The Committee on Goals 2000 and the Inclusion of Students with Disabilities was established by the Goals 2000 legislation "to conduct a comprehensive study of the inclusion of children with disabilities in school reform activities assisted under Goals 2000: Educate America Act" (Public Law 103–227, sec. 1015). This report has analyzed the issues that must be considered if students with disabilities are to participate in standards-based reforms. To do so, the committee has accepted as given, without necessarily endorsing, the defining elements of the two policy frameworks that delineate our charge.
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, we assume 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.
The committee also accepted as given the key elements of current special education policy, which will shape the participation of students with disabilities in standards-based reforms. Under current law and practice, students with disabilities requiring special education are entitled to a free and appropriate education. The appropriate education to which these students are entitled is defined, by professional practice and by state and federal legal provisions, as containing an individual educational program (IEP), designed and provided:
by an appropriately constituted IEP team consisting of educators and parents;
according to assessment information;
in a way that provides educational benefit; and
in the least restrictive environment.
Special education legal provisions stipulate that, for each student with a disability, the IEP team must make an individually referenced decision about how that student will participate in the general education curriculum and instructional program for the areas of educational need and the identified disability.
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. Thus this report neither endorses standards-based reform nor encourages such efforts. Similarly, the committee was not charged with evaluating current special education law, policy, or practice; the report thus should not be considered an endorsement of that policy framework, either. Instead, 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 want to make those reforms consistent with current special education policies and practices.
In conducting its analyses, the committee faced a number of constraints. First, research evidence is scarce about the relationship between specific educational programs and the achievement of students with disabilities. In addition, due to the recency of standards-based reforms, there are almost no data about the effects of these reforms generally, much less about the impact and effectiveness of various approaches to including students with disabilities in standards-based curriculum, instruction, and assessment.
Second, the policy and political environments of both standards-based reform and special education are in flux. In most states, content standards are in the developmental phase, and assessment design is proceeding at an even slower rate. Some states are rethinking their assessment strategies, others their pedagogical strategies. States are also examining special education policies, including IEP process requirements, eligibility, and funding.
Third, states, districts, and schools vary considerably in how they interpret and implement both standards-based reform and special education. For example, some state content standards recommend specific curricula and instructional methods, whereas others stipulate general kinds of student outcomes, with methods left entirely to local decision makers and classroom teachers. Evidence about special education identification practices indicates that the criteria for defining some milder types of disabilities, particularly learning disabilities, vary widely from place to place and are implemented based on varying local conditions. Thus children who are found eligible for special education services—and attendant legal rights—in one school may not be so identified in another. Conversely, some students now receiving special education services would not be considered in need of them if they attended a different school.
These inconsistencies in special education placements across schools and local communities highlight a dilemma that the committee recognized throughout its deliberations. Although the committee's charge was to consider the participation of students with disabilities in standards-based reform, we recognize that some other students, not identified as having a disability, share the same characteristics and educational needs as some of their peers with disabilities. Although not eligible under the IDEA, these children may be indistinguishable from some who are eligible. Even though students not covered by the IDEA may not have all the same legal entitlements as those with disabilities, failure to consider their unique needs within the context of standards-based reform may have negative consequences for their achievement. The size of this group is unknown and may vary across local communities. Nevertheless, many of the committee's recommendations will also apply to these students. Therefore, we urge attention to the needs of all low-achieving or educationally disadvantaged students.
The committee's recommendations represent a set of guidelines that can be used in formulating a consistent strategy for including students with disabilities in standards-based reform. Throughout its deliberations the committee has sought an approach that is consistent, workable, integrated with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) framework and, above all, takes into account the individual educational needs of students with disabilities.
In making its recommendations, the committee has been guided by 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 often are not 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.
To ensure that standards-based frameworks take into account the needs of students with disabilities, the committee recommends that special educators, parents, and the public participate in the development of that framework. Broad-
based participation can serve as the core of the consensus-building process so necessary to developing common standards. Such participation can ensure that common standards represent a community's statement of what it believes its children should know and be able to do. Broad participation will also help ensure that standards and assessments are developed to be compatible with the needs of students with disabilities. It can also enhance the professional capacity of those charged with implementing the standards. To participate meaningfully in standards-based reform, special educators and parents of students with disabilities will need to acquire deeper understanding of the standards development process.
A common standards-based framework will profit from including members of the special education community in its development. For example, evidence indicates that several key instructional strategies are effective for many students with disabilities. Participation of special education professionals in the development of content standards could help to ensure that the standards do not preclude the use of these principles by requiring a uniform pedagogical approach.
