WASHINGTON – State school systems earned an average of a C+ in a report issued Wednesday that evaluated their policies for testing students with physical or cognitive disabilities.
In the 8th annual state-by-state report card on public education,“Quality Counts 2004,” Education Week said most states have improved since last year,but not by much. Last year's grade was an average of a C.
The grade also reflects the states' standards and accountability,effort in the improvement of teacher quality,school climate and the adequacy and equity of resources.
At a news conference,Education Week editors said the publication was not taking a stand on the results or on the federal No Child Left Behind Act,which aims to improve public education by dictating education standards for all children,including those with disabilities. The publication does favor coherent policies and testing standards for disabled children and that's why it compiled the data and graded all 50 states on their performance.
Virginia B. Edwards,Education Week's editor and publisher,said the trade publication also chose to study this topic because of a previous lack of data on how well disabled children do compared to other students.
States earned a higher grade for last year in part because all disabled children took tests,up from 40 percent the year before.
The report said,however,that the number special education students achieving scores of “proficient” or better was 30 percent behind those of general education students.
There are now 6.6 million children receiving special education services,96 percent of whom attend schools with children who are not disabled. Eight out of 10 teachers have students with disabilities in their classrooms.
Edwards said one of the things that surprised her about the report,which surveyed 800 teachers last year,was that teachers thought special education students should not take the same tests as other children.
“The vast majority of teachers believe that special education students should not be expected to meet the same set of academic-content standards as general students their age,” the report said.
The report said it is hard to compare results among states because each state designs its own tests and grading policies.
For example,some states allow students to take tests orally,while others require all students to read the questions and write the answers.
Almost one-third of the teachers surveyed agreed that state testing will help teachers focus on what special students really need to know. Just over half said that the schools should be teaching students with disabilities content that is parallel to what other students are learning.
The report also pointed out differences among black,Hispanic and white students. White students scores were 20 percent higher than black and Hispanic students.
There's also a slow improvement in states that require high school teachers to pass tests in the subjects they teach to get their teachers licenses from 29 to 34. Twenty-one states the same obligations from their middle school educators.