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How Many Students With Disabilities Take the NAEP?

While many students with disabilities are included in state exams in reading, math, and other subjects, in 2005, a Government Accountability Office report found that they are more likely to be excluded from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, often called the Nation's Report Card.

Even before the GAO report, there were studies and questions about whether students with disabilities participated in the NAEP. (And the National Governing Assessment Board did narrow the ways students with disabilities and students learning English could be excluded from the test, as my colleague Stephen Sawchuk noted last year.)

The NAEP's role is to serve as a comparison tool of students' skills from state to state because the test is the same, unlike the patchwork of state tests that measure a variety of skills. Details about the most recent math and reading NAEP scores are due out on Tuesday.

A more recent study, done at least in part in response to the GAO report, takes another look at how many students with disabilities are included in NAEP and why others are not. The report, from the National Center for Education Statistics, which administers the NAEP, notes that a "student with disabilities is assumed to be able to participate in NAEP if he or she participated in the state assessment in the selected subject and can participate with accommodations allowed by NAEP."

But reality hasn't matched that ideal. For example, the study notes that in the 2009 4th grade math version of NAEP, 85.4 percent of students with disabilities took the test. On the 8th grade math test, 78.5 percent of students with disabilities were tested.

The NCES found that several factors affected students' inclusion on the NAEP, including the type of disability they have, the severity of their disability, and whether an accommodation used in a state test was allowed on the NAEP. And while the percentage of students with disabilities included on the NAEP varies from state to state, a larger inclusion rate in one state doesn't mean that state is more inclusive than another, the report says, because students aren't spread uniformly through the country.

NCES didn't draw conclusions from the data in its report. But the agency has taken action to address the GAO's concerns, this report being one response.

It also researched how those in the states administering the NAEP decide whether students should participate, put in place a specific process to determine if a student could take NAEP tests without the accommodations they use on state tests, and improved the training for NAEP administrators and staff to clarify the criteria for including students.

There are lots of questions and concerns about how many and which students with disabilities should take standardized and standards-based assessments. As the Elementary and Secondary Education act is mulled by Congress, there are worries that the federal government will turn back the clock on testing these students, who have been included far more in testing programs—and presumably the general curriculum, too—since the current version of ESEA, the No Child Left Behind law, took effect 10 years ago.

Stay tuned.

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