There are many possible avenues for participation of those involved in special education. Students with disabilities should be included in the pilot samples as new assessments are tested and revised. Special education teachers should participate in the development of curricular frameworks; special education administrative personnel should be involved in developing accountability mechanisms for the standards-based system. As professional development strategies are designed for the new reforms, special education teachers should be included. Parents of students with disabilities can participate on development and implementation teams.
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.
In this recommendation, the committee has been guided by the legal requirements of the IDEA and the aims of federal and state standards policies. Both frameworks converge in their expectation that all students with disabilities will participate in standards-based reform.
The presumption should be that a student with a disability is included in all standards and assessments unless there is a compelling educational justification for moving him or her away from some aspect of the common standards and assessments. For any deviation from the common content and performance standards, a determination must be made that the alteration is individually appropriate and educationally justified.
At the same time that it affirms the importance of including all students in the standards-based system, the committee recognizes the legal requirement to consider the individual and widely varying needs of students with disabilities and to
provide alterations when appropriate. We therefore acknowledge that decisions may be made to alter certain facets of the standards-based reforms for some individual students with disabilities. However, alterations of the common standards should occur only to the extent necessary. So, for example, a student may have limited modifications in only one or two standards. To the maximum extent possible, all students with disabilities should be included in the common assessments and appropriate accommodations offered to allow this participation. But when alterations are made for individual students, the committee recommends that those students' education be guided by challenging standards and valid assessments with public accountability for their educational progress.
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.
A formal mechanism is needed for deciding whether and how to alter the common standards and assessments to meet the educational needs of any given student with a disability. Because the IEP process is legally required and already in place, decisions about a student's participation in the common standards and assessments should be negotiated through that mechanism. Any alterations from the common standards should be documented in the IEP and their link to alternate and challenging standards should be noted for an individual child. However, research has documented shortcomings in the current IEP process. Thus we recommend strengthening the IEP process and the resulting document so that it can play this important role in a standards-based system.
At a number of key decision points, any movement away from the common standards-based system will need to be justified. The IEP team will need to decide about the extent of a child's participation in common content and performance standards, common assessments, and the extent and kind of assessment accommodations, if any, that will be required. Therefore special educators and parents must be knowledgeable about state and local standards-based policies and practices.
The IEP process should be made more systematic and more public in order to strengthen accountability for the educational progress of students with disabilities. We recommend that states and school districts should develop consistent and systematic guidelines for IEP teams to use in making decisions about and justifying a student's movement away from common standards and assessments. These decisions should be monitored to ensure that students with disabilities are not removed unnecessarily from standards-based reform. This need for consistency in the decision-making process is, to some extent, at odds with the individually referenced decision-making process at the heart of the IDEA. However, it is the committee's view that guidelines and standards can be developed to inform the IEP team in its deliberations and to make these procedures more consistent from student to student. Consistency, as well as professional understanding
of standards-based practices, will be central to ensuring equity for students with disabilities.
More district and state-level guidance and oversight of the decisions made in the IEP process—for example, regarding the implications of accommodated test scores, the consequences of assessments, and the setting of alternate standards—will allow parents to become more informed as they pursue the best possible outcomes for their children. Furthermore, greater public accountability for IEP decisions may allow parents to continue to participate fully in decision making without having also to act as the primary instrument of accountability and enforcement.
The committee is concerned that this recommendation for greater public accountability and reporting of IEP decisions not add administrative burden. Evidence suggests that the IEP has evolved largely into a procedural compliance document, sometimes at the expense of its usefulness in instructional planning. Merely requiring that decisions about a student's participation in the standards process be documented is not likely to enhance the usefulness of the IEP. Rather, the IEP needs to focus more clearly on the extent to which an individual student's education will be linked to the common standards and on the substantive curriculum and instructional strategies that will be used to achieve those goals.
A more public locus of accountability is needed for the decisions made during that process. Information about IEP decisions should be systematically reported in a way that allows school systems to aggregate information across IEPs. Public reporting of aggregated IEP information—such as degree of participation in standards and assessments or types of accommodations—could inform policy and promote better accountability while still protecting the confidentiality of individual students and parents. The IEP should continue to serve as a vehicle to convene parents and professionals to design individually tailored educational programs for students with disabilities and to document that they are progressing toward challenging goals and outcomes. These purposes are compatible with the goal of better public accountability under a standards-based framework. Some of the procedural detail contained in many current IEPs (such as time lines) should be deemphasized. Monitoring of IEPs should also focus on the substance and appropriateness of students' educational goals and the performance levels of students relative to these goals.
