IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) and NCLB (No Child Left Behind Act) are statutes closely tied up particularly as they strive to address the educational needs of students with disabilities. NCLB comes to further close the gap between the advantaged and disadvantaged students through a system of yearly reporting called the AYP (adequate yearly progress). Students are annually assessed in reading/language arts, mathematics, and science as against the target expected proficiency level or much better, higher.
It is the desired expectation of the State through the implementation of the relevant laws particularly NCLB that in 2014 (which was began on the assessment conducted at the end of school year 2001-2002) the desired level of proficiency shall have been reached. There is no doubt the philosophy and vision of the program is noble and worthy but how the expected results in proficiency will match with the plan is another thing.
One of the controversies arises in the provisions of IDEA and NCLB where the “performance requirements for subgroups”, namely, the students with disabilities, “within the general student population” (Abedi, n. d. ) are anticipated to become proficient in English Language Arts and Mathematics, considered as high stakes accountability systems (What’s Right, 2005), as targeted in 2014.
To be able to reach a realistic or meaningful foresight whether to support or refute the proposition i. e. students with disabilities become proficient in Communication Arts and Mathematics by 2014 (Abedi and Dietel, 2004), it becomes imperative to see the progress of the program at present and in the recent past. This will allow us to make an anticipated deduction on the success/achievement or less success/achievement of the program. Nonetheless, due to limited space and not-so-wide coverage of this discussion, few reactions and comments from the sources shall be used as guideposts because they appear significant arguments to the issue at hand.
For one, Abedi (NCLB Assessment Issues for English Language Learners) begins his argument on the premise based on the statute that States are required to develop a set of high-quality, yearly student academic assessments that include, at a minimum, assessments in reading/language arts, mathematics, and science. Each year they must report student progress in terms of percentage of students scoring at the “proficient” level or higher. This reporting is referred to as adequate yearly progress (AYP).
Each state establishes a timeline for all students to reach the “proficient” level or higher, which must be no more than 12 years after the start date of the 2001-2002 school year, provided that the first increase occurs within the first 2 years…. NCLB requires that all children, including English Language Learners (ELLs) reach high standards in English language arts and mathematics. Abedi further argues that “the challenges for English Language Learners (ELL) are especially difficult, involving both educational and technical issues. His contention, although he emphasized on LEP (limited English proficiency) also applies in the other three target students of the law – the economically disadvantaged students, students from major racial and ethnic groups, and the students with disabilities – the latter being the subject of discussion. Abedi’s focus is particularized in the resolution of “educational inequity” in consideration of the continuing population increase which are relatively concentrated in some states and not so with others.
He discussed six issues on the LEP (limited English proficiency) assessment in relation to AYP (inadequate yearly progress) reporting. It must be noted that it is through the assessments measured through AYP that the success of the proficiency target is measured yearly. These are (1) inconsistency in LEP classification across and within states, (2) sparse LEP population, (3) lack of LEP subgroup stability, (4) Measurement quality of AYP instruments for LEP students, (5) LEP baseline scores, and (6) LEP cutoff points. The six issues are further ramified.
First, the use of different LEP classification criteria across and within states results in the inconsistencies in LEP classification or reclassification thus, affecting the accuracy of AYP reporting. Second, because the number of LEP students varies in different states, their number does not reveal meaningful analyses. Third, depending on the student’s achieved proficiency, he or she is elevated and out from the LEP subgroup. Those at the lower or poor levels of proficiency are moved to “that subgroup” which in effect does not warrant chances for improving AYP indicator over time.
Fourth, the state-defined academic achievements tests are designed and ‘normed” for native English speakers. Consequently, these norm-referenced tests do not assure reliability and validity when they include LEP students to take the tests. Fifth, the more LEP students a school has, the lower the baseline scores in contrast to schools with less LEP students. Finally, again, schools with more LEP students suffer based on cutoff points. NCLB, unlike earlier statutes, does not compensate students’ scores in areas with higher language demands (e. g. eading) where students attain higher scores in areas with less language demand (e. g. Mathematics). In addition to the above enumerated observations, it becomes inevitable that schools that have large numbers of the target students get more pressure to cope with the level proficiency or higher. In such a situation, these schools laden with more students with disabilities necessarily struggle more especially if they continue to survive on the same limited school resources. Under these challenging situations, there is a strong tendency for teachers, parents, and students to point blame at each other. Schools, which are accountable to the state based on the laws, are sanctioned on the other. Yell’s findings (2005) are notably significant to the present issue in addition to the observations of Abedi. They have been summarized in six statements as follows:
1. Process and compliance are often placed above results. 2. The wait-to-fail model of special education prevents prevention. 3. Lack of scientifically based approaches in general education results in inappropriate placements. 4. A culture of compliance results in too much attention has been diverted from the first mission of schools educating every child. 5. Many of the current methods of identifying children with disabilities lack validity and many children are misidentified. 6. The current system does not always embrace evidence-based practices. What is seemingly “dangerous” in the program/law is the concentration on compliance (statement no. 1) and the continuing focus on the aimed proficiency (statement number 4), which can possibly impact on the very objective of educating children which points to the total/holistic education across the disciplines.
In the final analysis, the tall order in IDEA and NCLB, is an ideal because it aims at the equal education of all students eradicating the cleavage between what are termed the “advantaged” and the “disadvantaged” students. However, in the process, it might just be the case that, in consideration of the observations above posited by Abedi, Dietel, Yell, and others, the more important educational aims might be unmindfully compromised to some degrees.
It is becomes apparent in the discussion that much has to be done in school improvement, staff quality, funding, and accountability to realize the mission of IDEA and NCLB with regard to students with disabilities. In conclusion, there is optimism in the success of the program aimed at the proficiency level when all recommendations, especially budgeting are addressed and implemented to the letter, but not as soon as 2014.