Don’t leave students with disabilities behind

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This past November, the state of Minnesota submitted its application to the U.S. Department of Education to allow it to abandon certain aspects of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) through an initial waiver ending the 2013-2014 school year.

ESEA, more recently known as the “No Child Left Behind Act,” has had considerable controversy surrounding it since its passage in 2001, primarily due to its heavy focus on testing. With the reauthorization of ESEA stalled in Congress, the Obama Administration offered up the waiver in September 2011 as a way for schools to begin reform efforts. Eleven states signed on initially, including Minnesota, and it is estimated that 38 more states will follow suit.

However, the waiver process does come with some government strings. It requires a focus on college and career ready standards, teacher and principal evaluation, and education assessments. For students with disabilities, there are a few areas of concern for advocates like myself.

First of all, states are not required in their applications to explain how they would phase out alternative exams taken by some students with disabilities. The alternative exams—or so called 2% modified exams measure grade level work, but are modified to have a simpler format or have fewer questions. For some schools, the application of the 2% modified exams is just another loophole they can use to support lowered expectations for students with disabilities and decrease accountability for those students. Minnesota is also one of the states that doesn’t offer any details on how they would phase out 2% modified exams.

In the Minnesota application, it has also been requested to add some more components to the statewide accountability system called the “Multiple Measurements Rating (MMR)” One of the additional accountability components is individual student growth. Unfortunately for students with disabilities, the application does not describe how individual student growth will be measured for them.

Despite these concerns, though, there are some good things mentioned in the application such as universal design for learning (UDL) and standards based IEPs.

Minnesota should be hearing back from the U.S. Department of Education sometime this month as to if its application will be accepted. Parents of students with disabilities are encouraged to stay in touch with local advocacy organizations like PACER Center and The Arc of Minnesota so they can keep abreast of any new developments.

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