Academic journal article Learning Disability Quarterly

State and District-Wide Assessments and Students with Learning Disabilities: A Guide for States and School Districts

Academic journal article Learning Disability Quarterly

State and District-Wide Assessments and Students with Learning Disabilities: A Guide for States and School Districts

Article excerpt

January, 2004

The National Joint Committee on Learning Disabilities (NJCLD) is a national committee representing 11 organizations concerned about individuals with learning disabilities. Approximately 350,000 individuals constitute the membership of the organizations represented by NJCLD.

The NJCLD considers and discusses contemporary issues in learning disabilities and develops and disseminates reports and statements related to these issues to influence policy and practice. Debi Gartland, Ph.D., Professor of Special Education at Towson University, Maryland, and Roberta Strosnider, Ed.D., Professor of Special Education at Towson University, represent the Council for Learning Disabilities on the NJCLD. They co-authored this paper with other NJCLD members. For more information about the paper or NJCLD, contact Debi Gartland at


The National Joint Committee on Learning Disabilities (NJCLD) recognizes the role that state and district-wide assessments of learning outcomes have towards achieving high academic standards for students and documenting educational accountability for the public. For students with learning disabilities such assessments often present both needed opportunities and serious challenges. It is imperative that students with learning disabilities are provided the opportunity to access, participate, and demonstrate knowledge and skills in state and district-wide assessments.

Throughout the United States over the last several years, states have been involved in educational reform. A major focus has been to make public schools accountable for the education of all students, including students with learning disabilities. This includes setting high academic standards, raising graduation requirements, and creating high-stakes state assessments that may affect grade promotion, graduation, scholarship eligibility, and the accreditation of individual schools. With this paper the NJCLD highlights issues and offers guidance on sound implementation of state and district-wide assessments to ensure equal access by students with learning disabilities.

Federal regulations require access and accountability for students with learning disabilities. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (PL 93-112), as amended, requires that individuals with disabilities, including students with learning disabilities, be given equal opportunity to participate in and benefit from the policies and procedures customarily granted to all individuals. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1997 (IDEA), (PL 105-17), regulations require that all students with disabilities participate in a state's accountability system. Additionally, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), (PL 107-110), requires that at least 95% of students with disabilities participate in assessments that measure adequate yearly progress of schools, school districts, and states.

Thus, State Boards of Education and Departments of Education must understand that the participation of students with learning disabilities in state and districtwide assessments is not participation just for the sake of participation. Instead, participation in these assessments must lead to informed teaching, improved learning, and the acquisition of needed literacy skills, learning strategies, and social skills that allow students with learning disabilities to access the general education curriculum. Furthermore, these assessments must be related to outcomes that go beyond the schoolhouse door (e.g., employment, technical education, postsecondary education).

The National Center on Educational Outcomes has noted that as of 2000-2001 all states had state assessments and that 22 states were using these assessments as a condition for graduation from high school (Thurlow, Wiley, & Bielinski, 2002). However, there is the potential for harm if high-stakes assessment programs are implemented with insufficient resources or with tests that lack the needed reliability and validity for their intended purposes. …

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