Dr. Mona Tawakkul Elsayed

Associate Prof. of Mental Health and Special Education

Meeting the Needs

Meeting the Needs of Special Education Students:





Recommendations for the Race to the Top Consortia and States



Martha L. Thurlow, RachelF. Quenemoen, & SherylS. Lazarus




Executive Summary






“Quote”



Meeting the Needs of Special Education Students: Recommendations for the Race to the Top Consortia and States 2


Special education students in the United States make up 13 percent of public school enrollment. The majority of these students can meet the same achievement standards as other students if they are given access to the same content as their typical peers and are provided specially designed instruction, supports, and accommodations when needed.




Too often, states have had to retrofit their assessments for special education students. Participation policies have varied across states, and special education students’ needs for assessment accommodations have challenged states. Now, with agreement on the Common Core State Standards, variations across states can be eliminated and common accommodations policies can be developed. Assessments can be designed from the beginning with consideration of all students, including special education students.


The Race to the Top assessment consortia also will want to consider the implications for special education students of computer-based testing and formative and interim assessment models. The consortia are focused on the regular assessment, but to ensure a coherent assessment system they also will want to regularly communicate with the National Center and State Collaborative and the Dynamic Learning Maps Alternate Assessment Consortium, which are developing alternate assessments based on alternate achievement standards for students with significant cognitive disabilities. And, although the goal is to ensure inclusive, innovative assessments that produce valid results for all students, the consortia will want to prompt districts and schools to address



Martha Thurlow, Ph.D. is the Director of the National Center on Educational Outcomes (NCEO).1 The National Center on Educational Outcomes serves as a national leader in designing and building educational assessments and accountability systems that appropriately monitor educational results for all students, including students with disabilities and English Language Learners (ELLs). Rachel F. Quenemoen is Senior Research Fellow, and Sheryl S. Lazarus, Ph.D., is a Research Associate at NCEO.


This paper was produced in partnership with Arabella Advisors. Arabella Advisors is a philanthropy consulting firm supporting the efforts of individual, family, institutional, and corporate donors worldwide. We are committed to unbiased analysis that helps donors support issues and nonprofits with confidence. Our expertise and insights transform philanthropic goals into results. For more information on our firm, please visit our website at www.arabellaadvisors.com.“Quote”


RecommendationsfortheRacetotheTopConsortiaandStates3


Meeting the Needs of Special Education Students: R ecommendations for the Race to the Top Consortia and States3




widespread instructional issues for all students, including those with disabilities.


This paper identifies several actions for the Race to the Top assessment consortia to take to meet the needs of special education students. They are consistent with standards and principles for assessments, and they reflect evolving research and development activities directed toward supporting better assessments for every student:




1. Develop a set of common accommodation policies for the Race to the Top assessments


2. Follow accessibility principles in development, field testing, and implementation


3. Ensure that the design of computer-based tests is appropriate for special education students as well as other students


4. Develop formative and interim assessments to ensure inclusion of special education students in grade-level curricula focused on accelerated learning


5. Communicate and coordinate with the alternate assessment consortia


These five recommendations require communication with expert stakeholders and a commitment to grade-level content to ensure that special education students, like other students, complete their school careers ready for college or a career. Careful planning will ensure that the Race to the Top assessment consortia build on what is already known rather than moving forward in a way that may make tests less accessible and less valid for some special education students. The time is right to build innovative assessments that are best for all U.S. students rather than for a subset of students.Meeting the Needs of Special Education Students: Recommendations for the Race to the Top Consortia and States 4




Meeting the Needs of Special Education Students: Recommendations for the Race-to-the-Top Consortia and States






U.S. states have been working for more than three decades toward including all students in their education systems. This commitment has permeated both educational service provision and the approaches used to evaluate educational systems’ success in meeting the needs of all students. We have learned that students with disabilities should not be pitied or protected from the same high expectations we have for other students. Nor should they be excluded from the assessments that tell us how we are doing in making sure that they meet those expectations.


