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Assessing Students With Learning Disabilities Under No Child Left Behind

Make informed choices about state assessments your child with learning disabilities is required to take.

By Candace Cortiella, The Advocacy Institute

Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001(NCLB), all students must participate in annual state assessments, including students with learning disabilities (LD). Parents need to understand the requirements of NCLB and the important decisions they will need to make as part of their child's educational program.

NCLB is intended to improve the academic achievement of all students and to close the achievement gap between various subgroups of students, including those with disabilities, by imposing new requirements for standards, assessments, accountability, and parental involvement.

In this article, parent advocate and special education expert Candace Cortiella addresses questions regarding the participation of students with LD in the assessments required under NCLB.

Q: What are the assessment requirements of No Child Left Behind?

A: Under NCLB each state must measure every public school student's progress in reading and math in each of grades 3 though 8 and at least once during grades 10 through 12. Schools must tests students in science at least once in elementary, middle, and high school. These assessments must be aligned with the state academic content and achievement standards.

Q: Are the academic content and achievement standards on which these assessments are based the same in every state?

A: No. Under the previous version of this federal education law, states were required to develop or adopt content standards in mathematics and reading/language arts, and NCLB mandated the development of science standards. States'academic content standards must be "challenging" and must have the same expectations for all children.

Achievement standards must be aligned with the content standards and have at least three achievement levels, two levels of high proficiency (proficient and advanced) and a third level of achievement (basic) to describe progress by lower-achieving children.

The U.S. Department of Education does not review or approve the quality of states' academic content and achievement standards. Therefore, academic content and achievement standards can and do vary from state to state.

Q: Are the requirements for student participation the same in every state?

A: Yes. Every state must assess all students in the grades previously described every year. These assessment scores are used to determine if schools, school districts, and states are making "adequate yearly progress" (AYP) toward bringing all students to a "proficient" or higher level of achievement in reading, math, and science by the year 2014.

Students may also be expected to participate in assessments in other subject areas, such as history, geography, and writing skills, if and when the state requires it. However, NCLB requires assessments only in the areas of reading/language arts, math, and science.

NCLB Testing Requirements
Reading/language arts and mathematics:
Grades tested: Each year, grades 3 through 8
Once during grades 10-12
Grades tested: Once during grades 3-5
Once during grades 6-9
Once during grades 10-12


Candace Cortiella's work as Director of the nonprofit The Advocacy Institute focuses on improving the lives of people with learning disabilities, through public policy and other initiatives. The mother of a young adult with learning disabilities, she lives in the Washington, D.C., area.

Comments from readers

"I teach 5th grade math. Are there any studies that show the effectiveness of inclusion when a student is unable to do math, even with accomodations? In other words, when the accomodations do not work, how long should the student remain in the classroom? I have a student who gets lots of accomodations, but is still not succeeding. I have a special education teacher in my room, and we work very well together. However, we both feel that this student's needs are not being met. At what point is the student removed to a small group instruction classroom? "
"my son is 10 years old. He started kindergarten at barely age 5. 4 months into the school year during a teachers conference we were told by his teacher that he had a suspected learning disability, this teacher went on to tell my husband and me that not all kids are college material. Then started the speech therapy services and each year we have had to hear how are child has a learning disability but no proof. Teachers have asked and wondered outloud why he was receiving these special ed services but would in the end stand alongside the principle and speech pathologist. Two years ago they tested his I.Q. he passed at their disbelief We were told how he does so well at tests. This year they have requested to test his I.Q. again now i am not a well educated woman, but I do believe your I.Q. doesn't get lower as you get older. This request was made by his math teacher his grade in math is a b+ His reading,writing and social studies teacher says he doesn't receive any extra help ! the other students do not get and she doesn't get why he's being focused in on. My husband and myself have never seen what this school percieves as a learning disability yet feel are hands are tied,we feel by are sons use of an IEP the school has not helped but in an essense harmed him emotionally and mentally. My sons grades as of Friday Jan. 22nd were as followed B in Language Arts, B in Math, B in Social Studies, B in English, C in Science. all A's in P.E., Music, and Computers. My question is if my child doesn't score at a certain level on certain tests does this affect the schools ratings? And if so if he is placed in special education does that help impact the schools ratings somehow to help make the ratings better cause no matter how we go about it we can't get them to take him out of speech they want to give more special education services when many around us including many of his past and present teachers have questioned it. Every year we wait for the ball to drop ! and are extremely tired of feeling so alone. We want what is b! est and do not feel the school is doing what is best. Thank You for your time. sincerly, scared and confused mom"
"help my son is 18 and has tbi he is being kicked out of school he is in a behaver school because of his tbi if there is someone that can help with this please email me i will try anything "