In recent years, most states have initiated major changes in curriculum, instruction, and testing for elementary and secondary school students. These changes, funded and encouraged by federal and state legislation and implemented by states and school districts, are part of an influential movement known as standards-based reform. This movement seeks to improve educational quality by setting high content standards that define the knowledge and skills that teachers should teach and students should learn, and by holding educators and students accountable for ambitious performance standards that set the expectations for proficiency.
The Committee on Goals 2000 and the Inclusion of Students with Disabilities was established to consider the implications of standards-based reforms for a group of students that is quite heterogeneous—those with disabilities. A significant number of students with disabilities already participate in the general education curriculum, receiving special education for only a part of their day, sometimes in only one or two areas, or to support instruction in the general classroom. Other students are in separate full-day programs, receiving different or modified curricula and instruction designed to meet their individual needs. The enormous variation among students with disabilities makes generalizations nearly impossible, and approaches to their fuller participation in standards-based reforms will need to take this diversity into account.
Most standards-based reforms strive to apply the same high standards to all students, including, in many instances, those with disabilities. For many students with disabilities, this represents a striking change. Whereas the framework of standards-based reform stresses accountability for outcomes and applies uniform standards to all students, the legal framework under which students with disabilities have been educated for two decades stresses the individualization of goals
and instruction and emphasizes accountability for procedural compliance rather than outcomes. Moreover, many students with disabilities have been routinely excluded from the large-scale assessments that have now become the backbone of accountability in standards-based reforms.
The committee was established by the Goals 2000 legislation ''to conduct a comprehensive study of the inclusion of children with disabilities in school reforms assisted under Goals 2000: Educate America Act" (Public Law 103–227, sec. 1015). Through a systematic comparison of the policies and practices related to standards-based reform and special education, this report assesses the extent to which the goals of common standards and individualized education can be reconciled. Our charge was specific and limited; since the evaluation of these policies themselves was not part of the charge, the committee accepted as given, without necessarily endorsing, the defining elements of the two policy frameworks: the standards-based approach to educational reform and current special education policy.
In conducting its analysis, the committee was constrained by the nature of the policies we were studying and by the available data. There is a scarcity of research evidence directly bearing on the effects of standards-based reforms, much less their impact on students with disabilities. In addition, the research base on instructional practices and achievement contains few studies that include populations of students with and without disabilities, making systematic comparisons difficult. Throughout the report we note where these limitations apply. Furthermore, although the committee's analysis is limited to students with disabilities served by special education, many of the issues we raise also apply to students with disabilities not served under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and to other students with unique educational needs who will also be participating in standards-based reforms.
The committee found that in many instances the two policy approaches can be reconciled. Our two guiding principles are that all students should have access to challenging standards and that policy makers and educators should be held publicly accountable for every student's performance. However, we also conclude that adaptations will be required for some students with disabilities, particularly those with significant cognitive disabilities. Moreover, efforts to incorporate students with varying disabilities effectively will be hindered over the short term by a shortage of financial and professional resources, an inadequate research base, and conceptual ambiguities in both policy frameworks. The committee cautions that, even with additional resources, some of the elements needed to integrate all students with disabilities fully into standards-based reform may exceed the limits of current knowledge and technology.
Many state education reform laws, the federal Title I law that is concerned with poor, underachieving children, the federal Goals 2000: Educate America
Act, and other federal and state policies intend for students with disabilities to have access to standards-based reforms. But federal and state policies are vague about how to accomplish this goal and offer few incentives to do it well. Furthermore, relevant case law is limited and the precise legal requirements are uncertain.
Standards-based reform is not a single, uniform policy, and it is being implemented in different ways across states and localities. Therefore, for purposes of this report, the committee assumes that two premises define the standards-based approach to educational reform: standards will be high and they will apply to all students. Standards-based reform includes content standards that specify what students should learn, performance standards that set the expectations for what students must know and do to demonstrate proficiency, and assessments that provide the accountability mechanism for monitoring whether these expectations have been met and by whom. In addition, standards-based reforms assume that schools should be held publicly accountable for student performance.
A significant gap exists between policy and practice in the implementation of standards-based reform. For example, technical hurdles have yet to be overcome in many alternative types of assessments, which some states are using in conjunction with or instead of conventional multiple-choice testing. The public strongly supports common standards as a strategy for improving student performance, but the consensus breaks down over such details as the specific content to be taught. States differ widely in how they define critical components of standards-based reform, how they aim to pay for it, and how much flexibility they leave to local districts. Important issues, such as how to translate general standards into specific curricula and classroom practices or how to provide all students with adequate opportunities to learn designated content, have not been resolved. Although the participation of "all students" has been a rhetorical policy goal, its full complexity has yet to be acknowledged.
