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Alternative Education Track Would See New Scrutiny Under Federal Bill

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, introduced legislation this week that would ensure parents give fully informed consent before their children with significant cognitive disabilities are placed on alternative education tracks. 

The bill, called the Empowering Parents & Students Through Information Act, is aimed at students who are held to "alternate academic achievement standards" because of the nature of their disability. Such alternate standards have less depth, breadth, and complexity than the regular standards. Under the No Child Left Behind Act, states have been allowed to test up to 1 percent of all students—or about 10 percent of students with disabilities—on specially designed alternate-achievement tests and to have those students counted as proficient. 

The Casey bill would require states to monitor, on a yearly, subject-by-subject basis, when a student's disability merits an alternate-achievement test. 

Parents would also have to be informed about how participation in alternate assessments might affect a student's ability to earn a high school diploma. The bill also would promote the use of accommodations that might allow more students with disabilities to be tested against grade-level standards.

"Deciding which educational track to place a child with a disability on is one of the most consequential decisions a parent can make," Casey said in a statement. "As parents make these decisions, it's critical that they have all the information necessary to make the best choice for their child."


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