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Advocates Call for End to Testing Under Modified Academic Standards

The Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities, an advocacy coalition based in Washington, is calling for the U.S. Department of Education to rescind a regulation that allows some students with disabilities to be tested on "modified academic achievement standards." Such tests are sometimes called known as "2 percent tests" because regulations allow 2 percent of all students, or about 20 percent of students with disabilities, to take such assessments and be counted as proficient under the No Child Left Behind Act.

(A separate regulation allows 1 percent of all students—about 10 percent of students with disabilities—to be tested on "alternate achievement standards." Those tests, which are intended for students with severe cognitive disabilities, are not under discussion here.)

The 2 percent rule, when it was introduced in 2005, was intended to provide a route to proficiency for students who, even with the best instruction, could not meet grade-level standards. But many disability advocates critized the regulation as a way to get around teaching students with disabilities on the same academic standards as their typically-developing peers.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has already signaled that he is no great fan of these tests. In 2011, he vowed to abolish them. ""We will not issue another policy that allows districts to disguise the educational performance of 2 percent of students," he said in a speech in Washington before the American Association of People with Disabilities. "We have to expect the very best from our students—and tell the truth about student performance—so that we can give all students the supports and services they need."

The department has already been moving away from the tests, by prohibiting states that receive Race to the Top funding from using such tests, and by requiring states that receive an NCLB law flexibility waiver to phase out the tests by the 2014-15 school year.

The consortium, which represents organizations such as the Council for Exceptional Children, Easter Seals, and the National Alliance on Mental Illness, wants the department to take the next step and do away with the regulation altogether. The introduction of the Common Core State Standards makes such a move even more important, the group contends in its July 9 letter to Duncan:

The Department of Education should provide technical assistance to states to ensure that students with disabilities receive appropriate instruction so that they can successfully take the regular assessment. With the transition in most states to new college- and career-ready standards, there is an increased rigor being measured by assessments. This convergence can set up these students for failure and create the possibility of placing more blame on students rather than focusing attention on their need for intervention, improved instruction/instructional support and access to the general curriculum.

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