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.
Currently in many places, incentives favor the exclusion of students with disabilities from the accountability system. If rewards are provided solely for higher average achievement scores (without regard to who is included in the aggregate), incentives are created to exclude students who may score low. Instead,
incentives need to be designed to encourage the maximum participation of all students, including those with disabilities. For example, financial incentives could be offered for higher participation rates; alternatively, exclusion rates could be publicly reported and programs monitored if they exceed a designated level of exclusion.
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.
If states develop content standards primarily in core academic areas, these standards will not take into account the diverse educational needs of some students with disabilities. To include students with disabilities in common content standards, standards-based systems may need to be designed in one of two ways: (1) by developing content standards in outcome domains that go beyond academic skills but are critical for many students with disabilities, such as career/vocational skills and functional life skills, or (2) by individually modifying existing content standards to include these skills and competencies. In either case, it will be difficult to set alternate standards that are appropriately challenging and signal high expectations for students. This is another area in which the IEP team may need more guidance from state and district officials.
We are particularly concerned that alternate standards do not mean low standards. At the same time, challenging alternate standards ought to be achievable given sufficient opportunity and support. Therefore, the issue of how to define alternate standards that are challenging yet also achievable should be the focus of a strong consensus-building process. The committee wrestled with the several possible meanings of this notion. A system could be established so that each content standard allows for multiple levels of proficiency, several of which are considered ''high enough." Or a consensus-building process could be used to develop a separate set of alternate standards for students with disabilities who may require a substantially different curriculum. Another possibility is to include a student in the content standards but to allow an individualized performance standard. Another model would produce a purely individually referenced standard that can also be objectively observed, such as evidence of growth over time in a student's mastery of various content domains. How alternate standards are set, how progress on these standards is monitored, and how decisions are made about when to move to alternate standards remain difficult questions that will require considerable professional and community consensus building. In addition, assessments need to be aligned with an individual student's challenging
standards. The committee urges that some systematic assessment method, beyond individual judgment, be used to assess progress on alternate standards.
In deciding whether to move a student to alternate content standards and curricula, particularly at the secondary school level, the IEP team will need to consider several important criteria. First, professional practice in special education stresses the importance of considering the skills critical to an individual student's post-school success when designing his or her instructional programs. This objective means that instructional goals should focus on acquiring skills that will allow them to live productive post-school lives (e.g., greater independence, a good job). This important criterion should be used to help define what a challenging alternate standard is for a particular youth.
A second criterion is whether the curriculum tied to the common standards can be fully taught to a given student without jeopardizing his or her opportunity to master other critical skills. Some students spend time in classrooms focused on nonacademic goals; others receive instruction that helps them improve their basic and applied academic skills. Some students with disabilities need specialized instruction—for example, in nonacademic domains or in basic skill areas—for some part of their school day. Because of this, some students with disabilities will find that there are competing priorities for their instructional time as they try to master common content standards and achieve the goals of their individualized program. Some students, their teachers, and parents will have to confront real, everyday time conflicts. For example, should a high school junior with a reading disability spend his time in intensive reading instruction in order to read at higher than a sixth grade level, or should he take an English literature class, in which the goals are to read and interpret classic literature and write interpretive pieces about the classics? Furthermore, if a student "opts out" of common standards in favor of alternates, what implications does that have for the kind of high school diploma he or she receives?
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.
Accountability systems are intended to provide information for parents, citizens, and public officials about the performance of students, teachers, schools, districts, and states. Under standards-based reforms, these public accountability systems rely heavily on large-scale assessments of student progress toward mastery of the content standards.
Although policy and practice vary tremendously from place to place, large numbers of students with disabilities currently are not included in the assessment and accountability systems for general education, or their results are not reported even when they have taken the tests. This approach leaves no locus of public accountability for the educational progress of many students with disabilities.
To ensure that the opportunity to participate in standards-based reforms is extended to all students with disabilities, states and localities will need to be accountable for their educational progress. The scores of students with disabilities who participate in the common assessments should be included in the public reporting of scores.
As a related problem, most districts and states do not report the number of students who did not participate when publicly reporting aggregated test scores. When participation rates differ widely from place to place (as available data indicate they do), the comparability of average test score comparisons is undermined. The percentage of students who do not participate in the common assessment system should be publicly reported as well as the percentages who receive a modified or different version of the test. This practice will help to ensure that all students are accounted for and that accountability comparisons and evaluations are made more equitably from place to place.
