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Louisiana Sets Aside $251K for Training on Special Education Grade Promotion Law

The Louisiana state board of education voted Wednesday pay a state university $251,000 to help train school-based teams on how to set rigorous standards that allow students with disabilities to show that they've mastered academic content. 

A new law that passed in July gives individualized education program teams the power to create alternate pathways for grade promotion and graduation, thus permitting some students with disabilities to bypass Louisiana's high-stakes testing system. That program requires students to pass tests in 4th grade, 8th grade, and high school, but students with disabilities who have repeatedly failed the tests can now instead meet standards developed by their IEP teams to progress through school and earn a diploma. 

But teaching IEP teams how to create those pathways—without running afoul of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which says students with disabilities should get the same access to academics as their peers—is proving difficult. The grant, which was awarded to Louisiana State University Human Development Center in New Orleans, was approved without debate, according to an article in The Advocate in Baton Rouge: 

State Superintendent of Education John White, whose agency has been criticized for supposedly failing to provide enough guidance, said approval of the contract by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education is a major step.

"It couldn't be more critical," White said during committee discussion of the contract on Tuesday.

He added Wednesday, "We are getting beyond the policy debates in Baton Rouge and getting to actually how people do their work with kids every day."

State Rep. John M. Schroder, a Republican who was one of the champions of the law—which passed the House and Senate unanimously—wrote a letter to the U.S. Department of Education in August asking for guidance in how to implement the law without running afoul of federal policy. In previous correspondence, department officials said they were concerned the law could create a lower benchmark for students with disabilities.

Michael K. Yudin, the acting assistant secretary for the office of special education and rehabilitative services, responded on Jan. 12 that IEP teams, according to the IDEA, "may not lower promotion or graduation requirements for a student with a disability, if doing so means including goals, special education and related services, and supplementary aids and services and other supports in a student's IEP that are not designed to enable the student to be involved in, and make progress in, the general education curriculum...."

Said Schroder, in an interview with Education Week, said "The experts are telling me [the letter] is still not very clear. They're asking me to follow up."

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