Special Education and No Child Left Behind (NCLB) are related in several ways. Due to the requirements established in the 2001 NCLB law the vast majority of special education students are required to participate in your district and state annual assessments. This is not a decision the special education teacher has made or often condoned; it is required unless your child is extremely impaired and has not been exposed to the core content standards. There are very rigid laws regarding the assessment process so it is important to check the Accommodations and Modifications Section of your child’s IEP to make sure your child has all of the needed testing accommodations.
You may have noticed a lot of talk in the media about state waivers for portions of the NCLB regulations. Many states have requested to receive a waiver that will allow for a little more flexibility in some of the regulations while increasing their accountability. One of the regulations where flexibility may be granted is in assessing students on multiple measures rather than on one test score. This is good news for special education students who often struggle with high stakes tests because they are being assessed on material that they have not learned or been exposed to due to their disability and their educational needs.
I remember a conversation I had with an Assistant Superintendent about this issue. I was trying to explain the educational damage (let alone the emotional damage) I was likely to inflict on one of my 5th grade emotionally disturbed students who also had extreme dyslexia when I put a 5th grade reading assessment in front of him and told him he had to complete it independently (because you cannot read portions of the reading assessment to children as you can for a math or a science assessment). I remember asking her, “What helpful information could possibly be gained from this endeavor?” and her response was, “Well if he raises his score under “Insufficient” he could be proud of that and we’d know you taught him something about reading”. I know she was only doing her job, but she obviously did not understand that if he raised his score it was likely because he guessed well as he could not read any of the content or questions placed before him.
At this point, my hope is that states will look at assessing children with special needs in a way that is meaningful to them, their parents and their teachers. Assessment is an important tool in special education, and it must be meaningful to effect growth and learning. Since these waivers are new how this will unfold is an unknown. For this reason, it is important to make sure that your child receives appropriate accommodations during high stakes testing. This means that your child has to have been receiving these accommodations throughout the year for regular class work and testing. I generally recommend the following accommodations, although they must be based on the educational needs of your child; extended time or unlimited time to complete the test, testing to occur in a small or 1:1 environment free from as much distraction as possible, testing to be administered by a familiar adult, frequent breaks, repetition of directions, use of manipulatives, test questions and directions to be read orally (where allowed) and/or the use of a scribe or use of assistive technology (where allowed).