NCD Policy Principles & Recommendations for ESEA Reauthorization for the House

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Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) Reauthorization


  • NCD recommends changing student academic growth measurements from a permitted part of a state accountability system to a required one. Accountability and standards should be based on both proficiency and growth and must fully include all students. ESEA should continue to require states to meet proficiency standards but states should also receive recognition for improvements in academic performance as well as for closing achievement gaps. Including growth indicators in accountability models can yield a more complete picture regarding a school’s success. The accuracy of the evaluation, however, depends entirely on its inclusivity. Growth indicators must be comprehensive in their scope to reflect an understanding that progress will look different across diverse learners. Current growth model design is often based on normative samples in which students with disabilities were not considered.[1] As expert testimony to Congress has explained, a fully valid growth model assessment depends on an accurate description of a pathway to academic competence, which for students with disabilities may include effective instruction and access to curriculum, which may be absent.[2] The development and use of growth indicators must include consideration of the educational experiences of students with disabilities and be designed to hold students with disabilities to the highest expectations for growth.
  • NCD recommends that the ESEA reauthorization language expressly prohibit use of Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) to assess academic progress. Further aligning Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and ESEA is essential, but it is important to respect the specific role the Individualized Education Plan plays in achieving access to and progress in general education for students with disabilities. The IEPs should not be burdened with providing accountability under ESEA. IEPs are “how to” agreements of parents and schools regarding the manner in which students with disabilities will succeed academically through services and accommodations. They are not designed to be tools for measuring academic progress – nor should they be.
  • NCD strongly recommends maintaining ESEA’s one percent cap on students with disabilities taking the alternative assessment. Furthermore, alternative assessment should only be considered if all possible accommodations and assistive technology including Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) technology have been determined ineffective in providing the student with meaningful access to the standard assessment. Research has shown that students with disabilities taking the alternative assessment are significantly less likely to have access to the general education classroom or be placed on a diploma track. By allowing more than one percent of students to be placed on the alternative assessment, Congress would be drastically reducing the quality of education for students with disabilities. In addition to being NCD’s recommendation, the National Governor’s Association and the National Conference of State Legislatures jointly released recommendations for ESEA reauthorization that also recommended “continuing the current practice of capping the percentage of students with disabilities that are offered alternative assessments.”[3]
  • NCD recommends that requirements and infrastructure be put in place to inform  parents utilizing a voucher to place their child in private school of the implications of doing so on the legal protections that they may be otherwise afforded under IDEA. Unlike instances in which IDEA permits a student with a disability to be placed in a private school in order to satisfy the terms of the student’s IEP and all necessary services and accommodations are provided by the private school at the district’s expense, in instances in which vouchers are utilized to help discharge the cost of private school tuition for a student with a disability, none of the IDEA protections apply. Through public comment and an education reform forum NCD hosted in Florida in 2011, NCD heard from numerous parents of students with disabilities who emphasized that they were wholly unaware of the implications of accepting a voucher on the rights of their family under IDEA. In the context of H.R. 5, the proposed “Family Engagement Centers” should be required to include special education advocates on their special advisory committees and to clearly and thoroughly inform parents of students with disabilities of their rights under IDEA and the possible abrogation of those rights if they choose to send their child to private school.
  • NCD recommends maintaining a federal role and responsibility for the Secretary of Education in terms of providing education oversight. NCD believes the Department of Education plays an important role in providing meaningful oversight and guidance with respect to the validity, reliability, and equity of state assessments and is concerned by the altogether removal of this assignment of responsibility.
  • NCD agrees with H.R. 5 that a state assessment shall “provide for reasonable adaptations and accommodations for students with disabilities necessary to measure the academic achievement of such students relative to the State’s academic standards.” Reasonable accommodations designed to make standardized test-taking accessible to students with disabilities must be understood as required in all standardized performance-assessment settings. NCD strongly believes that reasonable accommodations are designed to allow students to participate fully in school, including the demonstration of their capabilities on standardized tests. It must be made clear that reasonable accommodations are required and that use of alternative measurement techniques in circumstances in which appropriate accommodations exist is not acceptable. Such a clear and unambiguous statement would align ESEA with IDEA and Section 504 and would avoid inconsistency among the laws and discrimination against students with disabilities.
  • NCD recommends that ESEA reauthorization include unambiguous nondiscrimination requirements of charter schools and private schools that educate students through Title I portability provisions; and clear standards for charter school authorizers. Ensuring that students with and without disabilities will learn side by side is the cornerstone of inclusive, integrated education. Developing, emphasizing, or launching disability-specific or segregated charter schools for students with disabilities runs contrary to the social, civic, and educational advances ensured by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and other seminal education reforms. Education must move forward, not return to the failed segregation practices of decades past. Further, resistance to the recruitment, acceptance, or welcoming of students with disabilities must be recognized as discrimination, and the law must be made unambiguous in this respect and its requirements linked to the availability of public funds and state accreditation.

