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Testing and Students with Learning Disabilities

March 1, 2004 |

Accountability Testing and Students With Learning Disabilities: Factors of Passing and Failing the Virginia SOL Tests

by Paul J. Gerber (March 2004)

Since the landmark work A Nation At-Risk (National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1988), school systems in the United States have been evolving by a myriad of reform efforts, particularly with regard to the “standards movement.” Outcomes of standards-based education are measured by accountability and assessment systems. Currently, all states have some kind of assessment system that (1) provides information about individual student achievement and (2) gauges the success of schools and school systems. Conventional wisdom is if standards are raised all students will benefit through greater student achievement and the efforts of educators will, in essence, be validated.

All students includes students with disabilities. Their situation is complicated when it comes to accountability testing, particularly for students who are academically-able, like those who are in the high incidence category of learning disabilities. Alternate assessment for students who are severely disabled is even more challenging and comes with an additional set of testing challenges. Efforts to ensure fairness still continue today. These efforts are driven by both legislation and litigation. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), called the Improving America’s Schools Act (IASA), in 1994 mandated fairness in testing students with disabilities, as did the Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 1997. Moreover, a class action suit on behalf of students with learning disability in Oregon (Wrightslaw, 1999) has put all state under scrutiny when testing all students with disabilities.

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