Since the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was passed, the U.S. Department of Education has checked to see if states are following the law. Are states finding kids who need services under IDEA? Are evaluations being done promptly? Are IEPs being reviewed? Are disputes resolved within time limits?
Schools have worked hard to make sure that they were meeting the requirements in IDEA. If a state met the requirements, the Department Education gave it a passing score. Under this system, most states had passing scores each year. In 2013, 41 states were passing. But there was one thing the U.S. Department of Education wasn’t considering—how are kids with disabilities actually doing academically in school?
So, How Are Students With Disabilities Doing?
The answer is not well. Compared to other students, students with disabilities are performing poorly in school. They aren’t graduating from high school at the same rates. They aren’t going to college and getting jobs at the same rate either. Students with learning disabilities (LD) and other disabilities are leaving high school unprepared to go to college or join the workforce. In fact, fewer than 10 percent of 8th grade students with a disability are proficient in reading and math on the nation’s report card, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). This is a problem because we know most kids with disabilities can and should do better.
How Do We Know Students With Disabilities Can Do Better?
Students with LD are the largest group of students receiving services under IDEA. Many students with LD spend the majority of their day in the regular classroom and participate in the same learning activities as general education students. Students with LD, when provided with evidence-based instruction and appropriate supports, can be successful. They are often some of the highest-achieving students in the classroom.
What Will the Department of Education Start Looking At?
The U.S. Department of Education has changed its system for evaluating states. Instead of looking at only whether states are meeting deadlines and filing paperwork under IDEA, they are now looking at student outcomes. This is a blended approach that looks at compliance with IDEA and results for kids. The new system is called “Results-Driven Accountability” (RDA). The Department of Education will consider things like:
- How many students with disabilities are proficient in reading and math on NAEP?
- How much worse are students with disabilities doing on NAEP compared to general education students?
- How many students with disabilities are included in the state tests that are given to general education students?
Based on this new RDA system, the number of states that met the requirements of IDEA dropped from 41 to only 18 this year. This means that, looking at outcomes and how kids are doing, states are failing nearly 4 million special education students around the country.
It’s not enough that states are following the rules under IDEA if students are not actually learning, growing and improving each year. Something has to change so that kids with LD can achieve and succeed in school, work and life. The U.S. Department of Education’s new focus on outcomes is a step in the right direction. We need to be holding all students to high standards. We also need to ensure that states and districts provide the resources for teachers to do this. There are many pieces to this puzzle, but it all begins with high expectations and believing that students with LD can achieve.
Lindsay Jones is the Director of Public Policy and Advocacy for the National Center for Learning Disabilities. She leads a team that designs and implements NCLD’s legislative strategy in Washington, D.C., aimed at advancing government policies that support the success of individuals with learning disabilities in school, at work and in life. Follow her on Twitter: @LD_Advocate.