Aggregation and disaggregation of test data by various characteristics of test takers (e.g., gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, disability status) present some complex technical and ethical issues that will need to be considered carefully. States and districts should be responsible for the appropriate reporting of aggregated and disaggregated data, especially when sample sizes are small or privacy rights may be violated. Decisions about disaggregation should ensure, at a minimum, that individual students are not identifiable.
Although the basic principle should be to include all students in the common assessments (and to provide accommodations to enable them to do so), some number of students is likely to need to participate in a different or substantially modified assessment; the size of this group will depend on the nature of the assessment and the content standards being assessed. Obtaining meaningful information about the educational achievement and progress of these students is a difficult issue. One option for including all students with disabilities in the accountability system is to create an alternate assessment for this group of students with disabilities. The design of such assessments presents considerable challenges to current knowledge about measurement and test design. These assessments should not have important consequences attached to them unless it can be demonstrated that they measure the relevant curriculum content validly and that they are sensitive to achievement gains. Furthermore, a broader set of indicators may be needed to monitor the performance and participation of these students.
Participation of a maximum number of students with disabilities in the common assessments raises a host of technical, political, and legal challenges. For example, setting high performance standards can pose particular problems for students whose achievement levels are very low. A single or very high standard masks important information, such as how far below the standards students fall or whether they are making progress toward achieving the standard. This lack of information limits accountability for these students. The performance levels in large-scale assessments should therefore be designed to reflect a broad range of student performances.
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 should be justified on a case-by-case basis, but individual decisions should be guided by a uniform set of criteria.
The provision of accommodations during testing (such as braille versions, a reader, calculators, extended time) will be necessary to ensure the participation of some students with disabilities. The proportion of students requiring accommodation will depend on the purpose, format, and content of the assessment. At the current time, the number of students who will need accommodations is unknown.
Currently, policies on the kinds of testing accommodations offered and to whom vary widely from place to place, which may threaten the validity of the information and the comparability of aggregated scores. Furthermore, since many of these decisions are made by IEP teams with little or no knowledge about testing procedures, the purposes of accommodations, or their effects, implementation of the policies is also inconsistent. State guidelines often admonish educators not to provide accommodations that would undermine the validity of the assessments, but in many cases it is not clear how to make appropriate accommodations or how accommodations affect validity.
Accommodations should be offered during large-scale assessments for only two purposes: (1) to facilitate participation of students with disabilities and (2) to increase the validity of scores. Validity will be increased when an accommodation offsets inaccuracies caused by a disability. Thus, when a disability causes a score to be erroneously low, a successful accommodation will raise it. However, the appropriate goal of an accommodation is to offset the impact of a disability, not to raise scores per se.
To preserve validity, testing accommodations should be designed specifically to offset distortions in scores caused by specific disabilities. In addition, accommodations should be independent of the construct being measured. For example, assistance in reading should not be offered when reading proficiency is the construct (or an important part of the construct) being measured. However, determining which accommodations are independent of constructs is difficult for students with cognitive disabilities, who constitute the majority of students with disabilities. The shortage of research and the absence of a reliable taxonomy of disability contribute to the difficulty of this problem.
States and local districts should strive for increased consistency in the development and implementation of accommodation policies to guide IEP decision making. Furthermore, in order to achieve better public accountability, the number of students accommodated and the types of accommodations used should be monitored and publicly reported to districts and states.
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.
Research evidence indicates that parental involvement and expectations contribute to higher achievement for all students, regardless of other background variables. In addition, parents of students with disabilities play unique roles under special education law as primary advocates for their children's rights, key participants in the IEP decision-making process, and monitors of accountability and enforcement. Including all students with disabilities in standards-based reforms is likely to put new pressures on the IEP process, particularly on the role of the parents. For students who will require alterations to common standards or assessments, the IEP decision-making process, which often places the burden of enforcement on parents, is likely to become considerably more complex.
For example, some students with disabilities, upon completing high school, have traditionally received alternative credentials to the standard high school diploma. It is likely that many standards-based reform systems will continue to include one or more type of alternative high school completion credential. Parents need to understand the different diplomas and the implications of decisions to modify standards and curriculum for the type of diploma their child will receive.
