Does the New NCLB's Opt-Out Provisions Protect Kids with Disabilities? This Mom says "No"

Great read in The Atlantic about the alignment of disability advocates and civil rights leaders on the necessity of maintaining federal oversight, annual testing, and accountability in a newly-reauthorized ESEA, formerly known as No Child Left Behind. Author Carly Berwick interviewed Ricki Sabia, who has a son, Steve, with  Down Syndrome. When Steve was five years old he couldn’t read and teachers and administrators at her local school doubted his ability to ever read at all.

Sabia explains, “It wasn’t until he started taking state assessments and far exceeding expectations that they started to take my observations about his abilities seriously and stopped trying to get him into special-ed classes.”

NCLB required each district to test 95% of each subgroup of students, including those with disabilities. The current draft of ESEA, called “Every Child Achieves Act,” maintains annual state testing but an amendment sponsored by Senator Johnny Isakson (R-Ga) bars states from intervening in districts with low participation rates. We’re “opening the door for local control,” exulted Isakson; his amendment passed the Senate unanimously.

This amendment renders 95% participation rates flaccid. While it may indeed “open the door for local control" (that desideratum among another oft-noted alliance of unionists and Republicans) it also opens the door to the old-school habit of counseling students out of testing to protect aggregated test scores. Parents of special needs children, like Sabia (and me), know how quickly districts might go through that door.

From  the Atlantic article:
Now, disabilities advocates worry that the new proposals’ opt-out amendments—along with the ability of states to determine the consequences for schools that fail to comply with testing expectations—could allow schools to slide back into the ‘70s, when students with disabilities were often warehoused in special rooms and only one-fifth received a public education.  (Some might recall the reporter Geraldo Rivera’s famous 1972 expose of New York’s Willowbrook School, which reveals students naked, some in their own filth, with overwhelmed aides and no instruction.) In some states and districts, that era may have never come to a close: Last week, the Department of Justice issued a letter to Georgia [Isakson's state] alleging that the state was violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by “unnecessarily segregating students with disabilities from their peers.”
No one wants too much testing. No one wants to overstress teachers, parents, and students. But there’s a proper balance here and the current draft of ECAA lacks that balance.

You could ask Steve. He’s in community college now.

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