"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Friday, April 21, 2006

IDEA vs. NCLB in Missouri

A new form (Form D, Part 2 - "State Accommodations") used for state assessment testing was introduced this year for the 2005-2006 school year to be used in conjunction with IEP's. This new form came from MO DESE (Missouri Department of elementary and Secondary Education) in the summer of 2005.

In the past, accommodations for the IEP were listed and were adhered to for regular classroom instruction, assessment, and state MAP assessment.

However, the new form was designed specifically for state assessment purposes. In other words, accommodations for regular classroom instruction and assessment were, for the first time, separated and distinguished from state assessment accommodations. According to a special ed teacher in a neighboring district, the IEP teams met in August of 2005 to review the new state policies and procedures. They were told about the new form and were made aware of the new distinction between (a) accommodations for regular classroom instruction and assessment and (b) state assessment accommodations.

During these meetings, they were also made aware that if the reading or paraphrasing accommodation were listed as part of the state assessment accommodations, then the scores of the students for whom this accommodation was made would be labeled "Level Not Determined" or LND.

If more than five percent of the students in any given subgroup receive this LND ranking, then the entire subgroup does not make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), thereby penalizing the students and the school district regardless of how well the students perform on the test.

A colleague confirmed with the special ed teacher that none of her students' IEP's included the accommodation of reading on the communication arts portion of the state assessment because all of the students who were given the accommodation would receive "LND" when they took the test. In other words, the scores would not count if they were given the accommodation. I know for a fact that at least one other school district responded to the new policy by completely withdrawing the accommodation from state assessment, despite the fact that it had been given to the majority of special needs students over the last five years and had been considered an important part of each IEP. Prior to the '05-06 school year, students that had an IEP with the accommodation of reading for ANY test would also have that accommodation for the state assessment tests.

In sum, the reading and/or paraphrasing accommodation was removed from these students' IEP's for state assessment purposes in order to avoid the penalty of having the scores on these assessments invalidated. In those cases where the accommodations are not listed in the IEP on Form D, Part 2 - "State Accommodations" - the school and the district are not technically violating federal IDEA law. However, there are numerous instances where the reading and/or paraphrasing accommodation is listed in the IEP for accommodations for regular classroom instruction and assessment but is not listed for state assessment purposes.

I would argue that this practice violates the intent of IDEA. Children who receive the reading/paraphrasing accommodation for regular classroom instruction and assessment are suddenly told one day to take a test without this accommodation. The results of this test are then used to determine the quality of teaching and learning in that school and in that district. This is neither logical nor consistent. It may be technically legal, but it undermines what IDEA was designed to do, i.e., protect the rights of individuals with disabilities. Moreover, it increases the likelihood that entire schools and school districts will be labeled "in need of improvement."

Finally, I'd like to underscore the dilemma that special education teachers and IEP teams were faced with last year as they considered their options. They could follow the intent of IDEA and make the accommodations for regular classroom instruction and assessment consistent with state assessment accommodations, or they could follow NCLB and withdraw the accommodations from the state assessment. If they followed IDEA, they would violate NCLB. If they followed NCLB, they would violate IDEA. The new form gave them a way out of the dilemma so they could be in compliance with both federal laws. Although DESE told the districts that they were free to include the reading/paraphrasing accommodation in the new state assessment portion of the IEP, this "freedom" was somewhat disingenuous.

At the end of the day, DESE did not have to make the tough decisions. The IEP teams did. The decision was ultimately about picking their own poison: do they assure their school of AYP failure by including the reading/paraphrasing accommodation or do they take the chance that children with IEP's might somehow miraculously achieve grade level proficiency on a single test without the accommodation they were accustomed to having? Clearly most schools and districts have chosen to role the dice. We'll have to wait until August when the scores come out to see what happens.

This is not meant as a condemnation of IEP teams, public schools, or even DESE. They are just following orders from Washington. If we want to point fingers, then we need to look at the unintended (intended?) consequences of NCLB and the Bush administration's insistence that sticks and threats are the way to help children learn.

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