Tuesday, January 02, 2007

More on NCLB and Students with Disabilities

Eduwonk kindly picks up my earlier post on NCLB and points out this interesting testimony by Madeline Will of the National Down Syndrome Society supporting the statute. Some key parts of the testimony:

Over three decades ago my son, Jon Will, was born with Down syndrome. Since this was before IDEA, there were no academic expectations for children with intellectual disabilities. Even after the EHA P.L. 94-142 had passed and he progressed through the education system, I found I had to persuade a surprising number of his teachers that he could benefit from reading instruction. Today children with Down syndrome are reading and meeting other academic goals that once were inconceivable. They are even going to postsecondary education programs at more than 100 colleges around the country. The high expectations of parents have been the driving force behind these achievements. It is time for the educational institutions in this country to have the same high expectations.

It is fitting, therefore, that NCLB is based on the premise that all children can be proficient on their State content standard. A very limited percentage of students with disabilities may need alternate or modified achievement standards to determine the breadth, depth and complexity of their knowledge, but they are all expected to receive instruction aligned to the State content standard for the grade in which they are enrolled. This premise makes NCLB more than an accountability statute; it is the institutional embodiment of the high expectations that students with disabilities need to succeed. You may hear people testify that NCLB has a negative impact on children with disabilities. On the contrary, with its focus on accountability and the requirement to disaggregate data by subgroup, it is one of the best things to have happened in a very long time. The negative impact comes from scape-goating and low expectations perpetrated by those who do not want to be held accountable for children with disabilities or engage in the hard work that it will take to implement this law properly.

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Most of the problems blamed on the statutory provisions of NCLB are a product of the poor implementation of both IDEA and NCLB, and do not require statutory changes to correct. NDSS will support any recommendation that helps schools, districts and States make AYP by improving instruction and assessments. However, we urge the Commission to reject any recommendation that, under the guise of “flexibility”, would improve AYP by lowering standards or otherwise diminishing accountability. The Commission should also consider the negative effect that State flexibility has on the comparability of data across the States and the transparency of AYP results. School, district and State report cards are meaningless if parents are not given a clear explanation the numerous complex variables (such as N size, confidence intervals) that are factored into AYP calculations.


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