Press Room PRESS RELEASES
To Raise Achievement of Students with Disabilities, Greater Flexibility Available for States, Schools
Proposed Regulations to be Published in Federal Register
Archived Information


FOR RELEASE:
December 14, 2005
Contacts: Jim Bradshaw
(202) 401-2310

More Resources
Assessing Students with Disabilities (including notice of proposed rulemaking)
Fact Sheet
Photos

COLUMBIA, Md. -- U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings today announced proposed regulations to enhance the ability of schools and states to more effectively measure the achievement of America's students with disabilities.

With No Child Left Behind, parents, teachers, and the federal government committed to closing the achievement gap by 2014 for all children including students with disabilities. Ensuring that all students can read and do math on grade level remains a top priority.

Speaking to more than 100 policymakers and educators at Guilford Elementary School in Columbia, Md., Secretary Spellings said, "We're committed to using the best research to make sure students with disabilities are learning and taking tests that are meaningful to them."

The proposed rules to be published in Thursday's Federal Register are designed to meet the needs of students with disabilities who may not reach grade level within the same time frame as their peers, but who can make significant strides, given the right instruction.

Following is the prepared text of Secretary Spellings' remarks.

SECRETARY SPELLINGS: Thank you. You're lucky to have Nancy Grasmick as your superintendent in Maryland. She began her career in Baltimore as a teacher working with deaf students, and she's been a leader on special education issues in the policy arena as well. She's been a powerful voice for higher standards and accountability for results for all students.

Before I begin, let me say, tomorrow we'll have the chance to see history unfold before our eyes in Iraq. Millions of men and women—ordinary Iraqis—will show extraordinary courage as they take their place at polls all across the country. The people of Iraq will come together to defy terror and elect a parliamentary government. And they will be sending a powerful message of hope throughout the Middle East.

It's an honor to be here today at Guilford Elementary School with my deputy secretary, Ray Simon. I want to thank Principal Varlack for sharing her school with us today. I get asked all the time to point to places that are closing the achievement gap and proving we can leave no child behind. And this school is getting the job done for all students, including students with disabilities. The percentage of students here with disabilities meeting state standards in reading has increased by 17 points since just 2003. And the gap between all students and students with disabilities is shrinking in reading.

Just a few years ago, this school was falling short of standards. But you made improvements under No Child Left Behind. And today, you're a shining example for schools across the country. You're proving every child can learn with a quality education.

The key is setting high expectations for all students. And for parents like Catriona Johnson that makes all the difference. I met with Catriona and a group of other parents of students with disabilities earlier today. Catriona's son has autism, but his teachers here at Guilford saw his potential. And they worked with his mom to give him the support and instruction he needed.

As many of us know, it wasn't always like this for parents of students with disabilities. When I was in school—and it wasn't all that long ago—many states still had policies excluding students with disabilities from public schools. In 1970, schools in this country only educated one in five students with disabilities.

That all started to change when Congress passed the Education for All Handicapped Children Act in 1975. Last month, we celebrated the 30th anniversary of this law, which is now known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or IDEA. It guarantees students with disabilities access to a free and appropriate public education. More than two decades after Brown v. Board of Education opened the schoolhouse to students of all races, this law opened our schools to students with disabilities.

As a result, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of students with disabilities graduating from high school and taking challenging courses. Today, virtually all these students take the full range of academic classes. That includes classes in English, math, social studies, science, and more. In fact, about one out of every five high school students with a disability is learning a foreign language.

We've come a long way in the last 30 years. But before No Child Left Behind, we still often underestimated what students with disabilities could learn. Many were victims of what President Bush calls the "soft bigotry of low expectations." We held them to lower standards, and we didn't hold ourselves accountable for their success.

Today, we know the vast majority of students with disabilities can achieve grade-level standards. And thanks to No Child Left Behind, we are holding ourselves accountable for making sure they do. For the first time ever, we as a nation have made a commitment to close the achievement gap by 2014 and ensure all students can read and do math on grade level.

That's why we're asking states to annually assess students and then break down the results by student groups so we can be sure all students, including students with disabilities, are getting ahead. For example, in the 2003-04 school year, about 95 percent of students with disabilities participated in state reading assessments.

