Education Law

What rights does my child with a disability have under the No Child Left Behind Act?

At this point, it seems that every parent of a school-age child has heard of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). After all, NCLB seems to be the reason for the increasing number of standardized tests that our kids are subjected to on a regular basis from the time they enter kindergarten until they exit high school. NCLB, however, was written to specifically include children with disabilities and their needs. Therefore, if you are the parent of a child with a disability, you should be aware of how NCLB affects your child.
First, one of the hallmarks of NCLB is accountability, or tracking children’s academic progress and reporting that progress, or lack thereof, to children’s parents. NCLB’s accountability system also is designed to assess and report the progress of children with disabilities. Because a child’s disability is not necessarily related to his or her cognitive ability, he or she may or may not need special accommodations in order to have academic progress measured by the standardized tests that all children take. For instance, a deaf child clearly has a disability, but if he or she is given the appropriate accommodation during the test, then he or she may perform just as well – or better – than a child who is not deaf. Therefore, NCLB is inclusive of children with disabilities in terms of tracking and reporting their academic progress, just as it does for children without disabilities. 
Plus, a child with a disability has many different options for testing in order to truly assess his or her educational process, if necessary. While a child with a disability can simply engage in the same sort of testing as a non-disabled child, a child with a disability can also undergo alternate forms of testing, and his or her results can even be measured against alternate standards. Given these options, then, a school has a duty under NCLB to adequately evaluate, measure, and report the progress of your child.
Designing alternate tests for children with disabilities should be nothing new for schools. All schools have children with disabilities, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act has required that schools establish alternate tests at least since its revision in 1997. Therefore, schools have had over 10 years in which to design and implement appropriate alternate tests and procedures for children who need them.
Finally, many schools complain that it is the test scores of children with disabilities that result in the school receiving inadequate marks as measured by the government, such as being labeled a “school in need of improvement.” However, NCLB provides schools with a number of ways of excluding or minimizing the impact of children with disabilities in terms of the school’s overall progress. After all, every school enrolls children with disabilities, so NCLB takes that fact into account. For example, schools only must test 95% of the children with disabilities; thus, at least 5% of the school’s children with disabilities are excluded from the review process altogether. Thus, it is important to know that schools can minimize the impact of lower test scores; however, if a school is deemed to be a “school in need of improvement”, then perhaps the school DOES need some improvements, including improvements in the education of your child.