needs, and assessment of that student’s academic progress should reflect an understanding of those goals and of what material the student has had an opportunity to learn.

Students who are considered to have a disability but who do not qualify for special education services are covered by regulations in Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Such students may have temporary physical problems or a disability, such as one that confines them to a wheelchair, that does not call for a special education plan but does make accommodations necessary, or they may suffer from illnesses that have not progressed to the point at which they need special education. Some students with attention deficit disorder receive services under Section 504 regulations rather than through special education. In most states, the Section 504 Plan specifies the accommodations the student requires for standardized testing. Both IDEA and Section 504 regulations prohibit discrimination on the basis of a disability and therefore require that students who need testing accommodations be provided with them.

The characteristics of the students who are classified as having a disability are extremely diverse and tend to vary along a continuum rather than manifesting themselves in tidy categories. Moreover, factors such as the nature of the special services that are available in the jurisdiction, the characteristics of the general education classrooms in the jurisdiction, as well as social and interpersonal factors, can affect the diagnosis of students’ needs.

An earlier National Research Council committee (National Research Council, 1997a) noted specifically that the extent to which a child’s performance in school can be explained by intrinsic characteristics of the child, rather than the characteristics of the context in which that child is being educated, is difficult to discern. Commenting on the diversity of students with disabilities as a group, that committee further noted that they can meaningfully be described as a group only in the context of the rights they are accorded under the IDEA and other legislation (National Research Council, 1997a). This diversity complicates attempts to make generalizations about students with disabilities as a group, an issue we address in greater detail later in this report. This chapter also describes the IDEA and the other legislation that affects the education of these students. Additional detail about the process of identifying students with disabilities and determining appropriate accommodations for them appears in Chapter 4.

English Language Learners

Nearly 4.6 million students in U.S. public schools were designated English language learners during the 2000-2001 school year ( This group of students is generally understood to include all those whose language skills in English are in need of development if they are to demonstrate their full academic potential. The total number of students

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