers, improving assessments and organizing collaboration between special education and classroom teachers," Secretary Spellings continued. "If you stand up for the kids and provide better instruction and assessment, we will stand by you.

"Recent research from the National Institutes of Health indicates clearly that good instruction actually improves how the student learns. New evidence-based instructional programs geared toward the needs of individual children are opening educational doors for students who never before had a chance to succeed academically. Recent advances in medical interventions also hold considerable promise for many of our students with the most significant disabilities."

The new guidelines outline the process for how eligible states can implement this new policy in the short term until the Department issues final regulations on the policy.

Short-Term Options

States that meet the eligibility guidelines can adjust their 2005-06 school year state-set progress goals (Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP) for students with disabilities, based on the 2004-05 school year assessments. This option applies only to schools or districts that did not make AYP based solely on the scores of its students with disabilities subgroup. Eligible states that currently assess students based on modified achievement standards will be able to use those assessments for AYP calculations this year. Only states that intend to develop modified achievement standards and assessments are eligible for short-term flexibility.

The eligibility guidelines include:

Each state must meet Title I and IDEA requirements that are directly related to achievement and instruction for the full range of students with disabilities, including:
Statewide participation rates for students with disabilities, for purposes of measuring AYP, must be at or above 95 percent;
Appropriate accommodations must be available for students with disabilities
Alternate assessments in reading/language arts and mathematics must be available for students with disabilities who are unable to participate in the regular assessment, even with accommodations, and results from those assessments must be reported;
The state's subgroup size for students with disabilities must be equal to that of other student groups.
Each state would request to amend their accountability plan and provide details on their actions taken to raise achievement for students with disabilities, and evidence that such efforts are improving student achievement.

Long Term Policy

The Department is working on a regulation to implement the new policy and will release a notice of proposed rulemaking to seek comments from local school districts, parents and others before finalizing a regulation.

The goal of the regulations is to:

Ensure that states hold these students to challenging, though modified, achievement standards that enable them to approach, and even meet, grade-level standards;

Ensure access to the general curriculum to ensure students are taught to the same high standards;

Measure progress with high-quality alternate assessments so parents are confident that their students are learning and achieving;

Provide guidance and training to Individualized Education Program (IEP) teams to identify these students properly; and

Provide professional development to regular and special education teachers.

States must continue meeting the requirements of NCLB related to students with disabilities.

To increase the state's ability to provide rigorous assessment, instruction, and accountability for students with disabilities, the Department of Education will direct $14 million to improve assessments, help teachers with instruction, and conduct research for students with disabilities who are held to alternate and modified achievement standards in 2005. Additional funds will be directed in 2006.

No Child Left Behind is the bipartisan landmark education reform law designed to change the culture of America's schools by closing the achievement gap among groups of students, offering more flexibility to states, giving parents more options and teaching students based on what works. Under the law's strong accountability provisions, states must describe how they will close the achievement gap and make sure all students, including those with disabilities, achieve academically.

More information about the new policy and the No Child Left Behind Act is available at www.ed.gov.

— Susan Saulny & U. S. Department of Education
New York Times & Press Release




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