The Policy Frameworks
Twenty years of research on the implementation of federal and state education policies have demonstrated both the limits and the potential of policy as a tool for changing how students are educated. The major limitation is well known: change ultimately depends on the willingness and capacity of local communities. As a result, considerable variation in policy effects is the norm, and policy makers cannot simply mandate the outcomes they desire (McLaughlin, 1987). Yet, despite constraints on its influence, policy does have the potential to shape educational practice in significant ways.
At its most concrete level, policy determines what level of resources will be provided, how those resources will be allocated, who will have authority to deliver educational services, and how policy makers and educators will be held accountable. At a more abstract level, policy also communicates ideas about what constitutes a good education and how that education can best be achieved. It signals what expectations political decision makers and their constituents hold for the education system, and it specifies a set of assumptions about the steps needed to achieve those aspirations. Included in those assumptions are judgments about the incentives most likely to change teaching and learning, the preferred institutional arrangements to promote desired outcomes, and the resources and technical skills most needed.
For 20 years, policies based on individual rights and procedural requirements have been the primary tool for effecting sweeping changes in the education of students with disabilities. Now standards-based reform has introduced a fundamentally different set of policies, based on uniform student learning standards rather than individual rights, and on outcomes rather than process. This new
standards-based policy framework has the potential to alter significantly the education of students with disabilities.
In this chapter, we analyze the two sets of federal and state policies that support standards-based reform and special education. We first consider policies enacted by the federal government and the states to promote education reform through the use of student standards, and then we examine policies specifically designed to ensure that students with disabilities receive an appropriate education. We focus on the major ideas and assumptions that characterize each policy framework and then compare their prescriptions for serving students with disabilities.
Our analysis of the two policy frameworks illustrates the wide variation across states in policy choices, the considerable latitude that local school districts have in interpreting and implementing federal and state policies, and the limits of policy in shaping what happens in individual homes, schools, and classrooms. It also demonstrates that these two policy frameworks represent powerful ideas about how to educate children.
Standards-based reform affirms common standards as the catalyst for improved educational outcomes—serving as the basis for what should be taught, measuring what students should be expected to know, and determining whether all students have been given equal learning opportunities. The special education framework defines the rights of students with disabilities to a free and appropriate education and specifies the responsibilities of school systems to accommodate their individual needs. Meeting common standards and accommodating individual needs are the two ideas that animate these frameworks and, as such, they articulate the overarching goal of each policy strategy. Schooling based on common standards and the right of students with disabilities to an individually appropriate education are not inherently inconsistent as policy ideals. Those advocating standards-based reforms assume that students with disabilities will participate in a common schooling experience; special education law assumes that, if states establish outcome standards, they should apply to all students, including those with disabilities.
Nevertheless, despite strong presumptions of compatibility between the two frameworks, they embody very different ideas, policy instruments, and institutional arrangements. One emphasizes the commonality of the educational experience, the other accommodation of individual differences. One promotes its policy goals through an appeal to shared curricular values; the other invests individual students with rights enforced through a set of procedural safeguards. One seeks to ensure accountability through public reporting of aggregate data on student performance; the other relies on an essentially private process—the individualized education program—centered on the individual student.
For both policy frameworks, there is also a wide gap between espousing a desired goal or establishing that a right exists and then implementing it for individual children. Translating a legal or philosophical ideal into practice requires
that policy makers, educators, parents, and the public agree on what the ideal means and how it should be applied in classrooms; that resources, technology, and expertise exist to implement the goal; and that variation—a natural part of the federalist system and of professional norms for meeting unique client needs—does not diminish the intent of the original idea.
Our analysis of the two policy frameworks and their implementation thus far suggests that these conditions have not yet been met, and achieving them in the near future is problematic. Public opinion data indicate that those advocating standards-based reform have garnered support for the general idea, but that consensus is thin and does not yet extend to the specifics of curriculum and assessment. Nor is there yet sufficient mastery of the technical requirements of standards-based reform. Similarly, those working within the special education framework assert the right of and the need for students with disabilities to be integrated into the standards reforms, but there is little concrete understanding or consensus within that community of how the goal is to be accomplished for individual students.
