May 6, 2011
The U.S. Department of Education is cracking down on states’ use of an exemption, meant to apply only to students with most severe disabilities, to improve their adequate yearly progress rating, Education Week reports. Under the No Child Left Behind Act, some students may be allowed to take either a modified test or submit to alternative assessment process and, if they pass, have their scores count toward the district’s passing rate, assuming the proportion of such scores doesn’t exceed 1%. If the number of students taking the test exceeds the 1% cap, those scores must count as failing.
For years, the Education Department allowed some states to go over the cap. Shortly after NCLB went into effect, Montana, Ohio, South Dakota and Virginia were all given such waivers. In 2007, the department scrapped the state waivers, but still allowed states to grant exemptions to individual school districts without first getting federal approval.
NCLB doesn’t contain strict guidelines dictating which students are allowed to take alternative tests. The 1% cap was implemented to give states the flexibility to make that decision on their own. Ricki Sabia, the associate director of the National Down Syndrome Society, is worried that this might give states too much leeway:
It’s supposed to be a pretty small, small group. We have to be very careful. Not only might [the cap] not go down, there could be a lot of pressure for it to go up.Sabia feels that giving states too much power to grant exemptions and to make determinations about which students take which test will lead to some kids taking exams that are too easy and thus being denied a chance to get a regular diploma.