A seemingly small and technical new rule announced this week by the federal Department of Education will likely produce big advantages – for thousands of public school districts and millions of children across the United States.
The so-called One Percent Rule will give states and school districts new flexibility to use alternative tests for up to one percent of their students (or ten percent of students with disabilities) to meet testing requirements under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). The rule is intended for students with severe disabilities who cannot sit through regular standardized tests.
Other students labeled with disabilities will still be able to take standardized tests with special accommodations. Depending on the plan worked out for each child on an individual basis, these accommodations can range from getting additional time to having tests administered one-on-one with a teacher who reads each question aloud.
The new federal rule ensures that the nation’s 6.5 million children who are currently in special education will not be excluded from their school and state assessment systems. Already in many states, special education programs are in danger of turning into second-tier education tracks with poor track records for improving academic progress. Students in special education are less likely to graduate with diplomas, less likely to go to college, and less likely to get jobs when they finish school.
Last year, a Presidential Commission appointed to study the subject concluded, “when a child fails to make progress in special education, parents don’t have adequate options and possess little recourse.” Excluding such children from assessments, as some have recently proposed, would only exacerbate this situation, and make it extremely difficult for parents to track their children’s academic progress – and to seek to improve their results.
The One Percent Rule also addresses the fears expressed by many reasonable parents and educators about whether the presence of disabled students will produce detrimental effects for their school under NCLB. In fact, this increased flexibility will prevent severely disabled children from counting against their school as “not proficient.” Schools that can demonstrate a larger population of severely disabled students will also have the opportunity to increase the “one percent” threshold.
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