Evidence indicates that the IEP process has not worked well for all parents, particularly minority parents and those with limited education. Surmounting the barriers to parental involvement takes on particular importance under standards-based reform, since some parents will have to make important decisions about appropriate IEP goals, the content of instruction, and the use of alternate standards and assessments. Parents of students with disabilities will require information that allows them to make informed choices about their children's education in a meaningful way. They will also need to understand clearly the implications of their choices for a child's future education and post-school outcomes. Special efforts will be required to involve the considerable number of parents who, until now, have not been actively involved in the IEP process.
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.
All students should be provided an opportunity to learn the skills and knowledge represented in the common content and performance standards. This requirement is particularly critical for the education of students with disabilities.
Most standards-based systems to date are focused on accountability with high consequences only at the school building or system level. Some states, however, are holding individual students accountable by requiring that they pass a test linked to the state standards for high school graduation, and other states are planning to implement a similar policy in the near future. No standards-based framework should be designed to hold an individual student responsible unless it
also has a mechanism for ensuring that students have had an adequate opportunity to learn the content being assessed. This will require some mechanism for ensuring that curriculum and classroom instruction actually reflect the content standards.
If a student with a disability is to be held individually accountable for mastery of the common content standards, his or her IEP should reflect the necessary curricular goals, delivered through instructional strategies consistent with his or her educational needs and learning style. This specification of required curriculum and instruction will define the student's opportunity to learn the skills and knowledge tested on the assessment. Ensuring that the actual instruction provided to an individual student conforms to the IEP can be accomplished informally through classroom observation and conversations between a student's teachers and those responsible for monitoring the IEP at the school level.
Ensuring that the school system as a whole is providing adequate opportunities to learn for all students, including those with disabilities, is a considerably more difficult task. Obtaining comparable information that can be aggregated across schools and classrooms largely depends on teachers' self-reports through surveys of the content covered and the instructional strategies used. Yet research has shown that often these data are collected at too general a level to make useful distinctions among the content covered in different classrooms. Furthermore, because teachers do not share common understandings of the instructional strategies associated with standards-based reforms, it is often difficult to determine how consistent teaching in the aggregate is with the state assessment. If assessments with individual consequences continue as state policy strategies, greater effort will need to be expended to ensure that individual students with disabilities have the opportunity to learn what is expected of them. Systemwide accountability will require that better indicators of curriculum and instruction be designed to allow public monitoring of the learning opportunities afforded all students.
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.
The effects of standards-based reform, both intended and unintended, should be carefully monitored for all students, as well as the distribution of that impact by ethnic, racial, gender, disability status.
Because graduation credentials have long-term consequences for individual students, the types of diplomas offered is a particularly important issue to monitor. Policy makers should consider and monitor the individual consequences, such as effects on employability and other transitions to post-school life, when standards-based reforms result in some students receiving different kinds of high school completion credentials. Steps should be taken to ensure that any alternative credential is meaningful—for example, that it conveys information about
skills and achievements—for students with disabilities (as well as for other students who may receive the credential).
State and local policy makers should develop a means of monitoring both the intended effects of standards-based reforms, such as increases in test scores, and other unanticipated effects, such as changes in dropout or special education referral or identification rates. As part of an ongoing monitoring system, states should invest in developing indicators to measure the performance of standards-based systems. This system should monitor outcomes for all students, although we have highlighted indicators that will be particularly important for students with disabilities. In order to monitor possible unintended effects, this indicator system should consider the following measures in addition to test scores and other typical forms of accountability reporting:
special education referral and identification rates;
types of disability classifications and rates of classification;
parental participation in the IEP process;
changes in types of instructional placements of students with disabilities;
number of students not participating in the common standards and the broad categories of alternate standards under which these students are being educated;
rates of exclusion from large-scale assessments;
number and type of testing accommodations offered to students and the basis for them;
types of high school completion credentials and proportions of students with disabilities receiving each;
high school graduation and school dropout rates; and
indicators of opportunity to learn (when there are high-stakes consequences for individual students).
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.
Effective implementation of standards-based reforms requires a system of content standards, performance standards, and assessments that meet complex technical and professional requirements. At the current time, many expectations of policy makers exceed the technical knowledge and capacity of educators. Curriculum standards assume content knowledge and pedagogy quite different from how most teachers were trained. New forms of assessment are undergoing major modifications as they are implemented, and states and school districts have limited experience accommodating students with disabilities in large-scale, standardized assessments.
We recognize that opportunities to implement policies as comprehensive as standards-based reform are rare and that policy makers need to move quickly to
take advantage of them. Still, past experience strongly suggests that implementing policies that represent significant departures from past practice before sufficient resources are available or before educators are adequately prepared can significantly lessen the chances of success for even the most promising reform strategies. We therefore make the following suggestions to guide policy choices.
