- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Bush administration officials yesterday said they will ease some of the rules that govern testing for students with disabilities — thus allowing more of these students to take tests that are geared to them as opposed to those currently required under the No Child Left Behind law.

“These students are capable of achieving high academic standards, and now, states and schools can be better attuned to their needs,” said Education Secretary Margaret Spellings. She said the changes will help “drive the field forward in developing better tests” for students with disabilities.

States currently are allowed to give alternative tests to about 10 percent of special-education students — those with the most serious disabilities — and have the results count toward a school’s annual progress under NCLB goals.

The final rules outlined yesterday by administration officials would allow roughly another 20 percent of disabled children to take modified tests — meaning that about 30 percent of all children with disabilities could take more applicable tests.

The group that is being targeted is students who are not severely disabled but still have some trouble and aren’t able to keep pace with typical students. Right now, this particular group of disabled children must be given either the same tests as typical students, which are too difficult, or the alternative tests given to the most severely disabled, which are too easy. The new rules aim to set a middle ground.

“Its a better way to identify, teach, test what these students know,” said Deputy Secretary of Education Raymond Simon, who briefed state education chiefs on the changes yesterday.

State and local education leaders have complained that the No Child Left Behind law has one-size-fits-all testing and tracking and needs to provide more flexibility for students with disabilities.

At a recent hearing, Rebecca Cort, deputy commissioner of New York State Education Department’s special education arena, argued that the federal law “needs to acknowledge and accommodate” the differences among students with disabilities — from those who are profoundly developmentally delayed to those with learning difficulties — as opposed to lumping them together.

The 2002 law requires all students to be grade-level proficient in reading and math by 2014. It requires states to set standards, give annual tests and mark the progress of each school. Schools that fail to make adequate progress are penalized, and some special-education experts have worried that special-education students would be blamed if a school is labeled as failing.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat and chairman of the Senate education panel, called the new changes “an important step forward. The House Education panel’s top Republican, Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon of California, said it will “enhance this dialogue” as leaders try to include disabled students into the national education goals in “the most meaningful and appropriate way.”

States wouldn’t be required to use new tests for this group of students, but a handful of states are moving in that direction and have volunteered to help other states, Mr. Simon said.

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