In the case of students with disabilities, emerging policies for standards-based reform intersect a long-standing special education policy framework, which has evolved over three decades to counteract a history of educational neglect, inequity, and mistreatment. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), other key federal and state laws, and a substantial body of judicial decisions, students with disabilities are accorded the right to a free and appropriate public education. This education must be tailored to individual learning needs; each student must have an individualized education program (IEP) that establishes educational objectives and specifies the kinds of educational and related services to be provided. Education in the least restrictive learning environment is another hallmark of this policy framework.
Although data are not available that tell us how many, a number of students with disabilities already participate in standards-based reform: they are learning in general education classrooms and have full access to the common curriculum and content standards. In addition, most federal and state laws presume that, if
standards-based reform is part of a state's general education framework, students with disabilities should have access to the relevant curriculum and assessments. The complicated part is determining how to accommodate individual student needs and provide the special services that some may require, while still affording each student appropriate access to the common curriculum and ensuring accountability for his or her outcomes.
STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIES
More than five million students—about 10 percent of the school-age population—have disabilities and qualify for special education services under the IDEA. These students are extremely heterogeneous in their characteristics and educational experiences. Some students participate fully in the general education classroom and curriculum, while others receive specialized curricula and instruction. Disabilities range from mild to severe and can occur in one or more of a number of dimensions, such as physical, sensory, behavioral, and cognitive. However, more that 90 percent of those who qualify for special education fall into one of just four categories of disability: speech or language impairment, serious emotional disturbance, mental retardation, and specific learning disability; indeed, specific learning disabilities alone account for more than half of all eligible students. As a result, meaningful discussion of the participation of students with disabilities in common standards and assessments cannot occur without attention to the varied characteristics of this large group of students.
Available data on post-school outcomes for students with disabilities suggest that they do not fare as well as youth in the general population with respect to achievement, high school graduation, enrollment in postsecondary education, and employment. However, outcomes vary tremendously, especially among students with different types of disabilities.
Data about students with disabilities are further complicated by the absence of a simple, unambiguous method for defining and identifying which students have disabilities. Although the IDEA and implementing regulations specify 13 categories of disabilities, criteria for defining these categories are not clear-cut, and many states and school districts use modified taxonomies. There are particular problems in distinguishing students with mild cognitive disabilities, such as mild mental retardation and learning disabilities, from some students who are low-achieving. Indeed, identification and classification practices vary so greatly that a student who is identified in one of these categories in one school district may not be so identified in another, and the overall reported prevalence of disability varies across states from approximately 7 to 15 percent of the school-age population.
The diversity among students who are identified as having a disability means that individual students may participate to varying degrees in the common elements of standards-based reform. Because some students with disabilities al-
ready participate fully in the general education curriculum, participation in common standards and assessments for them will be compatible with their individualized programs, with or without appropriate accommodation or supports. For a small percentage of students, the goals of the predominantly academic general education curriculum are not relevant to their life goals; these students, many with significant cognitive impairments, often need a completely individualized curriculum. However, alternatives will need to be carefully crafted that still represent challenging expectations for these students. There is another group of students with disabilities who may require some modifications to the common standards and assessments to ensure compatibility of their individualized programs with the standards framework. Decisions will have to be made on an individual basis about whether and what kinds of alterations are appropriate to the common standards, curricula, instruction, and assessments; decisions about participation may differ for any given student as he or she progresses through school.
POST-SCHOOL OUTCOMES, CURRICULUM, AND INSTRUCTION
The goals of standards-based reform to raise expectations, improve educational outcomes, and strengthen curriculum content are as important for students with disabilities as they are for all children. However, our analyses indicate that some features associated with effective curriculum and instruction for some students with disabilities may be at odds with the curriculum and instruction typically embraced by standards-based reform.
Special education has traditionally focused on a broad set of knowledge and skills that go beyond academic goals. To be well prepared for life after school, some students with disabilities require specific instruction in such areas as general workplace readiness, vocational skills, and independent living skills. Indeed, school-to-work transition planning is a mandatory component of special education.
The content standards developed thus far by states focus mainly on academic content in language arts, mathematics, science, and other core academic subjects; to date, vocational and workplace skills have received far less emphasis. Although these academic goals are relevant for many students with disabilities, questions arise about whether the content and performance levels embodied in these academic state standards are useful and realistic learning goals for some students with disabilities, and whether the instructional time required to help these students progress toward standards would take valuable time away from teaching more relevant skills. It is important that broader outcomes and school-to-work transition planning not be neglected in the move toward standards-based reform.
