September 23, 2015

Federal Department of Education Issues Final Regulation on Testing for Students with Disabilities

Last year, OLReporter highlighted a 2013 U.S. Department of Education (DOE) proposal to eliminate states’ authority to modify special education curriculum standards and testing requirements. According to The Washington Post, DOE recently announced a new rule (i.e., regulation) based on the proposal after receiving 156 comments during its notice and comment period. 

Beginning in the 2016-17 school year, the rule bars all states from designing academic standards for special education students that differ from those of their mainstream peers.  It also prohibits states from designing tests that align with these specialized standards.  Nothing prohibits states, however, from administering alternative tests based on alternative standards to students with the most significant cognitive disabilities.  This new rule overrides the former “2% rule,” which permitted states to develop such alternative standards and tests, yet count up to 2% of their scores as “proficient” for purposes of accountability reporting to the federal government.

Some teachers, parents, and state education agencies, however, are concerned that alternative assessments “were helpful in meeting the needs of students with disabilities.”  A state educational agency representative commented that without access to alternative standards and tests, special education students would no longer be able to demonstrate their knowledge and skills.

The Federal Register explains that the new rule is needed “to ensure that students with disabilities are held to the same high standards as their nondisabled peers, and that they benefit from high expectations, access to the general education curriculum based on a state’s academic content standards, and instruction that will prepare them for success in college and careers.” 

The Post provides a sample of the comments received and the DOE’s responses following its report.