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NCD Policy Principles & Recommendations for ESEA Reauthorization for the Senate

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Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) Reauthorization


  • NCD recommends that student academic growth measurements be a required part of a state accountability system. 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 into 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 95 percent of students be required to participate in annual progress assessments so that high expectations and educational efforts are maintained. Achievement gaps can’t be addressed when a disproportionate number of students with disabilities have been excluded from meeting grade-level standards.
  • NCD recommends that the ESEA reauthorization language expressly prohibit use of Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) as devices to assess academic progress. While further aligning Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and ESEA is essential, it is important to respect the specific role the Individualized Education Program 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. 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 educational accountability infrastructure for students with disabilities.
  • NCD recommends maintaining a federal role and responsibility for the Secretary of Education in education oversight. NCD believes the Department of Education should play 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 strongly recommends that the state assessment be required to provide for reasonable adaptations and accommodations for children with disabilities so that the academic achievement of such children can be measured relative to the same academic standards applied to the general population. 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 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.[3] 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. It will be important to look at students with disabilities not just as a whole, but also within subgroups of eligibility/disability category. This is needed to ensure that all students are making progress rather than just some subsets of this student population.
  • NCD strongly recommends a requirement for the 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 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 minimum requirements of the annual State report card which currently provide 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 March 29, 2010).

[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] 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 March 29, 2010). (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.”)