New federal education law broadens opportunities for students with disabilities

A new federal education law has provisions that will prevent educators and schools from defaulting to less rigorous exams for students with disabilities.

Advocates say that could keep more students with disabilities on grade level, leading to more high school diplomas and better education and employment outcomes.

President Barack Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act on Thursday, according to a Disability Scoop article. The bill takes the place of the No Child Left Behind education law.

Years in the making, the new legislation grants significantly more power to states while continuing to require transparency from schools about the capabilities of their students, including those with disabilities.

“With this bill, we reaffirm that fundamentally American ideal that every child – regardless of race, income, background, the zip code where they live – deserves the chance to make out of their lives what they want,” Obama said before signing the bipartisan compromise Thursday.

The law puts a cap on how many students can take different, easier tests than the typical exams that prove students know the information taught in their grade level.

Now, according to Disability Scoop, 1 percent or fewer students can take the alternate assessments, which are meant for students with the most severe intellectual disabilities.

The law also protects the right of those students who take the alternate tests to keep trying to reach grade-level goals.

According to the article:

That change has very meaningful implications for students, according to Katy Neas, executive vice president for public affairs at Easter Seals. In the past, Neas said taking an alternate assessment as early as third grade derailed some students from pursuing a typical high school diploma even if they were only struggling in one subject area.

“We really do think that at the end of the day this really does protect the right to a free appropriate public education for students with disabilities,” Neas said. “What we want is kids with disabilities to have access to the general curriculum so they have a chance at a general diploma.”

Under the law, schools are required to report the tests results not only from the typical students, but also by their peers with disabilities and other groups. State agencies, not the feds, will have the responsibility to keep schools on task with education achievement, according to the article.

Reach Halle Stockton at 412-315-0263 or at hstockton@publicsource.org. Follow her on Twitter @HalleStockton.