eral new provisions that seek to align certain special education practices with a standards-driven reform model. These include the requirement that students with disabilities participate, with appropriate accommodations, in state and local tests of student achievement and public reporting of student scores. Changes to the IEP (individualized education program) process require greater attention to ensuring that individual students have access to the general education curriculum. But growing controversy over the depth of the nation’s commitment to educating all children to high standards (NRC, 1999b) is even more salient for special education.
The Goals 2000: Educate America Act (20 U.S.C. § 5801 et seq.) and the Improving America’s Schools Act of 1994 (20 U.S.C. § 6301 et seq.) require participating states to develop and implement state improvement plans that must include state content standards and state student performance standards for all students (20 U.S.C. § 5886 (c)(1)(A); see also 20 U.S.C. § 6311(b)(1)(A) (IASA)). The law explicitly defines “all students” as including students with disabilities (20 U.S.C. § 5802(a)(1); see also 20 U.S.C. § 6315(b)(2)(A)(i) (IASA)).
The new federal requirements were adopted as part of changes that also expanded the use of funds from the federal government’s largest aid program for elementary and secondary schools: Title I (20 U.S.C. § 6315(b)(2)(A)(i)). Under Title I, a school must provide opportunities for “all” children, including those with disabilities, to meet the state’s student performance standards (20 U.S.C. § 6315(b)(2)(A)(i); § 6315(c)(1)) and yearly assessments for accountability on how those standards are met. The requirements of the new law are designed to have several consequences for students with disabilities.
First, educational standards will be articulated and incorporated into special education. Second, there must be accountability for the education of students with disabilities. As in general education, the changes in special education law are motivated by the desire to improve educational outcomes of students with disabilities and to ensure that they have an equal opportunity to learn the same challenging and presumably essential and enduring content as all other students. Aligning special education with standards-driven reform offers an opportunity to refine the goals and functions of special education in contemporary public education but also exerts counter-pressure on the special education/general education dividing line. On one hand, special education identification no longer exempts the school from accountability for an individual student’s achievement; on the other hand, the demands of new content and performance standards can create conditions in classrooms that are less tolerant of children who are slower to learn.
While the above changes directed at raising achievement standards are likely to exert pressure on the line between general and special education in