- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 3, 2003


Students with the most severe learning disabilities can be held to standards designed just for them rather than those used for classmates, which could ease pressure on schools struggling to make yearly progress, Education Department officials said yesterday.

A new department rule to be announced within days would affect only those students deemed to have “significant cognitive disabilities.”

Those students would be tested against standards appropriate for their intellectual development and their scores would be counted as part of their school’s performance.

Under current rules, students who take tests based on different standards can’t be considered “proficient,” which penalizes schools as they add up yearly achievement.

That’s important because schools that receive federal aid for the poor but fail to make adequate yearly progress face increasing sanctions from the government and complaints from the public.

Education Department officials said they tried to find balance, acknowledging a need for different standards in limited cases without eroding school accountability for all students.

The rule does not spell out which children meet the definition of having a significant cognitive disability, leaving that to the states with some narrow limits. The plan also requires that any alternative standards for students must be tied to state academic content.

“Schools around the country will not be identified by their states as ‘needing improvement’ if their students with the most significant disabilities are unable to take the same tests as their peers,” Education Secretary Rod Paige said.

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