Conflict in Federal Rules for Testing Kids With Disabilities
Talk about a Catch-22.
The U.S. Education Department has just issued a new rule saying disabled students who must use a calculator or other device when taking a test will be marked absent and their exam won't count under the nation's sweeping school reform law dubbed No Child Left Behind.
At the same time, schools are required by the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to let students use such tools if they have a disability that impairs their ability to read or do math.
"This is crazy," said Bill Padia, testing director at the California Department of Education, which is required to enforce the new federal rules. "We just shook our heads incredulously."
Federal officials counter that there is logic behind the new rule barring modifications during tests.
Darla Marburger, deputy assistant secretary with the U.S. Department of Education, said a test that's supposed to measure math skills can't measure those skills if a student uses a calculator. Similarly, a test can't measure reading skills if a student is listening to the test being read from an audio player.
"It's perfectly acceptable to change the environment of the test, or the seating, to accommodate certain needs," Marburger said. "But it's not OK to use modifications that fundamentally change how the student is being assessed."
She said the decision to prohibit modifications was made earlier this year during a wide-ranging discussion within the Department of Education about testing students with disabilities.