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N.Y. Seeks Permission to Give Out-of-Level Tests to Students With Disabilities

New York state, which is in the process of renewing its No Child Left Behind accountability waiver, is looking for permission to give students with disabilities accountability tests based on their academic performance, not their grade level based on age. 

Called out-of-level testing, the state says that such tests would given to students who cannot demonstrate what they know on grade-level tests, but who are not be eligible for the alternate assessments that the U.S. Department of Education currently allows. "This subgroup of students can make significant progress, but are not likely to reach grade-level achievement in the time frame covered by their individualized education programs," the state wrote in a paper explaining its rationale. 

The state says that students must be assessed with a test no lower than two grades below their grade level, and must be tested on a higher grade-level each year. But some disability advocates see this proposal as a move toward lowered standards for students with disabilities. No Child Left Behind eliminated out-of-level testing, but the Education Department said that states could create alternate achievement standards for students with severe cognitive disabilities. Up to 1 percent OF the student body—approximately 10 percent of students with disabilities—could take such tests and be counted as proficient under accountability standards. 

The Education Department also gave states permission to create "modified achievement standards" that up to 2 percent of all students could take, but Education Secretary Arne Duncan said last year that it was abolishing those tests in order to prompt states to give most students tests on grade level. 

The state, in its rationale, says it believes these students could reach grade-level standards over time. However, the paper also said that "these students need to be provided with instruction with special education supports and services at a pace and level commensurate with their needs and abilities and their individual rates of learning."

Advocates worry that allowing this provision in New York's waiver could open the door to similar requests from other states. In a Huffington Post article on the testing proposal, Dianne Piche, the director of education programs at the Washington-based Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, called the proposal "regressive." 

New York is accepting comments on the proposal through Jan. 27. 

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