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Price of ESEA Bill Too Steep for Students With Disabilities?

While some of the changes to the No Child Left Behind law proposed Tuesday are widely considered to be improvements, others could prove disastrous for students with disabilities and other groups of students.

One of the bill's most striking features is its elimination of specific achievement targets for individual groups of students.

For students with disabilities and students learning English, that portion of NCLB—the current version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act—was groundbreaking.

"Without goals and progress targets, it is all but impossible to ensure that these good intentions will actually add up to better outcomes for students. In fact, past experience suggests they will not; something neither our students nor our country can afford," wrote representatives from the National Council on Learning Disabilities, National Council of la Raza, The Education Trust, and other groups.

In exchange for a significant federal investment, all states, school districts, and schools should be held accountable for meaningful student improvement and take action when student outcomes do not improve, the groups say. But the proposal only requires continuous improvement. States would not have to set measurable achievement and progress targets.

The groups applauded a provision that would limit alternate assessments for students with disabilities to the test created for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities.

That's a sharp departure from Republican ESEA proposals to overhaul the law that would eliminate any limits on these tests.

"To allow states to remove any number of students with disabilities from the general accountability system ... this approach would obscure achievement gaps, and lower expectations for all students with disabilities, wiping out a decade of progress for students with disabilities that has assured their access to the general education curriculum and increased their full inclusion in general education classrooms throughout the country," the Consortium for Students With Disabilities wrote in a letter to a group of Republican senators.

The way NCLB works now, there are limits on how many scores from alternate tests given to students with disabilities count toward a school's or district's rating. The proposal eliminates those limits.

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

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