A commitment to the inclusion of students who receive special education services accompanied the standards-based education movement that started in the early 1990s. That commitment continued, reinforced by the requirements of federal laws (first the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and then the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), as states adopted their own standards and then the new Common Core State Standards in English language arts and mathematics. This commitment is now challenged by questions about how best to include special education students as states move toward innovative approaches to assessment through Race to the Top (RTTT) funding.


As the Race to the Top assessment consortia and states explore challenges in meeting the needs of special education students and work to develop shared solutions, it is important that they start with common understandings of who these students are. They must commit to successfully including these students in common assessments based on the Common Core Standards, no matter what the assessment or how innovative it may be. This paper describes what has been gleaned over the past 20 years about who these students are and what they need to learn successfully and to demonstrate their learning. The paper identifies challenges that states must address in developing assessment systems that include these students. In it are suggestions for specific ways to address these challenges, toward the goal of developing RTTT assessments for all students, including all students with disabilities who receive special education services or who have






The vast majority of special education students (80–85%) can meet the same achievement standards as other students if they are given specially designed instruction, appropriate access, supports, and accommodations, as required by IDEA.



Meeting the Needs of Special Education Students: Recommendations for the Race to the Top Consortia and States 5




Section 504 accommodation plans (developed for students with disabilities who need accommodations but do not necessarily need special education services).



Who Special Education Students Are—Implications for Instruction and Assessment




Students with disabilities who receive special education services as required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) currently make up 13 percent of public school enrollment, with percentages in states varying from 10 percent to 19 percent. Special education students are disproportionately poor, minority, and English language learners.


The vast majority of special education students (80-85 percent) can meet the same achievement standards as other students if they are given specially designed instruction, appropriate access, supports, and accommodations, as required by IDEA. Figure 1 displays the categorical distribution of special education students. Although disability category is not the best indicator of students’ strengths and needs, it does serve as a proxy for understanding that only a small percentage of special education students have a disability that may require different achievement standards. This small group would include some, but not all, students with intellectual impairments, autism, or multiple disabilities, plus potentially a few students with other disability labels. In addition, researchers have learned that even special education students who require different achievement standards can—when given high-quality instruction in the grade-level curriculum—do far more than has been seen in the past.



Figure1: DistributionofDisability Categoriesin2008–09STUDENTS RECEIVING SPECIAL EDUCATION SERVICES BY DISABILITY CATEGORYTraumatic Brain Injury0.4%Autism5%Multiple Disabilites2.1%Orthopedic Impairments1.1%Visual Impairments0.4%Hearing Impairments1.2%Developmental Delay (Allowable Through Age 9 Only)1.6%Source: ideadata.orgPart B Child Count (2008), Student ages 6-21, 50 states, DC, PR, BIE schools.Specific Learning Disabilities42.9%Intellectual Disabilities8.1%Other Health Impairments2.1%Emotional Disturbance7.1%Speech or Language Impairments19.1%


Reprinted with permission from the National Center for Learning Disabilities.2Meeting the Needs of Special Education Students: Recommendations for the Race to the Top Consortia and States 6




Simply put, it is irresponsible to assume that because a student receives special education services, that student is a low performer who cannot learn. Rather, the goal should be to ensure that special education students progress through school successfully, with access to the same content as their typical peers to be ready for college or a career. Also, assessments must be designed from the beginning to ensure that the ways in which students are asked to demonstrate their knowledge and skills do not create barriers related to disabilities that have nothing to do with what is being measured.



Participation and Performance of Special Education Students in Pre-RTTTAssessments


Students with disabilities have benefited in many ways from the U.S. focus on standards and assessments. After decades of being excluded from state and district assessment systems, their participation in state assessments has increased from no more than 10 percent of students with disabilities participating in the early 1990s3 to an average of 99 percent at the elementary level, 98 percent at the middle school level, and 95 percent at the high school level in 2007-08.4 These increases are due in large part to participation requirements in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and IDEA.




We also are seeing evidence of improvements in the academic performance of students with disabilities. Some of this evidence comes from trends in their performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, in which the grade 4 performance of students with disabilities in 2005 was significantly higher than it was in 1998, 2000, 2002, and 2003 (figure 2).



Figure2: Grade4 PerformanceofStudentswith andwithout DisabilitiesonNAEP Reading Assessment

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