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Disability Groups React to Obama's NCLB Waiver Plan

How will states evaluate the teachers of children with disabilities, students who often have more than one teacher? And will states get a pass from paying attention to some students with disabilities at some struggling schools?

These are among the concerns raised by advocates of students with disabilities following the release Sept. 22 of details of President Barack Obama's plans to give states wiggle room (or perhaps something even more roomy) on the No Child Left Behind Act.

One of the provisions, for example requires measuring educators' effectiveness based on students' growth. Some of these students may not take the standardized tests that their peers do, said Lindsay Jones, of the Council for Exceptional Children. They may work with several teachers, and the waiver proposals don't spell out what growth means.

"How are we going to come up with a good definition of student achievement?" she said.

Jones said she applauds the continued focus on groups of students, including children with disabilities, and she believes the publicizing of student test data will continue to serve as its own form of accountability.

But she worried about the focus placed on the most-troubled 15 percent of schools.

As my colleagues on the Politics K-12 blog explain, "the waiver package will—just as in the administration's blueprint for renewal of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act—require states to implement aggressive interventions in the lowest 5 percent of schools. This won't be a big change for states because they're already operating under the School Improvement Grant program, in which the U.S. Department of Education has prescribed four models for intervention. States also will be required to identify another 10 percent of schools that struggle with particularly low graduation rates, low performance for specific subgroups of students (such as those with disabilities), or high achievement gaps."

Those concerns were echoed by the National Center on Learning Disabilities.

"While today's proposal has a strong and proper focus on the lowest-achieving 5 percent of schools in a state, there is not sufficient attention on the schools that struggle to consistently meet the academic needs of students with disabilities and other at-risk students," said Laura Kaloi, of the NCLD. "Millions of students with disabilities in these schools also need the benefit of school-wide instructional reform. As states develop their plans, we look forward to working with [U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan] to ensure that only states which have strong reform plans for all students and in all schools are approved."

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