States Failing to Follow Disability Law

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By: LeMara Perry
Disability Photo

The Obama administration is making dramatic changes to the way in which they evaluate compliance with special education laws, which leaves more than two-thirds of the country falling below expectation.

For the first time, test scores and other outcome measures for students with disabilities are a central focus in state assessments conducted under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the U.S. Department of Education said Tuesday. “Every child, regardless of income, race, background or disability can succeed if provided the opportunity to learn,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “We know that when students with disabilities are held to high expectations and have access to the general curriculum in the regular classroom, they excel. We must be honest about student performance, so that we can give all students the supports and services they need to succeed.”

Based on the new criteria, Maryland is among 35 states that no longer meet federal requirements, joining the District of Columbia, which has been out of compliance since 2006. Previously, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1990 (IDEA) evaluations focused on whether or not states met procedural requirements like completing evaluations, due process hearings or transitioning children into preschool services within an appropriate timeframe.

The 1990 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) stated that children with disabilities are entitled to a free appropriate public education and that each child’s education will be planned and monitored with an individualized education program or an individualized family service plan. To the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities, including children in public or private institutions or other care facilities, are educated with children, who are not disabled, and that special classes, separate schooling, or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment occurs only when the nature or severity of the disability is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily.

Under the new law, the Department of Education will access states and assign them to four category, based on how well they provide special education services: “meets requirements,” “needs assistance,” “needs intervention” or “needs substantial intervention.” Based on data released last year, 38 states met the requirement; however, with the new system in place only 15 states achieved the highest rating in the most recent round of determinations considering information from the 20122013 school year. While this year, the Department of Education considered students with disabilities in state assessments, their performance in both reading and math on the National Assessment of Education Progress and proficiency gaps between students in special education and others, next year federal officials hope to graduation rates.

For states, the stakes are high. IDEA requires federal officials to take action if a state is classified as needing assistance for two or more years in a row and federal funding can be withheld if a state routinely underperforms. To help states boost their performance under the updated accountability framework, the Education Department said it will fund a new $50 million technical assistance center.

U.S. Department of Education Determinations Based on 2012/2013 Data:

• Meets Requirements: Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming

• Needs Assistance: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Washington, West Virginia

• Needs Intervention: California, Delaware, District of Columbia, Texas

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