This chapter illustrates both the hope and the challenge of standards-based reform by discussing the ideas behind the policy and outlining the conditions that need to be operative if students with disabilities are to be integrated successfully into the standards movement. Subsequent chapters elaborate this theme of promise and pitfalls by analyzing the barriers to be overcome before teaching and testing consistent with standards can be achieved, and by identifying practices that can move the effort in the right direction.
At the federal level, two major pieces of legislation embody the goals of standards-based reform.
Enacted by Congress in 1994 at the behest of the Clinton administration, the Goals 2000: Educate America Act codifies a set of national education goals and seeks to encourage the states to adopt two types of voluntary standards:
Content standards, defined as ''broad descriptions of the knowledge and skills students should acquire in a particular subject area" (P.L. No. 103–227, sec 3, ) and
Performance standards, defined as "concrete examples and explicit definitions of what student have to know and be able to do to demonstrate that such students are proficient in the skills and knowledge framed by the content standards" (103–227, sec 3 ).
Goals 2000 authorizes modest federal grants to states on the condition that they develop education improvement plans outlining strategies for strengthening teaching and learning and ensuring "students' mastery of basic and advanced skills in core content areas" (103–227, sec 306 b ). These strategies must include both a process for developing state content and student performance standards and one for assessing achievement on those standards.
Several provisions of Goals 2000 recognize the relevance of parental involvement and family partnerships to education reform. The last of the eight National Education Goals enumerated in the law directly addresses parent involvement: "By the year 2000, every school will promote partnerships that will increase parental involvement and participation in promoting the social, emotional and academic growth of children." The act also requires states to involve parents in planning, designing, and implementing Goals 2000 programs and provides funding to local education agencies and nonprofit organizations to establish parent assistance centers that will strengthen the relationship between schools and families.
In fiscal 1997, an estimated $491 million will be allocated under Goals 2000 to the states, which in turn will allocate at least 90 percent of those funds to local districts on a competitive basis. As of April 1996, 40 states had received second-year funding and 20 had submitted comprehensive state improvement plans.
Despite its popularity among many state policy makers, Goals 2000 has become controversial at the national level, with most of the differences falling along party lines. From its inception, Goals 2000 was intended to embody an ideal of high-quality, equitable schooling based on voluntary standards and to offer states a small amount of funding to help them implement their own approaches to that vision, 1 but without imposing significant federal mandates on them. Goals 2000, for example, has never had any regulations of the type common to all other federal programs. Nevertheless, opponents have portrayed Goals 2000 as a threat to state and local autonomy, and several parts of the original legislation became focal points for dispute.
A particularly controversial provision of the original law would have encouraged states to develop what were called opportunity-to-learn standards (OTL). These were defined as "the criteria for, and the basis of assessing the sufficiency or quality of the resources, practices, and conditions necessary at each level of the education system (schools, local agencies, and States) to provide all students with an opportunity to learn the material in the voluntary national content standards or State content standards" (103–227, sec 3 ). The OTL standards were included in the Goals 2000 legislation at the behest of some Democratic members of Congress who did not want disadvantaged students to be harmed by content standards and testing when they had not been provided the curricular resources to do well
on those standards (e.g., appropriate course offerings, rigorous content, and experienced teachers). OTL standards became the most controversial part of the Goals 2000 legislative debate. Opponents argued not only that they would compromise state and local autonomy, but also that they might serve as the basis on which students could sue states to spend more on schooling inputs. As a result, the initial legislation specifically stated that participation in Goals 2000 would be voluntary and that the law should not be construed to mandate either school finance equalization or school-building standards.
The first group of states to submit improvement plans defined their approach to OTL standards in a variety of ways, ranging from general student support programs such as preprimary education and after-school tutoring, to more specific curricular initiatives focusing on teacher professional development, classroom technology, and instructional materials. For the most part, states simply classified existing programs that support and enhance student learning as constituting their OTL strategies, rather than promulgating specific resource or instructional standards as benchmarks for gauging whether local communities have provided students with an adequate opportunity to learn. Despite variation in how states chose to interpret the OTL concept and their intent to apply it in nonbinding ways, all references to opportunity-to-learn standards and strategies have been deleted from the Goals 2000 legislation as a result of recent amendments.
