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IDEA in practice

By Mary Beth Klotz

ESEA Reauthorization: Revisions to Alternate Test Rules

As the country moves forward with activities leading up to the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), a provision affecting students with disabilities is under consideration for elimination or revision. In a recent speech, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced plans by the department to abolish the 2% rule that allows states to count some scores from students with disabilities as passing, even though alternate exams were utilized. These alternate assessments cover grade–level content, but the expectations of content mastery can be modified and simplified. For example, the alternate assessments may have three choices on multiple–choice questions instead of four, or there could be fewer passages in the reading assessment. When measuring adequate yearly progress, states can count the proficient and advanced scores from these alternate tests for up to 2% of all students in the grades assessed. Two percent of all students can represent as many as 20% of students with disabilities, so the numbers are considerable. This is in addition to the provision in ESEA that allows schools to count passing scores from alternate exams based on alternate achievement standards for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities, or up to an additional 1% of students in a tested grade. The 1% rule for students with significant cognitive disabilities is likely to remain when the law is reauthorized. Secretary Duncan reiterated that the administration stands behind subgroup accountability in ESEA and that it will remain when the law is reauthorized. New assessments that align with the Common Core State Standards are being developed for all students; an alternate version will be available for those students with the most significant cognitive disabilities. For additional information about these new assessments, see IDEA in Practice columns from the December 2010 and the March/April 2011 issues.

Bullying Prevention: Students With Disabilities

In recent months, widespread national attention has been given to the problem of bullying in schools and its negative impact on school climate and learning. The White House sponsored a Bullying Prevention Conference on March 10 that featured addresses by the President and First Lady and a panel discussion that included school psychology professor and NASP member, Dr. Susan Swearer–Napalitano, who provided information about the risk factors and outcomes for bullying and victimization. Videos and materials from the conference are available on a newly launched government website (www.stopbullying. gov), including a briefing paper that explores the bullying of students with disabilities. In this brief from the National Council on Disability, both the civil rights and public health challenges of bullying of students with disabilities were discussed. In a call for action, the authors outlined the need for a focus on prevention of bullying of students with disabilities both as part of a general strategy and as a specific area of focus in policy and practice such as in the current reauthorization of the ESEA. Based on findings from a literature review, it was noted that students with visible and nonvisible disabilities are subject to significantly more bullying than their nondisabled peers, and that students with disabilities who have significant social skills challenges may be at particular risk for bullying and victimization. Policy recommendations included strengthening the use of antibullying tools unique to students with disabilities, such as the IEP process and IDEA’s guarantee of a free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment. Download the brief from http://www.stopbullying.gov/references/white_house_conference/index.html.

At press time, Rep. Jackie Speier (DCalif.), acting as a champion for the welfare and safety of students with disabilities, announced plans to introduce a bill that would require schools that receive federal money to report incidents of bullying to the federal government and specify whether they involved children with disabilities. The legislation would also require that if federal money is used to pay for bullying programs, those programs would have to include content that specifically addresses the bullying of students with disabilities.

School Safety Bills

Recently, NASP participated at the press briefings on the introduction of the Safe Schools Improvement Act (S.506), and the Student Nondiscrimination Act of 2011 (HR.998 and S.555). Both bills are geared to helping improve school safety by reducing bullying and harassment and promoting positive school climates. The Safe Schools Improvement Act requires schools and districts receiving federal funding to specifically prohibit bullying and harassment, including conduct based on a student’s race, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, or religion. It ensures that schools focus on effective prevention programs and requires states to report data on bullying incidents. The Student Non–Discrimination Act would establish a comprehensive federal prohibition against discrimination in public schools based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

Mary Beth Klotz, PhD, NCSP, is NASP Director, IDEA Projects and Technical Assistance.