More special ed students to get new tests |

More special ed students to get new tests

WASHINGTON – The Bush administration is letting more children with disabilities take simplified tests under the No Child Left Behind education law.The change, outlined in final regulations Wednesday, would triple the number of children who can take tests that are easier than those given to most students under the 2002 law.Roughly 10 percent of special education students – those with the most serious cognitive disabilities – currently can take simplified, alternative tests and have the results count toward a school’s annual progress goals.Under the new rules, about an additional 20 percent of children with disabilities could take alternative tests and have those count toward a school’s progress goals.The new tests are for children who are not severely disabled but who have been unable to work on grade level at the same pace as their peers because of disabilities, such as some forms of dyslexia.The new tests will not be as easy as those given to the children already exempted from the regular tests. But the tests will not be as hard as those given to typical students. Federal officials said the new tests would provide educators with a more meaningful way to measure what some students with disabilities know and can do.”It’s an option for those children whose needs are not being met under the current system,” the deputy education secretary, Raymond Simon, said Wednesday.The change means 3 percent of all children – or roughly 30 percent of all children with disabilities – will be allowed to be tested on standards geared for them.The No Child Left Behind law is up for renewal in Congress this year and lawmakers, educators and the public have pushed for changes.Simon said the administration would like to see the new special education rules written into law when No Child Left Behind is updated.Some lawmakers gave the new rules high marks.”It’s essential to fully include children with disabilities in No Child Left Behind’s guarantee that every student counts. Today’s regulation is an important step forward in helping to address that challenge by ensuring better assessments for children with disabilities that recognize their progress and ability to achieve at high standards,” said Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., who heads the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.The administration is responding to pleas from states for more flexibility in how they test special education students.The 2002 law requires that all students be tested in reading and math in grades three through eight and once in high school. When enough students miss annual progress goals, their schools can face consequences such as having to overhaul their staff.Schools can face penalties even when just one group of children, such as those with disabilities, fails to meet the benchmarks.That has focused more attention on the progress of children with disabilities, says Doug Fuchs, a professor of special education at Vanderbilt University.”It includes them in the same accountability framework as kids without disabilities,” Fuchs said. “Educators feel as compelled to work with kids with disabilities as they are compelled to work with kids without disabilities.”Several advocacy groups for children with disabilities worry that the changes could weaken the promise to leave no child behind.”Most of these kids surprise us in what they can do,” said Katy Neas, a lobbyist for Easter Seals. “When we set the bar higher, more kids do better than we ever thought they could.”Neas said she hoped the government would provide states and districts much help in coming up with high-quality tests and putting the new policy in place to ensure the right students are given the correct tests.The department said $21 million would be available to help states come up with the new tests.In addition to calling for changes in how special education students are tested under No Child Left Behind, lawmakers are debating changing the testing requirements for students learning English.Lawmakers also are considering giving states more flexibility in how they measure student progress. Schools that fail to meet progress goals by just a little are treated the same as schools that miss those goals by a wide margin, something lawmakers say is unfair.—On the Net:Education Department’s Office of Special

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