No Child Left Behind: A Toolkit for Teachers
Archived Information

Teaching Students with Disabilities

Over 20 years of research and experience has demonstrated that the education of children with disabilities can be made more effective by having high expectations for such children and ensuring their access in the general curriculum to the maximum extent possible; coordinating the Act with other local, educational service agency, State, and Federal school improvement efforts in order to ensure that such children benefit from such efforts and that special education can become a service for children rather than a place where they are sent; providing appropriate special education and related services and aids and supports in the regular classroom to such children whenever appropriate; supporting high quality intensive professional development for all personnel who work with such children in order to ensure that they have the skills and knowledge necessary to enable them to meet developmental goals and to the maximum extent possible, those challenging expectations that have been established or all children...

- Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Sec. 601(c)(5)(A, C, D, E)

No Child Left Behind strongly affirms that all students can achieve to high standards, including students with disabilities. NCLB works in conjunction with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1997 (IDEA),23 which is the nation's special education law. Under the law, students with disabilities must have access to the same high-quality curriculum and instruction as all other students.

Through IDEA reauthorization, Congress is considering how the highly qualified teacher requirements should apply to special education teachers. It is understood that:

  • The highly qualified teacher requirements in No Child Left Behind apply to all general education teachers and special education teachers who teach core academic subjects. All teachers must have in-depth understanding of the subject matter they are teaching their students, so that students can meet grade-level standards.

  • These requirements apply whether the teacher provides core academic instruction in a regular classroom, a resource room or another setting.

  • General education and special education teachers need to be knowledgeable and skilled in how to teach all students, including students with disabilities, so that all students can achieve to high academic standards.

No Child Left Behind requires students with significant cognitive disabilities to take the same test as all other students on their grade level and then unfairly holds schools accountable for the results.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires alternate assessments be made available to students who cannot take the regular assessments, even with accommodations. When measuring AYP, states and school districts have the flexibility to count the "proficient" (passing) scores of students with the most significant cognitive disabilities who take alternate assessments based on alternate achievement standards--as long as the number of those proficient scores does not exceed 1 percent of all students in the grades assessed, which is about 9 percent of students with disabilities. This allows schools and districts to receive credit for student progress.

For more information on assessing students with disabilities, go to

How No Child Left Behind Bridges the Gap: Focusing on Educating All Students

Collaboration: No Child Left Behind promotes collaboration between general education teachers and special education teachers. Both NCLB and IDEA require that all students have access to the general curriculum.

Accountability: No Child Left Behind requires that accountability measures be put in place to ensure that students with disabilities have access to the general curriculum.

Decision Making: States and school districts across the country are examining the curriculum they provide to students with disabilities, changing testing policies with regard to those students, and taking positive steps to ensure that all teachers who instruct students in the core academic subjects have strong content knowledge as well as knowledge of how to best serve students with disabilities.

Using Funds: No Child Left Behind encourages states and districts to use professional development funds to support general education teachers and special education teachers. States can use a variety of funds to meet the needs of both general education teachers and special education teachers, as these educators strive to provide high-quality instruction. Funds are available through Titles I, II and V of NCLB to provide high-quality professional development for teachers. In addition, funding may be available under the IDEA and from other sources. For more information on how funds are used to support professional development for teachers in a particular area, contact the district or state department of education.

For more information on resources and supports for teachers of students with disabilities, see page 56-57.

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Last Modified: 08/13/2009