“No Child Left Behind” revamp worries advocates

Three kids standing in the door of a school bus
No Child Left Behind Revamp: Progress?

Attempts by legislators to reduce the rigorous testing standards of the No Child Child Left Behind Act are raising concerns among disability advocacy groups, many whom feel the legislators could overcompensate and make schools unaccountable for the educational success of special education students.

On Tuesday, Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chairman of the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, released an 865-page bill to revamp the No Child Left Behind Act, the signature educational achievement of President George W. Bush. The bill would end the act’s requirement that school’s show “adequately yearly progress” each year on standardized tests or face harsh consequences, and replace it with an emphasis on the lowest performing schools and new systems of teacher evaluations.

In a letter sent to Harkin by the National Center for Learning Disabilities and a variety of other advocacy groups, said the federal government must continue to ensure states are testing students with special education services and working to close the achievement gap between them and students in the regular classrooom.

“The loss of goals and progress targets would dismantle the positive aspects of NCLB’s accountability system and be a significant step backward that we can ill afford to take,” the letter stated.

This emphasis on accountability is also seen by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan as a positive aspect of the No Child Left Behind Act.

“NCLB was right to shine a bright light on achievement gaps and set a clear expectation that all students must learn to the same standards,” Duncan told Congress in March, according to an article in Disability Scoop.

President Obama announced last month he would use his executive authority to waive states from certain, over rigorous, standards if they propose new plans providing alternatives way to keep schools and teachers accountable for their student’s academic standards.

In September, a group of six Republican senators proposed a bill allowing schools to exempt special education students from the act’s testing standards. In response, the Consonsortium for Citizens with Disabilities, which includes the National Disability Rights Network, wrote a letter to the senators, arguing the bill would eliminate transparency regarding how schools are educating special educations students and incentivize schools to usher students into these program whom would be better off in the regular classroom.

“This approach would obscure achievement gaps, and lower expectations for all students with disabilities, wiping out a decade of progress for students with disabilities that has assured their access to the general education curriculum and increased their full inclusion in general education classrooms throughout the country,“ the consortium wrote in the letter.

DisAbility Rights Washington, the sponsor of DisAbility Rights Galaxy, is part of the federally funded protection and advocacy system and a member of the National Disability Rights Network