LANHAM, Md. (WNEW) — The U.S. Department of Education is changing the way it holds states accountable for the education of students with disabilities by putting more of a focus on their performance.

After making compliance requirements more strict, the department says D.C. still “needs intervention” when it comes to special education, as it has for several years, and Maryland is now in the “needs assistance” category.

“While the vast majority of students in special education do not have significant cognitive impairments that prohibit them from learning rigorous academic content, fewer than 10 percent of eighth graders with disabilities are proficient in reading and math on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP),” according to Michael Yudin, with the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services at the U.S. Department of Education.

“Too often, students’ educational opportunities are limited by low expectations. We must do better.”

That’s why the department started looking at several measures of student achievement, including the participation of students with disabilities in state assessments, proficiency gaps in reading and math between students with disabilities and other students, and performance in reading and math on the NAEP.

Previously, the department had only measured each state’s basic compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, a federal law enacted in 1990 that says all children with disabilities are entitled to a public education “designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living.”

But, “if kids are leaving high school without the ability to read or do math at a high-school level, compliance is simply not enough,” Yudin says.

The change didn’t make much of a difference for D.C., which has been listed under “needs intervention” for eight consecutive years.

D.C.’s Office of the State Superintendent of Education was not immediately available for comment.

The change did, however, bump Maryland from “meets requirements” to “needs assistance.”

Bill Reinhard, a spokesman for the Maryland State Department of Education, says the state’s main downfall under the new requirements is that not enough Maryland students with disabilities take the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

The test, which is basically just a research tool for educators, shows “how well students from different demographic categories are doing,” Reinhard says. For several years, the state has been asking local school systems to administer the tests to more special education students in order to collect more data about them.

One issue with that is, “these are different tests than what these students are normally used to,” Reinhard says.

Maryland students with disabilities also do not score as high on statewide tests, “but that’s true nationwide,” according to Reinhard. “It’s not a Maryland problem, it’s a national problem. And it’s a difficult problem for states to handle.”

Student disabilities range from ADD to autism, he says.

Despite the state’s downgrade, Reinhard says the Maryland State Department of Education is “very supportive of the direction the U.S. Department of Education is going” with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Virginia is on a short list of states that, under the new standards, still “meets requirements.”

Other states that meet requirements are New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Florida, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Indiana, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri.

D.C., Delaware, Texas and California all “need intervention” and the rest “need assistance.”


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