    With respect to voucher programs and students with disabilities, NCD first examined the topic in 2003 and offered several guiding questions to policymakers for consideration during enactment of federal legislation that still apply today:

  • Whether private schools accepting vouchers for students with disabilities should be held to the same standards of accountability and compliance with IDEA as public schools serving the same students?
  • Whether private schools accepting vouchers for students with disabilities should provide evidence that they meet and fully comply with the IEDA provisions for educating students in the least restrictive environment (LRE)?
  • Whether a proposed voucher act would ensure that parents of students under IDEA eligible to receive vouchers would be provided with sufficiently detailed information concerning school choice options addressed particularly to the need for specialized supports and services needed to assure free and appropriate public education (FAPE) for their child, to enable them to make a reasoned and informed choice?
  • Whether vouchers for students with disabilities should be funded at a level sufficient to cover private school tuition and excess educational costs for the least expensive private school within a reasonable transportation distance that can provide all necessary supports, services, and accommodations required to provide FAPE to such students in the LRE?
  • Whether school districts losing students with vouchers and/or schools accepting vouchers from students with disabilities should provide accessible transportation to and from school, and should be fully accessible environments for such students?
  • NCD recommends that ESEA reauthorization maintain the requirement that special education teachers be highly qualified in any content area in which they provide direct instruction. H.R. 5 would repeal the “highly qualified teacher” requirements, which could further exacerbate the existing achievement gaps for students with disabilities and relegate them to substandard learning environments by compromising critically needed adaptations to the curricula, the use of positive behavioral supports, and other vital accommodations.
  • NCD recommends using the reauthorization effort as an opportunity to further align ESEA and IDEA. During the reauthorization of IDEA in 2004, lawmakers attempted to articulate and execute a deliberate change from the law’s compliance-, procedure-based focus to an outcome-based one.[4] For both laws to work optimally together, without tension, and for the benefit of students with disabilities, legislative design of both laws must keep a focus on reaching and improving meaningful outcomes. This should include appropriate assessment tools, as well as a vision for a unified set of standards that all students can be expected to master through appropriately differentiated instructional strategies.
  • NCD agrees with H.R. 5’s requirement that calls for disaggregation of data across subpopulations but further recommends additional disaggregation along disability categories. This additional disaggregation should be included within the annual state report cards, LEA report cards, and Department of Education report card to Congress. See listing of disability types in 20 USC 1401(3)(A).
  • NCD recommends that ESEA reauthorization require that SEAs and LEAs intervene when schools or districts report significant achievement gaps in disaggregated data between the achievement of students with disabilities and students without disabilities. When data collected under ESEA indicates a significant gap in achievement, graduation rates or other relevant data, specific interventions and/or additional resources should be triggered by the LEA or SEA.
  • NCD recommends that state plans set goals for increasing students with disabilities’ access to the general education classroom. These goals should be measured as seen in IDEA State Performance Plan Indicator 5a.
  • NCD recommends revisiting the wording in the exceptions to data disaggregation when too few students are available to provide statistically reliable information or when an individual student may be identified by the data. While this provision addresses valid concerns, as written these exceptions could be misused to avoid accountability.


[1] Hill, R., Gong, B., Marion, S., DePasquale, C., Dunn, J., Simpson, M.A., “Using Value Tables to Explicitly Value Student Growth,” paper presented at the Conference on Longitudinal Modeling of Student Achievement, November 8, 2005, (Accessed February 10, 2015).

[2] Testimony of Jacqui Farmer Kearns, Ed.D., Principal Investigator, National Alternate Assessment Center, before the House Education and Labor Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education Subcommittee, “Elementary and Secondary Education Act Reauthorization: Addressing the Needs of Diverse Learners,”  (Accessed March 29, 2010).

[3] National Governors Association and National Conference of State Legislatures, “Governors’ and State Legislatures’ Plan to Reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act,” (Accessed February 10, 2015).

[4] See: Floor comments of Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH) regarding the Improving Education Results for Children with Disabilities Act of 2004 conference report in the Senate Congressional Record, S11654, November 14, 2004, (Accessed on February 10, 2015). (Sen. Gregg remarked, “The report shifts focus away from compliance with burdensome and confusing rules, and places a renewed emphasis on our most fundamental concern making sure that children with disabilities receive a quality education.”)