Instructional methodology is another area in which standards-based reform and special education sometimes diverge. Research has identified characteristics of effective instruction for many students with disabilities, including individually
referenced decision making that focuses on individual student needs, intensive methods of delivering instruction, and structured teaching of discrete skills in an explicit context. By contrast, the pedagogical methods incorporated into many state standards emphasize active learning, group projects with high cognitive demands, and students "constructing" knowledge from various experiences and information sources. To be effective and maintain student motivation, teachers will need sufficient flexibility to teach students with disabilities in the way they learn best. Furthermore, some students are unlikely to attain certain advanced analytical skills regardless of instructional methods.
Given these considerations, it will be necessary to develop a defensible decision-making procedure to determine the appropriateness of the common content standards for individual students with disabilities. At least three factors should be considered for each individual: the relation of common content standards to desired post-school outcomes, the age of the student, and the extent to which instruction focused on standards takes time away from other instructional goals. A revised IEP system may be necessary to ensure consistency and accountability during this process.
Parent participation is a key element. Research indicates that parental involvement and expectations are positively related to the achievement of students with disabilities, just as they are for other students. In addition, parents of students with disabilities have other unique responsibilities under special education law. They are the primary advocates for their children's rights and crucial participants in educational decision making through the IEP process; this responsibility also means that parents have come to bear the primary burden of enforcement. Evidence indicates that the IEP process has not worked well for all parents, particularly minority and economically disadvantaged ones. Resolving the barriers to parental involvement takes on special importance because standards-based reforms could place new demands on some parents; the IEP process is likely to be the vehicle for making key decisions about how to include students with disabilities in specific aspects of standards-based reform.
ACCOUNTABILITY AND ASSESSMENT
Currently, many students with disabilities are excluded from participation in large-scale assessment programs; reasons for their exclusion vary but include participation in a different curriculum or separate class and a need for accommodations in testing. In most cases, this means they are also excluded from the accountability systems in their states, districts, and schools. As a result, data about the achievement levels of many students with disabilities are absent when judgments about the effectiveness of educational policies and programs are made at the local, state, and national levels. In instances in which large numbers of students with disabilities do not participate in assessment systems, aggregate data are not representative of the entire student population; if they participate at widely
different rates, then comparisons among schools and districts are neither valid nor fair. In addition, a just and equitable accountability system cannot be maintained if there are incentives to exempt students with disabilities—especially those who may score low—from large-scale assessments. Public reporting of assessment results for students with disabilities, as well as the percentages of students who participate in different or modified assessments, will be key to ensuring fair and equitable comparisons among schools, districts, and states; in addition, all students should be accounted for in the public reporting of results.
For an unknown number of students with disabilities, participation will mean providing some form of testing accommodation—in other words, providing some students with nonstandard forms of test administration or response. Such accommodations are intended to remove irrelevant barriers to performance. Students with disabilities are entitled by law to assessment accommodations that seek to offset any distortions in scores resulting from their disabilities. But determining which accommodations are appropriate for whom and under which circumstances is difficult. In some situations—for example, for a student with an orthopedic impairment who may not be able to perform such motor tasks as holding a pencil or measuring an object with a ruler—testing accommodations would not obviously affect the underlying construct being measured, such as mathematical reasoning. In other cases—for example, a student with a reading disability who is required to do advanced word problems in mathematics—it is not clear how accommodations, such as an oral reader, may affect the construct being measured. Furthermore, the lack of clear criteria for describing the functional characteristics of disability exacerbates the difficulty of designing valid accommodations. Without such criteria, it is difficult to determine whether or not the disability is directly related to the construct being measured. Almost no empirical data are available to inform guidelines about the effects of accommodations on the meaningfulness of the resulting scores. Currently, decisions about participation in assessments and the use of accommodations are made idiosyncratically by local educators with little or no accountability.
Numerous challenges, including some significant technical ones, will have to be addressed if the dual goals of increased participation of students with disabilities and meaningful test results are to be met. One important issue is to ensure that assessments can accurately measure performance at the low end of the scale, particularly for assessment items that are difficult. Because the performance standard representing the lowest level of achievement is set relatively high in many state assessments, we lack meaningful data about the overall progress of students who fall below that standard. The challenge is to design a scoring and reporting system that signals high expectations for performance but still provides useful information about students who may be scoring at the low end of the distribution but still making significant progress.
Many standards-based accountability systems are premised on new forms of assessment that are still in the developmental phases. Applying these assess-
ments to students with disabilities ratchets up the challenge beyond our existing knowledge of test development. Additional technical problems include providing credible disaggregated scores and accurately measuring the knowledge of students with disabilities using nontraditional testing formats that integrate a variety of knowledge and skill domains. In addition, some students will not be able to participate meaningfully in the common assessments and will require substantially modified or different assessments.
