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1 Percent Means 1 Percent, Except When There's an Exception

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For years, the U.S. Department of Education allowed Ohio and a few other states to count more scores than allowed for everyone else as passing when it came exams for students with severe cognitive disabilities, some of whom take tests that are different than other students.

They were making an exception to a rule that said states could only count as passing the scores of up to 1 percent of all students tested when figuring out school ratings under the No Child Left Behind law.

The point of the Education Department's rules about so-called "1 percent" exams (at least for most states) was to ensure that districts don't give alternate exams to student with disabilities who can take the same exams as kids without disabilities. Knowing they can only count 1 percent of the scores regardless of how many kids take the exams was supposed to curb the inappropriate use of these alternate tests, because the scores from the remaining alternate exams count as failing when tallying a district's rating.

Until recently, I didn't know the department made exceptions to this rule for any state. Already, some districts are upset about the change. It turns out, several states were granted similar leeway as Ohio, including Virginia. And states including Montana and South Dakota were also granted power to let individual districts blow the cap—which now all states can do.

While states can't exceed the cap anymore, there are fears that the permission granted to districts could linger when No Child Left Behind is reauthorized (most likely as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act). Learn more about what some of those worries are in a story I wrote that explores the issue in depth.

I don't know whether advocates for students with disabilities are right to be afraid, but one made a good point about the fact that these conversations are even happening.

"One of the good things about all of this is it has forced the assumption that all kids should get the benefit of trying to achieve on content-level standards," said Katy Neas of Easter Seals. "These kids typically have been held to extremely low expectations. Before NCLB, we would never even have been able to have the data. It gives us the basis for the conversation, to go back to say, Ohio, and say, 'Is that really appropriate for all of these kids?'"

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