“We know that when students with disabilities are held to high expectations and have access to a robust curriculum, they excel,” Arne Duncan, US Education Secretary said on June 24, 2014 as reported by NPR. A broad, vague and misleading statement that politicians and legislatures take for fact without any evidence based accounts made by experts in Special Education. Further remarks by the Obama administration state that a majority of the 6.5 million US students with disabilities are not receiving a quality education. It plans to hold states accountable for demonstrating that those students are making progress.
Oh, yes….sounds all good and dandy. However, let’s be real, let’s really listen and pick these statements apart. Actually the Education Secretary is calling for the government to change how it evaluates the effectiveness of special education programs…and to hold the federal funds as a prize or punishment. Isn’t it enough that we are putting general education students’ and their teachers in charge of demonstrating success by exhibiting growth on high-stakes, standardized tests? Now, we are placing the same expectation onto students with disabilities.
Schools are required by the federal law the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) that they receive access and supports to a free and appropriate education in the least restrictive environment. An Individual Education Plan (IEP) is developed by a committee and is based on evidence based data. Instruction, goals, and services also need to be evidence based. This plan is dynamic and changes with the student and his/her individualized needs, growth, and ta-da!!! progress. Now Education Secretary Duncan wants to measure this progress alongside general education same grade peers using high stakes, standardized testing; the exact opposite of an Individual Education Plan and its evidence based instruction and progress monitoring.
IDEA 2004 has pushed schools toward progress monitoring and providing interventions within a tiered system that accesses students long before a disability is found eligible and schools have embraced the Response to Intervention (RTI) framework to better meet these federal guidelines. Schools, students, and teachers are working to support all students including those with disabilities to meet the standards. Success however cannot be measured by a standardized growth pattern. Growth especially that of a student with a disability cannot be standardized. It cannot be compared with same age peers. It cannot be held against a standard of general education students or fellow students with disabilities. Students with disabilities are exceptional and receive an Individual Education Plan according to federal legislation. Now this same federal institution wishes to grant funding based on the very thing IDEA stands to protect students from.
Yes, your general statements sound grand and even positive. However, they are naive and misinformed on the system of special education and how best to mandate. It is not a question of growth, but of compliance. It is not a question of standardized progress, but of individualized progress. Much has been written about the lack of education experts making legislative decisions in Washington. Whether it’s the argument and faction of Common Core, teacher evaluations, or now the “major shift” in governmental evaluations of effective special education….it is clear. Working for a better education framework is essential, but perhaps those working for this should actually work in education.