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Achievement Gaps on State Tests Remain Wide for Students with Disabilities

Students with disabilities continue to score much lower than their peers on state tests, even as graduation rates for students with disabilities inch upwards, according to a new report.

In 2012-13, students with disabilities scored from 32 to 41 percentage points lower than their peers on state tests, according to the "2012-13 Publicly Reported Assessment Results for Students with Disabilities and ELLs with Disabilities," released in May. The gap was lowest in elementary math, and highest for middle school reading. The report is the 16th survey of states conducted by the National Center for Educational Outcomes at the University of Minnesota. 

This chart shows that these gaps have barely budged from 2006-07 to 2012-13: 


Readers have to be cautious in interpreting the results: NCEO does not have information from every state, and some states report scores differently from others.

Also, in reporting their gaps, some states compare students in special education to students who are not in special education, while other states compare the scores of students with disabilities to "all" students, which would include special education students along with their typically developing peers. Using the first method would result in a larger reported gap than the second method.

Finally, in 2012-13, the researchers had information for the "unique states," unlike in prior years. Those states are American Samoa, Bureau of Indian Education, Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands, schools run by the U.S. Department of Defense, the District of Columbia, Federated States of Micronesia, Guam, Palau, Puerto Rico, Republic of the Marshall Islands, and U.S. Virgin Islands. Information for the unique states, and any effects that information had on achievement gaps, is shown in the chart parentheses.

Nevertheless, the overall gaps remain stubbornly large, and in some cases have actually gone up over the past six school years. These results also illustrate the challenge facing states as the U.S. Department of Education moves to a focus on "results-driven accountability." States are being asked to tackle issues such as state test achievement gaps, as opposed to a primary focus on compliance with special education rules. 

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