As a result, we now have a laser-like focus on helping these students. Special education is no longer a peripheral issue. IDEA and NCLB have put the needs of students with disabilities front and center. We've torn down the final barrier between special and general education. And now every one in the system has a stake in ensuring students with disabilities achieve high standards.

At the same time, we know not all students learn the same way. And we want to give states the flexibility to design assessments that match the needs of their students. We're committed to using the best research to make sure students with disabilities are learning and taking tests that are meaningful to them.

As you know, No Child Left Behind already allows students with the most significant cognitive disabilities—about 1 percent of all students—to take alternate assessments. Further research suggests that an additional 2 percent of students should be assessed with modified standards. These are students who can achieve high standards but may not reach grade level in the same time frame as their peers, even with the best instruction.

Last spring, I announced the Department would work with states to help them establish more appropriate assessments for these students. And 31 states, including Maryland, Tennessee, and North Dakota, signed up to implement this policy for this school year.

Today, we are taking the next step forward by releasing proposed regulations on how states can implement this new policy long term. These regulations provide guidance on how states can identify these students and modify grade-level standards for them. We have published the proposed regulations in the Federal Register, and I want to invite you all to comment on them. We want your input.

I want to thank my assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, Henry Johnson, and my assistant secretary for special education and rehabilitative services, John Hager, for being here today and for working together to develop this policy.

We're providing states with a technical assistance packet today on raising achievement for students with disabilities. It includes information on how NCLB and IDEA work together for students. And in the next few months, we'll also be releasing more material and information on teaching and assessing students with disabilities. At its heart, this policy is all about improving the way we educate and assess children with disabilities. It's a smarter, more sophisticated way of serving their needs.

Since taking office in January, I've been traveling around the country talking with parents, educators, and policymakers about how No Child Left Behind is working and what needs to work better. And wherever I go, I hear the same three questions: How can we do a better job assessing and serving students with disabilities? What's the best way to measure and enhance the progress of students new to the English language? And how can we reward schools for improving from year to year?

I promised to work with folks like you to address these issues in a sensible, workable way that makes raising student achievement our top priority. We're open to new ideas, just so long as we all stick to what I call the bright lines of the law—annually assessing students, disaggregating data, and closing the achievement gap by 2014. And we've taken some important steps forward together.

For example, last month, I announced a new pilot program where states can apply to use growth models to measure the progress students and schools make from year to year. And we've been working with the nation's top researchers to study the best way to educate and assess students new to the English language as well as students with disabilities.

With all these measures, our focus has been on helping students who in the past have been left behind. And states like Maryland, Massachusetts, Kansas, North Dakota, and Tennessee have been leading the way by shining the light on strategies that work for students with disabilities.

I want to thank Tennessee Commissioner of Education Lana Seivers for being here along with North Dakota special educator director Bob Rutten. They understand that ensuring students with disabilities learn is everybody's issue.

Last year, over 90 percent of districts in North Dakota made adequate yearly progress targets for students with disabilities. And in Tennessee, the percentage of elementary and middle school students with disabilities meeting state standards in reading increased by 15 points. These states have used the best research to ensure all students are included in the general curriculum and annual assessments. I like to say, "What gets measured gets done."

We're seeing the hard work pay off across the country. The latest nation's education report card showed students with disabilities are making gains at every level in both reading and math. And they're catching up to their peers, particularly in reading. As I like to say, "In God we trust—all others bring data." And with this data, we can see we're moving in the right direction. Scores are rising. And the achievement gap is closing. In other words, No Child Left Behind is working, and we must stick with it.

For folks like Lana Seivers, this isn't just a policy issue. It's a family issue. Her son has a disability. And for the last three decades, she's been fighting to raise standards for students with disabilities as a teacher, as an administrator, as a policymaker, and as a mom.

And thanks to No Child Left Behind, the conversation has finally shifted from "can these students learn" to "how can we make sure they learn." For the first time ever, we're demanding results. It's a national priority. And it's the right thing to do for parents and students across this country.

Thank you.

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Last Modified: 12/16/2005