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No Child Left Behind and IDEA:

Task Force Questions Conflicting Provisions

25 February 2005

A bipartisan panel of state lawmakers have concluded that the No Child Left Behind Act [NCLB] conflicts with provisions of the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Law [IDEA] which required individualized education plans for students with disabilities.

Under NCLB, a disabled eighth grader capable of working at a sixth grade level must take examinations for eighth graders. The report said the requirement of grade level testing contradicted the mandate of IDEA that students be taught according to ability.

"Ignoring the contradictions between IDEA and No Child Left Behind is one of the act's worst weakness," said Utah State Representative Kory Holdaway, a member of the committee and a special education teacher.

The task force also found that the requirements of NCLB requiring that 90% of students with disabilities achieve grade level proficiency by the school year 2013-2014 was not only unrealistic, but also impossible in practice. By definition, students in special education are generally functioning below grade level; when those students reach grade level standards, they generally do not qualify for further special education services and are thus not part of the subgroup being tested.

The task force recommendations include:

  • Give IDEA primacy over NCLB in cases of conflict.
  • Provide states more flexibility in determining which special education students should be tested according to ability rather than grade level.
  • Remove the one-size-fits-all method that measures student performance and encourage more sophisticated and accurate systems that gauge the growth of individual students and not just groups of students.
  • Recognize that some schools face special challenges, including adequately teaching students with disabilities and English language learners. The law also needs to recognize the differences among rural, suburban and urban schools.
  • Remove obstacles that stifle state innovations and undermine state programs that were proving to work before passage of the act. Federal waivers should be granted and publicized for innovative programs.
  • Fully fund the act and provide states the financial flexibility to meet its goals. The federal government funds less than 8 percent of the nation's education program.

For more information: National Conference of State Legislatures Press Release.

Media Reports:

January 2003:

St. Petersburg Times: High-stakes testing.
Testing is an unfair and limited measure of success when it is the sole indicator of promotion for Florida's third-graders and seniors.

St. Petersburg Times: FCAT unfair to disabled students.
Florida's testmeisters have been cruelly mistreating students with visual impairment, dyslexia and other cognitive disabilities.

The Alternative Education Resource Organization: Remarks by the late U.S. Senator Paul D. Wellstone (MN).
The continued misuse of high stakes tests is a gross failure of moral imagination.

Christian Science Monitor: When the Tests Fail.
In North Carolina, writing test results were discarded because more than half the students failed. In Nevada, more than 700 passing students were mistakenly told they had failed the math portion of their standardized tests.

AFC Reports: The Impact of Higher Standards and Academic Failure on ELL Dropout Rates.
English Language Learners in New York state are deterred from completing high school because of poor rates of achievement on the English Regents Examination, a test designed for students whose native language is English.

Resources:

Standardized Testing:
College Admissions
How Grade Retention Hurts Kids

Google Search for More Information:

High Stakes Testing.
Lawsuits challenging high school exit exams.
SAT-Optional college admissions:
Grade Retention and School Dropout Rates.
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