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ESEA Bills Are 'Full Retreat From Accountability' for Special Education

The new House Republican bills that tackle reforming the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (otherwise known as No Child Left Behind) "represent a full retreat from accountability for students with disabilities and other disadvantaged children," the National Center for Learning Disabilities said this week. (Read what other groups say about the bills here.)

Like the Senate rewrite of NCLB, the Republican bills would do away with adequate yearly progress, the crux of the law and the mechanism by which schools are held accountable for their students' performance.

That's the big problem with the bills, NCLD's executive director, James Wendorf, said.

"Even with its imperfections, NCLB has compelled schools to focus on whether students with disabilities were learning and achieving. Rather than require schools to address these issues, the bills retreat from setting performance goals for students and do not require any meaningful instructional interventions and supports for struggling students," he said.

The proposed Student Success Act would turn accountability over to the states, Mr. Wendorf said, essentially taking schools back to a time when students with disabilities weren't expected to graduate high school or attend college.

(Other proposals to reform NCLB aren't much better from the perspective of advocates for students with disabilities. See thoughts on the NCLB waivers and the Senate proposals.)

Another concern: The bill would eliminate the current cap on the so-called 1 percent rule, which restricts the use of scores on less-challenging tests given to students with severe cognitive disabilities. These tests take students off the track for a standard diploma.

"Rather than continuing to support students with disabilities in achieving a high school diploma and pursuing employment and additional education, the bill virtually encourages schools to expect less from students with disabilities. This will jeopardize their true potential to learn and achieve," Mr. Wendorf said.

The bills, the other is called the Encouraging Innovation and Effective Teachers Act, cut the federal focus on literacy, a hit for students struggling with that skill. The teachers bill would would allow federal education funds to be used for a private school vouchers, which can be risky for students with disabilities.

"Just as school accountability has begun to make the difference for students with disabilities," Mr. Wendorf said, "now is not the time to turn back the clock on our children."

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