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No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was the first federal law to acknowledge that too often students with disabilities face lower expectations about what they can learn and do. For the first time ever, NCLB held all students to the same high expectations and held schools accountable for the performance of students with disabilities in a manner similar to that of students without disabilities. When the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) NCLB in 2015, it maintained the law’s commitment to upholding high expectations for all students. That’s why ESSA includes safeguards to ensure that all students, including those with disabilities, are fully included in each state’s accountability frameworks.

NCLB required schools with more than a certain number of students with IEPs to disaggregate—or report separately—their test scores. Researchers compared those schools with ones that did not reach the minimum subgroup size and found that schools being held accountable for the performance of students with disabilities were more likely to:18

  • Use a tiered intervention system
  • Instruct a higher percentage of students with disabilities in general education classrooms co-taught by general education and special education teachers
  • Instruct a lower percentage of students with disabilities in resource rooms
  • Provide more professional development related to instructing students with disabilities to general education and special education teachers
  • Provide monthly coaching related to instructing students with disabilities to general education and special education teachers

ESSA maintains disaggregation of outcome data by subgroups, including disability status. It also provides funding that can be used in schools with large learning gaps to increase the use of evidence-based interventions and improve professional development.

However, the new law offers more flexibility than NCLB did. As states revise their accountability plans, NCLD and other advocacy groups urge states not to step back from the expectation that all students can learn rigorous content and be prepared for college, career and civic success.19

Programs: