Special-education students, it turns out, may stand to benefit if accountability systems cease to treat them as particularly special. States around the country jumped at the Obama administration’s NCLB waiver offer this year for many reasons, but the opportunity to streamline that law’s accountability requirements by lumping different subgroups together was certainly a draw. The practice raised the ire of many special-education advocates, however, who fear that that the needs of students with disabilities (SWDs) may get lost in the shuffle with the rise of “super subgroups” that lump these youngsters in with ethnic, socioeconomic, and linguistic minorities. The data in a new IES report, however, suggest that viewing SWDs separately may actually do them a serious disservice. The study analyzes how well schools with substantial special-education populations educate their students and assesses whether NCLB’s Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) requirements led schools to adopt improved practices, thus bumping educational outcomes for their SWDs. For the forty states with relevant data (2008-09), 35 percent of schools were accountable for SWD test scores—up ten percentage points since 2005-06—meaning that they had enough disabled pupils to qualify for accountability under NCLB’s Title I and “subgroup” rules. Further, in 2008-09, just 14 percent of schools held accountable for their SWDs missed AYP solely because of the performance of these students. But what of the 65 percent of schools that aren’t held accountable for their special-education students at all, because there aren’t enough of them to comprise a unique subgroup? Perhaps super-subgroup proponents have a point after all. With luck, this project’s final report, which will explore the relationships between AYP (for SWDs), school practices, and student outcomes, can provide further clarity on the opaque topic of how well schools are serving these students.
SOURCE: Jenifer Harr-Robins, Mengli Song, Steven Hulburt, Cheryl Pruce, Louis Danielson, Michael Garet, James Taylor, and Jonathan Jacobson, The Inclusion of Students With Disabilities in School Accountability Systems: Interim Report (Washington, D.C: Institute for Education Sciences, May 2012).