These same amendments, enacted as part of the fiscal 1996 appropriations, also eliminated the requirement that states submit a plan to the U.S. secretary of education as a condition for receiving funding. In lieu of submitting a plan to the federal government, a state may submit assurances from its governor or chief state school officer indicating that it has a plan that meets the Goals 2000 requirements and that information on student performance and implementation benchmarks will be publicly available. States that choose this option also do not need to submit annual reports to the federal government; instead they are required to report publicly on their use of Goals 2000 funds.
The Goals 2000 legislation declares that:
[A]ll children can learn and achieve to high standards and must realize their potential if the United States is to prosper (103–227, sec 301 ).
[A]ll students are entitled to participate in a broad and challenging curriculum and to have access to resources sufficient to address other education needs (103–227, sec 301 ).
The legislation is also clear in stating that "all students" and "all children" include those with disabilities (103–227, sec 3 ).
With regard to state assessments, the Goals 2000 legislation specifically declares that state assessments should "provide for the participation in such assessments of all students with diverse learning needs; and the adaptations and accommodations necessary to permit such participation" (103–227, sec 301 [9cBIIIaa-bb]). The legislation is not as specific with regard to how the integra-
tion of students with disabilities into state content and performance standards should be accomplished or what expectations are appropriate for them. An analysis of the legal issues surrounding students with disabilities and standards-based reform prepared for the committee argues that the omission may reflect a recognition of the problems inherent in singling out particular groups of students for differential treatment (Ordover et al., 1996:22). They conclude, however, that "the absence of any express exceptions for children with severe cognitive impairments, coupled with Goals 2000's repeated emphasis on 'all children,' suggests that states participating in Title III [the state grants program] should design their content and performance standards in such a way as to reflect outcomes desirable for this population, too."2
Improving America's Schools Act
Even though direct federal influence is limited under Goals 2000, the Clinton administration and congressional supporters of standards-based reform have attempted to reinforce that policy direction by making challenging content standards a centerpiece of other federal programs. Nowhere is that more evident than in the Improving America's Schools Act (IASA), the 1994 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. IASA contains a major new focus and an explicit set of requirements that states and local districts must meet as a condition for obtaining funds under Title I, the largest federal school aid program, which serves poor, underachieving students. The purpose of the new legislation is "to enable schools to provide opportunities for children served to acquire the knowledge and skills contained in challenging State content standards and to meet the challenging State performance standards developed for all children" (P.L. No. 103–328, sec 1001 [d]).
To receive Title I grants, states are required to submit state plans that provide for challenging content and performance standards, state assessments and yearly reports on meeting standards, and provisions for teacher support and learning aligned with the new curriculum standards and assessments. Each section of the Title I law details specific requirements. For example, the assessments and reports must be aligned with the content standards; test at three separate grade levels; be based on "multiple, up-to-date … measures that assess higher order thinking skills and understanding"; and "provide individual student interpretive and descriptive reports" as well as aggregated results down to the school level
that are broken down by race, gender, English proficiency, migrant status, disability, and economic status (103–328, sec 1111).
In addition, for local agencies to receive subgrants, they must have on file with the state education agency a local plan "that is coordinated with other programs under this Act, the Goals 2000: Educate America Act, and other Acts, as appropriate." Among other requirements, the local plans must address how students are assessed in accord with the state plan and how well they perform relative to state standards. Title I also requires that parents be involved in local planning, including the preparation of comprehensive school reform plans.
Because Title I provides well over $7 billion a year in federal funding and includes a detailed set of mandates that local districts must meet as a condition for funding, most observers believe that the federal government's influence over the standards and assessment process in individual states will be considerably greater through Title I than through Goals 2000, even though the former is targeted on only a subset of students.
As with Goals 2000, Title I acknowledges students with disabilities and specifies that they are to be included in the teaching and assessment of state content standards. The legislation also indicates that all children are to participate in annual assessments and that reasonable accommodations and adaptations are to be provided students with diverse learning needs.
