Spellings announces flexibility in testing

Plan allows changes for children with learning disabilities


In response to growing frustration from state education authorities nationwide, U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings announced plans yesterday to allow for more flexibility in testing some children with learning disabilities under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Spellings' proposal, unveiled at an appearance at Guilford Elementary School in Columbia, would allow up to 2 percent of students, as identified by school systems, to take modified versions of the assessment tests used to meet performance standards under the federal law. The modified tests could be administered as soon as next school year.

"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," Spellings said. "We know not all students learn the same way. We want to give states the flexibility to design assessments that match the needs of their students."

About 1,500 students per grade level throughout Maryland would be allowed to take the modified test, said Gary Heath, assistant state superintendent for accountability and assessment for the State Department of Education.

"The purpose of this ... is to more accurately measure the performance of students with disabilities - particularly this subgroup," Heath said. "This will help us make more of an accurate assessment decision. We are glad that the U.S. Department has granted states this new flexibility."

Spellings' plan would apply to students who have access to the general curriculum, have high-quality instruction and are on course to graduate with a diploma, said Carol Ann Baglin, assistant superintendent for special education and early intervention services for the state.

"For students, it provides a much better relationship between instruction and assessments," Baglin said. "They are children where there would be the likelihood that they wouldn't make a year's growth for instruction."

Maryland was one of 31 states that requested the additional leeway and have been operating under elements of Spellings' proposed changes, which the education secretary promised last spring would be on the way.

The state has used an appeals process to allow certain schools to meet the adequate yearly progress targets set under the law. Baglin said the state processed more than 1,100 appeals last year.

But Bob Seipel, PTA president at Cedar Lane School, a special-education public school in Columbia, said that other fundamental problems with the federal law have not been addressed.

"If our students are spending time preparing for that test instead of the standard curriculum, it is not time well spent," Seipel said. Some learning-disabled students may never be able to meet certain assessments "no matter how much the test is adjusted," Seipel added.


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