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Updated: Education Secretary Vows to Move Away From 2 Percent Rule for Testing Students With Disabilities

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Although states haven't been allowed to use unapproved tests for some students with disabilities, then count up to 2 percent of the proficient scores for the sake of making adequate yearly progress under the No Child Left Behind law for more than a year, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said last night that he would abolish that supposedly defunct rule.

Speaking at the American Association of People with Disabilities gala in Washington last night, Duncan said that students with disabilities should be judged with the same accountability system as everyone else.

The so-called "2 percent rule" allows schools to give some students with disabilities exams that are different from those for general education students and based on modified achievement standards. But only a few states use tests approved by the federal government, including Louisiana, Kansas, Texas, and for some grades, North Carolina. Several other states were using their own tests for these students, a so-called proxy, but that was supposed to stop in the 2009-10 school year.

But that practice will have to end once for all, judging by Secretary Duncan's remarks.

"I just want to say—here and now—for the record—we are moving away from the 2 percent proxy rule," Duncan said. "We will not issue another policy that allows districts to disguise the educational performance of 2 percent of students."

While 2 percent may sound small, it represents as many as 20 percent of students with disabilities—and those are just the scores counted for AYP. Many more students with disabilities could be taking the alternate exams. Coupled with the provision that allows schools to count some proficient and advanced scores from alternate exams for students with severe cognitive disabilities—a rule that can apply to up to 1 percent up of all students in the tested grades—the scores of up to 30 percent of special education students from alternate exams could figure into accountability calculations in a given school, district or state.

I recently wrote about a possible shift away from alternate assessments for the students in the 2 percent group altogether, considering the new generation of tests being developed that are expected to be more easily adapted to students with disabilities. At the time, I could not get an answer about how many states are using 2 percent exams, aside from those with approved assessments. I've asked since then, and still don't know.

Duncan said the proxy has masked some of the information educators need to identify areas that can be targeted to help students with disabilities achieve their academic potential.

He said the Department will continue to allow states with approved alternate assessments based on modified academic achievement standards to use these assessments until new common assessments are developed, but it will no longer permit the use of the proxy rule—the rule states weren't supposed to be using anymore.

Update: The Department of Education called me this morning to clarify that the Secretary didn't mean the "proxy" after all. He meant the 2 percent rule. His complete remarks are here. He doesn't say when they will move away from the rule, but he does not mention the proxy at all.

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