Teachers discuss new test

By Jonathan Wroble

On April 4, President George W. Bush finalized new provisions in the No Child Left Behind Act that would allow a greater number of special education students to take simplified tests. The changes, if adopted by individual states, would allow 3 percent of all children to take tests with relaxed standards.

“This is a topic that all special educators are interested in,” said Jim Shriner, associate professor of special education. “The state (of Illinois) is trying to decide if this is what it should do.”

To help make that decision, special educators from around the country are meeting in Louisville, Ky., from Wednesday until Saturday at the Council for Exceptional Children’s annual convention. Part of the gathering will include meetings on the updates to the No Child Left Behind Act.

Under the act’s current rules, roughly 10 percent of special education students are permitted to take alternate state tests. The new rules, which become effective on May 9, would raise that amount to 30 percent of special education students. However, Shriner said that Illinois is not likely to act immediately.

“It is very expensive to make these kinds of tests,” he said. “Right now, the state just doesn’t have the resources to do it.”

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In Illinois, there are currently two different tests distributed to schoolchildren. The Illinois Standard Achievement Test, or ISAT, is the regular assessment given to normally developed children in order to measure achievement. The Illinois Alternate Assessment, or IAA, is given to children with significant cognitive impairments.

Given the updates to No Child Left Behind, Illinois can now create a third type of test: an assessment based on modified standards. This hypothetical test, which only a handful of states have, would be distributed to children who do not have significant disabilities but still fall behind their academic peers.

“Even with extra time or special accommodations (on the ISAT), these kids are well behind their age mean,” Shriner said. “This test is in the middle (of the ISAT and the IAA).”

The Individuals with Disabilities Act, first enacted in 1975, guarantees public education for disabled children. Part of the act provides these students with an Individualized Education Program team, which will factor into whether or not a student can take the assessment based on modified standards.

“In almost all cases, only students served under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act can be considered for one of these tests,” Shriner said. “Every Individualized Education Program Team must decide if the student is eligible.”

No Child Left Behind also puts a cap on the number of students who can technically take the modified tests. Each year, a state must meet progress standards – measured by tests like the ISAT and the IAA – in order to avoid governmental sanctions. Under the new law, only two percent of a state’s student population can be counted through an assessment based on modified standards, in addition to the one percent who can be counted through alternate tests for students with significant impairments.

While the Council for Exceptional Children gives “cautious approval” to the new No Child Left Behind rules, Sen. Edward Kennedy responded with full endorsement.

“It’s essential to fully include children with disabilities in No Child Left Behind’s guarantee that every student counts,” he said in a statement. “(This) regulation is an important step forward.”