Advocacy groups oppose new proposal to relax testing requirement

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Advocates oppose testing changes

The nation’s largest disability coalition wrote a letter to the chairman of the Senate education committee January 21, speaking out against a proposal to ease testing standards for students with disabilities.

Since the start of its new session, Senate lawmakers have been working on the latest attempt to overhaul the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, better known as the No Child Left Behind Act. The law was supposed to be reauthorized in 2007, but Congress has since been unable to reach an agreement.

Under the current federal testing requirements, schools are allowed to provide alternative tests to certain students with severe disabilities. Schools, however, are only allowed to provide the tests to about 1 percent of their students – or about 10 percent of student with disabilities – in order to ensure the vast majority of students with disabilities are being held to the same standards as their peers.

Under a new proposal from Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the committee chairman, the caps would be eliminated and states would be allowed to determine how many students are allowed to take the alternative tests.

While criticizing other parts of the law, many disability advocates have long credited the No Child Left Behind Act with improving transparency and accountability for education services for students with disabilities.

In a letter to Sen. Alexander, the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities argued that the proposed approach would be a step backward.

“This approach is an affront to the civil rights of disadvantaged children and would obscure achievement gaps, lower expectations, and reduce standards,” the letter states. “Your approach would essentially wipe out a decade of progress which has allowed parents, teachers and school leaders to better understand the potential of students with disabilities.”

Sen. Alexander argues the change is necessary to reduce the federal government’s role in the education system.

“While the federal government has a very special role in ensuring that our students do not experience discrimination based on who they are or what their disability might be, Congress is not a national school board,” Alexander said at the hearing January 21, according to Disability Scoop.