Disability advocates weigh in on Every Student Succeeds Act regulations

A group of students throwing their mortars in the air at graduation
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Nearly three dozen disability rights groups signed onto public comments submitted to the Department of Education on August 1, urging the DOE to maintain No Child Left Behind’s testing accountability system, while urging greater clarity in the reporting requirements and protections from certain student discipline techniques.

“Through the proposed regulations, the Department has an opportunity to ensure families, educators and policymakers have clear and transparent information about how students with disabilities are faring in our nation’s schools,” the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities wrote in the comments. “Most important, (the Every Student Succeeds Act), as implemented through the Department’s regulations, will shine a light on schools where students with disabilities are thriving as well as identify those where they are underperforming, providing a framework and support for improvement.”

In December, President Obama signed into law the ESSA, the first major overhaul of federal education policy in a decade and a half since NCLB went into effect. Disability advocates largely support the law’s extension of the NCLB’s testing regime, on the basis that it brought needed transparency to underserved populations, such as students with disabilities.

The DOE released implementing regulations in May, which largely reflect the law’s increased flexibility provided to states toward meeting certain academic standards.

Among the many recommendations in its 18 pages of comments, the CCD argued the DOE’s threshold for when school districts must start reporting statistics on minority groups is too high. Specifically, they argued that districts should have to report data where there are 10 students, not 30.

As to high school graduation requirements, the CCD is seeking further clarification on how students tested through so-called alternative assessments will be measured when calculating graduation rates. Traditionally, disability advocates have pushed back against the use of such tests, on the basis that they devalue the education of students with disabilities.

Regarding restraint and seclusion techniques, which are overwhelmingly used against students with severe disabilities, the CCD is demanding clear language that they will only be used where “there is  a threat of imminent danger of serious physical harm to the student or others, and lasts only as long as necessary to remove the threat of serious physical harm, and protects the safety of all children and adults at school.”

Additional language concerning state plans for educating teachers working with students with disabilities and website accessibility are also raised in the comments.

The National Disability Rights Network, which signed onto the CCD comments, raised similar concerns in comments to the DOE in January, prior to the regulations’ release.

The CCD’s full comments can be read here [PDF].

Disability Rights Washington, the parent organization of Rooted in Rights, is the designated protection and advocacy organization in Washington, and is a member of National Disability Rights Network.