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A Separate Education System for Students With Disabilities?

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Since writing this post, I have learned the Isakson amendment has failed. Follow @PoliticsK12 on Twitter for the latest updates on ESEA.

As debate over the Elementary and Secondary Education Act—currently known as No Child Left Behind—continues in Congress, the Council for Exceptional Children is objecting to one of the bill's many amendments.

The one in particular they find alarming, proposed by Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia, would do away with limits on how many students with disabilities could take alternate tests, which are different than those their classmates take.

"The Isakson amendment would allow any number of students with disabilities to take either an alternate assessment or a modified assessment—meaning they would be excluded from the general assessment system," the letter reads.

"When a student with a disability takes a different assessment than a student without a disability, there is no way to compare their performance, no way to accurately measure achievement gaps, and no way to know how well they have grasped the grade-level content. Importantly, neither the data, which indicates that the students who benefit from an alternate assessment are far less than one percent, nor best practice supports placing more students into different assessments."

When No Child Left Behind was created a decade ago, one of the features many advocates for students with disabilities appreciated was that schools would be held accountable for the performance of students with disabilities on the same tests as other students. A few exceptions were built in for students with the most severe cognitive disabilities, but schools were penalized for giving too many students with disabilities the alternate tests.

"We believe this amendment will set us back—not take us forward," said Lindsay Jones of CEC.

Other groups, including the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights, also oppose the amendment.

The CEC letter goes on to describe what it fears could happen if the amendment becomes law:

"If large numbers or possibly all students with disabilities are given alternate or modified assessments, we will effectively—and under the Isakson amendment—legally create a separate education system for students with disabilities."

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