Almost no data are available about students with disabilities in large-scale national studies or databases. The collection of data about some of these students and their performance is particularly challenging. Moreover, without good data on such indicators as referral and identification rates and graduation rates and types of diplomas, it will be hard to monitor some of the potential effects of standards-based reforms—both intended and unintended—for students with disabilities.
The number of students with disabilities who may need accommodations or other modifications in standards and assessments is unknown and will depend on a number of factors, including behavioral characteristics and severity of disability, extent of participation in the general education curriculum, and the instructional needs of students. The need for accommodations and modifications will also depend on the nature of a district's or state's particular content standards, performance standards, and assessments—which vary significantly from place to place.
Considerable uncertainty exists about the resource levels that will be needed to support standards-based reforms. These policies are likely to entail additional costs for developing assessments, acquiring technology, implementing new governance models, and increasing through research our understanding of the relationship between curricular strategies and student learning. Because standards-based reform envisions new approaches to instruction, assessment, and classroom organization, considerable investment in professional development will also be needed. Furthermore, we do not know what kinds of programs and resource levels are required to help all students, including those with disabilities, meet high, challenging standards.
The committee was not asked to evaluate the merits of standards-based reform, nor could it do so adequately given the recency of the policy; this report thus neither endorses standards-based reform nor encourages such efforts. Similarly, the committee was not charged with evaluating current special education law, policy, or practice; this report thus should not be considered an endorsement
of that policy framework, either. The recommendations that follow represent the committee's advice to states and local communities that have already decided to proceed with standards-based reform and that want to make those reforms consistent with current special education policies and practices. We have sought to develop an approach that is consistent, workable, integrated with the IDEA, and above all takes into account the individual and diverse educational needs of students with disabilities.
Underlying these recommendations are two principles:
All students should have access to challenging standards.
Policy makers and educators should be held publicly accountable for every student's performance.
These assumptions are consistent with the goals of both standards-based reform and special education policy, but they are not often met in practice. All of our recommendations flow from these principles, although some apply to policies and decisions about individual students, and others apply to the education system as a whole. Together they form a possible approach for integrating students with disabilities in standards-based reform.
Recommendation 1. States and localities that decide to implement standards-based reforms should design their common content standards, performance standards, and assessments to maximize participation of students with disabilities.
Recommendation 2. The presumption should be that each student with a disability will participate in the state or local standards; however, participation for any given student may require alterations to the common standards and assessments. Decisions to make such alterations must have a compelling educational justification and must be made on an individual basis.
Recommendation 3. The committee recommends strengthening the IEP process as the formal mechanism for deciding how individual students with disabilities will participate in standards-based reforms.
Recommendation 4. States and localities should revise policies that discourage maximum participation of students with disabilities in the common accountability system and provide incentives to encourage widespread participation.
Recommendation 5. When content and performance standards or assessments are altered for a student with a disability:
the alternate standards should be challenging yet potentially achievable;
they should reflect the full range of knowledge and skills that the student needs to live a full, productive life; and
the school system should inform parents and the student of any consequences of these alterations.
Recommendation 6. Even if the individual needs of some students require alterations of the common standards and assessments, the committee strongly
recommends that these students should be counted in a universal, public accountability system.
Recommendation 7. Assessment accommodations should be provided, but they should be used only to offset the impact of disabilities unrelated to the knowledge and skills being measured. They also should be justified on a case-by-case basis, but individual decisions should be guided by a uniform set of criteria.
Recommendation 8. States and local districts should provide information to parents of students with disabilities to enable them to make informed choices about their children's participation in standards-based reform and to understand the consequences of those choices.
Recommendation 9. The committee recommends that, before attaching significant stakes to the performance of individual students, those students should be given an opportunity to learn the skills and knowledge expected of them.
Recommendation 10. Given the enormous variability in the educational needs of students, the committee recommends that policy makers monitor the unintended consequences of participation in standards-based reform, including consequences for students with disabilities.
Recommendation 11. The committee recommends that states design standards policies that realistically reflect the time lines and resource levels needed to implement standards-based reforms.
Recommendation 12. The committee recommends a long-term research agenda to address the substantial gaps in knowledge about the schooling of students with disabilities and the impact of standards-based reforms. Areas needing particular attention include research on the school experiences of students with disabilities, the potential of computer-based technologies, how local decisions are made about students' curricular opportunities, alternative student credentials, and the relationship between testing accommodations and validity.
As with any worthwhile undertaking, implementing these recommendations will require effort and a willingness to change. The logistical and technical challenges are great and rendered more difficult by the need for political and value choices. But the outcome will be worth that effort if acting on these recommendations can begin to build a foundation for blending two very different approaches to improving education for all students with disabilities.