First, policy makers should assume that standards-based reforms will need to be phased in over a number of years. Mid-course corrections should be encouraged on aspects of the reform that are not working as intended. In addition, considerable time will be necessary for expert knowledge, particularly in the technology of testing, to catch up with the expectations and assumptions underlying standards-based reform. We are not suggesting that the implementation of these reforms be delayed until their feasibility and effectiveness is well understood. Rather, we are cautioning policy makers to consider what they and their constituents can reasonably require of teachers and students before these two groups have the necessary tools to do what is expected of them.
Second, considerable uncertainty exists about the resource levels that will be needed to support standards-based reforms. Additional resources are likely to be needed for developing and acquiring instructional materials and technology, designing and validating assessments, and implementing new accountability and governance models. Considerable investments in professional development, ongoing technical assistance, and preservice teacher education are likely to be needed. Furthermore, little is known about the kinds of programs and resource levels that will be required to help all students, including those with disabilities, meet high standards.
Third, teachers will require significant support, both in time and professional development, for standards-based reform to be effective at the classroom level. Standards-based reform aims to alter some fundamental classroom practices. For many teachers, this change will mean teaching new material and using unfamiliar methods of instruction and assessment. In addition, including students with disabilities in standards-based reforms presents particular challenges for both general and special education teachers.
Fourth, standards-based reforms should be coordinated with other related education policies—such as those affecting school-to-work transitions, disadvantaged and language minority students, and teacher training and certification—so that they mutually reinforce rather than contradict one another. Coordination will be particularly important with regard to school finance policy, since decisions about the allocation of resources for standards-based reforms are occurring at the same time as states are altering special education funding and finance formulas.
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.
Throughout its deliberations, the committee found itself without the data necessary to consider many questions related to our charge. These significant data gaps are outlined here as recommendations for a long-term research agenda related to the schooling of students with disabilities and the implementation of standards-based reform.
The school experiences of students with disabilities. Most nationally representative education studies have not included students with disabilities, or have done so in unsystematic ways. Large-scale research studies—particularly those funded by the U.S. Department of Education and the National Science Foundation—should include persons with disabilities in their samples, sample them carefully, and document their procedures for accommodating persons with disabilities in the research protocols. Better data are needed on how students with disabilities compare with other students on variables related to their schooling and educational achievement.
Resources and costs of standards-based reforms. Although the committee agreed that implementing standards-based reforms effectively is likely to require additional resources, there are few data to guide in making precise estimates about these potential costs. Data are needed on the costs, including opportunity costs in time lost to other schooling activities, of developing and implementing these reforms, particularly at the local level.
Special education resource allocation models. A number of alternative models for allocating special education resources are being discussed throughout the country. Alternative resource allocation models generate different types of incentives for how to serve students with disabilities. Data are needed on the effects of such alternative incentives and their interaction with standards-based reform.
Local decision-making processes. In order to guide the formation of consistent policies and rules governing the participation of students with disabilities in standards-based reforms, considerably more data are needed on how local decisions are made about students with disabilities. For example, we need to understand better how IEP decisions are made with regard to participation in standards-based reforms—how and why accommodations are made and how standards-based reforms affect decisions about placements. In addition, research is needed to identify the information parents need to participate effectively in the decision-making process.
Special education instruction in the standards-based classroom. The interaction between specific special education interventions and the instructional methods called for in many standards-based systems should be examined. Greater understanding is needed about the effects of these new instructional methods on the achievement of students with disabilities.
Potential of computer-based technologies. Emerging technologies show promise for enhancing the education of students with disabilities both through the provision of assistive and adaptive technologies and as a means to individualize
instruction and assessments. More research is needed on the applications and effectiveness of computer-based technologies for students with disabilities.
Alternative student credentials. Research is needed on the effect of different kinds of high school credentials on employment and other post-school outcomes. In addition, research is needed to aid in developing meaningful alternative credentials that can credibly convey the nature of a student's accomplishments and capabilities.
Relationship between accommodations and validity. Research is needed to develop better assessments, to document the effects of various accommodations on test scores, and to develop criteria for deciding what accommodations will preserve the validity and usefulness of test scores.
Development of alternate assessments. The development of reliable and valid alternate assessments for those students who cannot participate in the common assessments will require a greater investment in research. Methods of equating and scaling such alternatives also need investigation.
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.