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Over the past several months, the U.S. Deptartment of Education (USDOE) has sent down proposed changes to how children with disabilities are taught. The changes that are being suggested are NOT rooted in peer- reviewed research but are just broad general statements that Secretary Duncan likes to use to drive special education policy.

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The USDOE claims that 6.5 million students with disabilities are not receiving a quality education. The USDOE would require proof that these kids aren’t just being served, but are making academic progress. “We know that when students with disabilities are held to high expectations and have access to a robust curriculum, they excel,” Duncan said. Show us the research, Arne! Where in peer-reviewed research does it say that students with disabilities are NOT receiving a quality education? Where in peer- reviewed research does it say that you educate a child with disabilities 1, 2, or 3 grade levels above his or her capability?

As Duncan hails the increasing graduation rates of our students with disabilities, it makes NO sense for him now to increase the requirements for graduation to something unattainable for children with disabilities. Wouldn’t that make our graduation rates go down? You can’t have it both ways, Secretary Duncan.

Let’s hail the increasing graduation rates of children with disabilities but now let’s put the expectations so high that many now won’t graduate?

To further complicate matters the USDOE and Duncan hope to punish states that don’t comply with the new guidelines, causing them to lose federal funding. Sadly, punishing states for noncompliance only hurts children, and specifically in this case, children with disabilities. Doesn’t it seem like Duncan and the USDOE don’t like kids with disabilities? Let’s hail the increasing graduation rates of children with disabilities but now let’s put the expectations so high that many now won’t graduate? It is like building a wheelchair ramp that is too steep! Duncan and the USDOE continue to forge ahead, ignoring the cries of parents and educators. They continue their education policy which wants to punish the states that can’t cure student disabilities with test driven accountability and push a set of standards that are out of reach for our children with disabilities.

The next change to special education instruction that the USDOE is pushing was announced a few weeks ago. This change shows the disdain that the USDOE must have for children with disabilities. Duncan and the USDOE would add an amendment to the regulations governing Title 1, Part A of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965.

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This amendment would phase out the state’s ability to define and modify academic achievement standards and develop alternative assessments for children with disabilities. In other words, states have been able to modify curriculum and tests for children with disabilities in order to level the playing field for them. The USDOE would like to phase this out! These amendments that allow the state to modify curriculum and tests were inserted into Title 1 regulations in 2007. They permit the states to modify curriculum for students with disabilities, specifically those whose disability made it difficult for them to achieve grade-level proficiency.

Why would Duncan and the USDOE want to remove this? This important measure that states and teachers use today to make our children with disabilities successful in school is working (see graduation rates for Students with Disabilities – they are on the rise). Currently, states and teachers are allowed to move a child with disabilities at their pace, with curriculum broken down and tests modified so that children can understand it. The USDOE wants to take that away from the states, the children, and the teachers!

The proposed regulations that the USDOE wants to create makes the assumption that these alternate assessments will no longer be needed. This assumption is both wrong and damaging to our students with disabilities. As more money is being spent to accommodate Federal driven unfunded mandates to implement Common Core Standards and related assessments, our special education population has been receiving fewer of the needed supports to assist with their learning. Students are being subjected to IEP placement changes that do not provide an appropriate learning environment for their disabilities, which is, in many cases, a direct violation of their right to a free and appropriate education. The key word here is “appropriate.”

Arne Duncan is operating under the assumption that the Common Core Standards and the tests that will accompany them are, in and of themselves, a cure to learning and related disabilities. Regardless of how material is delivered and assessed, students with disabilities need time to learn and master a topic, and some students will take more time than others.

Why is it that the USDOE hates children with disabilities so much that it would pursue a regulation taking all of that away? Educators believe that modified curriculum and assessments are a good thing! We want our children with disabilities to succeed. Does Arne? Does the USDOE?


Marla Kilfoyle and Melissa Tomlinson