Because of two changes in the reauthorized Title I program, more students with disabilities are likely to be among the program's beneficiaries. First, the reauthorization relaxed the poverty threshold that schools must meet to operate school-wide programs that allow Title I funds to be used for reform activities throughout the school, rather than just be targeted at the lowest-achieving students. Previously, at least 75 percent of the students in a school were required to be low income before a school-wide program was permitted. Now the threshold has dropped to 50 percent. Second, in schools without school-wide programs, the reauthorization made it easier for students with disabilities to receive Title I services. Previously, these students could be served under Title I only if it were shown that the educational need to be addressed resulted from educational disadvantage and not from a disability. The reauthorization dropped this requirement, stipulating instead that "children with disabilities … are eligible for services under this part on the same basis as other children selected to receive services under this part." Eligible students are those identified by school personnel as failing, or most at risk of failing, to meet the state's challenging student performance standards. Schools may not use Title I funds to provide special education and related services required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), but they may use Title I funds to coordinate or supplement such services.
Because the states have primary responsibility for education, the move to set content standards and develop new forms of assessment largely depends on state-
level level action, particularly the extent to which state governments encourage or mandate local districts, schools, and individual teachers to change their instructional approaches. Although a few states had already begun a standards-setting process prior to the federal initiatives, 48 were engaged in establishing academic standards by 1996 (Gandal, 1996).
Not only are the states at very different stages in that development process,3 but also the resulting standards vary in their specificity and their use. In some states, content standards are no more than broad, rhetorical goals that local districts are urged to follow. In others, they are considerably more precise, with textbooks and assessments linked directly to the standards and efforts made to train teachers in a pedagogy consistent with the curricular philosophy underlying the standards. (See Chapter 4 for a fuller discussion of the substantive and curricular implications of content standards.) According to a report recently issued by the American Federation of Teachers, only 15 states have developed standards in at least 4 subject areas that are specific enough to permit development of a common core curriculum (Gandal, 1996). The states also differ in how they use the standards as part of their accountability systems. Some states impose no direct consequences on either schools or students for mastery of the standards. Others reward or sanction schools based on their students' performance, and a few states currently require that students meet the content standards as a condition for high school graduation.
Along with content and performance standards, student testing is typically a central component of state reform initiatives. Large-scale assessments, administered by the states, are designed to measure the extent to which students' mastery of content standards is at a level specified in state performance standards. Coincidental with the implementation of standards-based reform has been a move to diversify the format of these assessments and to expand beyond a sole reliance on multiple-choice items. The most typical pattern has been to combine multiple-choice items with open-ended responses and writing samples. 4 About five states are including performance tasks in their assessments, and an equal number have student portfolios as part of their assessment process.5 However, in their analysis of state mathematics and science curriculum frameworks, Blank and Pechman
(1995) found that only 10 of 40 recent frameworks show a clear linkage between the framework and the state assessment.
The states also vary in their scoring systems and units of accountability. In keeping with the standards-based notion of performance levels, more than half the states with assessments report results using either the percentage of students reaching each of three or more performance levels or the proportion attaining a state goal (National Education Goals Panel, 1996). Kentucky, for example, has four performance levels, with the second-highest representing the proficient level that the state expects all students to attain within 20 years. The proficient level is meant to indicate that a student understands the major concepts embodied in the state standards or "academic expectations," and that he or she can perform almost all of a task that requires application of those concepts and can communicate the concepts clearly. Other states, for example Delaware and Illinois, report assessment results in terms of the proportion of students who exceed state goals, who meet them, and who do not meet them.
In most states, the unit of accountability is the school, the individual student, or both. Assessment results are used as school accountability measures in 40 states, and in 27 of them results may have consequences for schools, including potential rewards in the form of additional funding and recognition or sanctions such as funding losses, probation, reduced autonomy, and loss of accreditation. In all, 30 states have made students accountable: 18 require that they receive a passing score on a state assessment as a condition for high school graduation; 6 5 base student promotion decisions on the state assessment; and 12 use their assessment system to provide students with awards or recognition (National Education Goals Panels, 1996; Bond et al., 1996).
