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Inclusion on 'Nation's Report Card' Goes Up, But Achievement Gaps Stay Wide

Despite the attention that Maryland is drawing for excluding high percentages of students with disabilities and English-language learners from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, nationwide, higher percentages than ever of students in those categories are being tested, according to stats presented at a Dec. 6 meeting of the board that sets policy for the assessment. 

In 2010, the National Assessment Governing Board, set a goal to assess 95 percent of all students selected to participate in the test, which measures 4th and 8th grade students every two years on reading and math. (Students are also tested on periodically on other subjects.) For students with disabilities and students learning English, the goal was to test 85 percent of those selected to participate.

When the test was administered 10 years ago, 44 states would have failed to meet the testing goal for students with disabilities in 4th grade reading; 18 states would have failed to meet that goal in 4th grade math. For 8th graders and reading 40 states were not testing at least 85 percent of students with disabilities; 18 states failed to meet that threshold for the 8th grade math test. 

For the latest administration of the test, more states than ever met the goal of testing students with disabilities. Every state tested 85 percent of students with disabilities in 4th grade math; but 12 did not meet that goal in 4th grade reading. All but one state tested 85 percent of students with disabilities in 8th grade math; 14 states did not meet that goal in 8th grade reading. 

Maryland and other states with high exclusion rates—such as Georgia, Kentucky, North Dakota and Tennessee, which all had 8th grade reading exclusion rates over 25 percent for students with disabilities—link those rates to accommodations. The NAEP does not allow accommodations that those students may be used to using on other assessments, such as having reading passages read aloud to them.

The gap in scores between students with disabilities and their typically developing peers remains wide. The Advocacy Institute, an organization that supports people with disabilties, has broken out test results for the past 15 years, showing that achievement rates have barely budged for students in this group.

The governing board policy, in addition to having goals for inclusion, also directs the National Center for Education Statistics to change the way it calculate scores, so that students who have an accommodation that is not allowed on the test would be counted as "refusing" to take the test, rather than being "excluded" from the test. Such a change would have the effect of lowering the scores of some jurisdictions. NCES has argued against such a change, saying that, among other concerns, it would make it difficult to compare scores from year to year. This year's scores were calculated using the methods that NCES has used in the past.

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