Despite the innovations in state assessments over the past decade, there is some indication that even these changes do not sufficiently address the expectations in federal policy or the requirement to include students with disabilities in state assessments. A recent survey of state assessment programs conducted by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the North Central Educational Laboratory (Bond et. al., 1996) found that, as of 1995, only seven states had plans for testing Title I students' mastery of state standards.7 Although they have until 2000 to implement the required Title I standards and assessments, many states reported having difficulty in complying because of what they perceive to be a lack of firm guidelines on how to set performance standards or assess students who may require accommodations. Consistent with this lack of clear guidance,
the survey found that states vary in whether they permit testing accommodations for students with disabilities and in the types of accommodations afforded them.8
As this brief overview of state policies illustrates, the notion of standards-based reform is likely to have a wide range of meanings and to be implemented in very different ways across the 50 states.9 How standards policies function in each state depends on the historical level of state direction over local districts, its current fiscal capacity, and the extent to which key state officials view standards-based reform as an effective strategy for educational improvement.
Rationale Behind Standards Policies
As with most education policies, arguments in favor of standards reforms rest on a combination of value appeals, inferences derived from research, and lessons learned from the implementation of prior reform initiatives. The policy framework for standards-based reform is at once a straightforward and a complicated one. The major idea animating it is a simple belief that all students can meet high standards if those standards are clearly articulated and if teachers teach to them.
The tangible inducements for change are modest. Although the refocusing of Title I funds represents a sizable financial incentive for states and localities, the Goals 2000 funding represents only a small catalyst. With a few notable exceptions, for example Kentucky, most states have not accompanied their foray into standards-based reform with either significant new funding or a redirection of existing monies. As a result, the capacity-building costs associated with a major new initiative, such as staff retraining and planning time, have been largely pushed down to local districts and schools.
In some sense, the major incentive to buy into standards-based reform may not be the financial resources provided by higher levels of government, but rather the intangible one represented by a vision of teachers teaching to and students learning to common standards. Behind that vision are a host of other values that include the quest for a new "common school," a belief that American students should be the equal of or better than those around the world, a hope that opportu-
nity to learn embodies a more effective strategy for achieving equity, and a conviction that schools should be held publicly accountable for their performance. Any or all of these values may serve as a stronger incentive for standards-based change than the nominal resources that have been offered as incentives. But the power of values to shape policy outcomes depends not on their veracity, but on how widely they are accepted by educators, parents, students, and the public.
In addition to a call on shared values, standards-based reforms have also been justified by evidence from both research and practice. The empirical basis for assuming that a focus on content standards will improve student outcomes is an indirect one. Yet there is a widespread belief among standards advocates that this strategy is consistent with research documenting a relationship between student achievement and the types, content, and level of courses taken. In their view, some of the most compelling evidence about the link between achievement and curricular content comes from the Second International Mathematics Study (SIMS), which documented national differences in the intensity of curricula and content coverage and its relationship to student achievement. One finding that helped explain the poor showing of U.S. students was the superficiality of topic coverage in the U.S. curriculum, compared with Japan, France, and Belgium. The U.S. curriculum is characterized by extensive repetition and review and little intensity of coverage. Low-intensity coverage means that individual topics are treated in only a few class periods, and concepts and topics are quite fragmented (McKnight et al., 1987). 10
Research focused solely on U.S. students seems to reinforce the international findings. These studies show a correlation between the number and level of mathematics courses taken and student achievement, even when background variables such as home and community environment and previous mathematics learning are taken into account (Hoffer et al., 1995; Raizen and Jones, 1985; Jones et al., 1986). For advocates of content standards, the implication of this research is that a set of curricular standards that applies to all students will increase their opportunity to learn and hence their achievement. Although this evidence is suggestive, the inferences that can be drawn from it are limited by significant data constraints. With few exceptions, studies of content coverage are confined to samples of high school students; most of the research focuses on mathematics courses and primarily considers content coverage. It does not focus on the type or quality of instruction or the effects of different curriculum requirements on students' achievement, and it does not look specifically at students with disabilities.
The argument that standards-based reform addresses the identified shortcomings of past education policies may be a stronger rationale than arguing that it is derived from research on student achievement. One of the primary reasons that Smith and O'Day (1991) and others advocate comprehensive or systemic reform, with curriculum standards at the core, is because they view it as a way to address a major disadvantage of the United States' decentralized approach to educational governance and policy making: "We argue that a fundamental barrier to developing and sustaining successful schools in the USA is the fragmented, complex, multi-layered educational policy system in which they are embedded…. Indeed, the fragmented policy system creates, exacerbates, and prevents the solution of the serious long-term problems in educational content, pedagogy, and support services that have become endemic to the system" (p. 237).
Systemic reform, with its emphasis on curriculum standards, is portrayed as a solution that "seeks to combine the vitality and creativity of bottom-up change at the school site with an enabling and supportive structure at more centralized levels of the system" (Smith and O'Day, 1991:245). From this perspective, standards are viewed as a way to avoid the dilemma of past top-down reform policies, which failed to reach far enough into the classroom to change the teaching and learning process, and bottom-up reforms, which had a limited impact because they never influenced more than a few schools or local districts at a time.
Even though standards-based reform was conceived as a way to compensate for the fragmented system that governs education in the United States, the institutional arrangements it espouses still reflect that fragmentation. All three levels of government are involved, with the federal government essentially serving as a "bully pulpit," exhorting states and localities to move in a new direction, states choosing to play roles that range from strict regulator of local behavior to cheer-leader for reform, and local communities responding to federal and state initiatives while still trying to maintain their own agendas.
But standards-based reform includes more than just the three levels of government. Its prominence on the national education policy agenda means that it has also involved the two political parties, major education interest groups such as the teacher unions, groups representing professional disciplines such as mathematics teachers, and organizations representing business interests such as the Business Roundtable. For example, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics framed and published voluntary national mathematics standards (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 1989). The National Science Foundation and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1989) developed materials and ideas that influenced the eventual development of voluntary national science standards by the National Academy of Sciences (National Research Council, 1996). Both these efforts have served as models for standard setting at the state and local levels (Lewis, 1995; McLaughlin and Shepard, 1995).
The need to choose among curricular values also means that standards-based
reform has mobilized diverse ideological interest groups, such as the Eagle Forum and People for the American Way. Its reliance on new curricular approaches and forms of assessments has involved testing companies and textbook publishers. Consequently, to talk about the institutional arrangements assumed in the standards-based policy framework is to pose a question about who has authority to define and implement standards and to ask whether consensus is possible among all these different interests.11
New forms of assessment are also seen as a solution to the shortcomings of past policies. Largely in response to the growing state use of minimum competency tests for high school graduation, beginning in the 1970s, a number of testing and measurement experts analyzed the problems associated with the policy uses of assessment (e.g., Airasian and Madaus, 1983; Frederiksen, 1984; Haertel, 1989). Their critiques of traditional multiple-choice tests are now well known. They questioned the disjuncture between the actual curriculum in schools and what was being tested, the assessment's emphasis on basic skills at the expense of more challenging content, the lack of opportunity for some students to gain even the basic knowledge and skills needed to score well on these tests, and the corruption of the tests as valid and reliable measuring devices because of the strong sanctions keyed to their results. Experts argued that tests whose results determined whether students graduated from high school or whether schools received extra resources would change school behavior and, in the process, the tests themselves would be altered as valid measures of student achievement.
To a large extent, new forms of assessment were developed in response to the identified shortcomings of multiple-choice tests. In fact, if one looks at some of the recommendations coming from critics of traditional tests, one finds an almost direct correspondence between those recommendations and the goals of alternative assessments. For example, Haertel (1989:31) recommends that other kinds of learning outcomes be recognized, including ''not only better tests of critical thinking and higher order skills, but also ways to recognize students' exceptional individual accomplishments, from written works or science fair projects to artistic creations." Those who espouse the use of such assessment devices as student portfolios see themselves as having responded to the identified shortcomings of more traditional forms of student assessment (e.g., see National Council on Education Standards and Testing, 1992:28).
Guiding Assumptions and Whether They Will Be Met
The idea that common standards will serve as a powerful catalyst for improved educational outcomes can work as intended only if a number of key assumptions are true. In this section, we analyze five assumptions that undergird the standards policy framework. We consider available evidence as a basis for determining whether these assumptions are likely to prove valid as standards policies are implemented in a variety of forms across states and local communities.
Unfortunately, we cannot determine at this point whether any of the standards movement's guiding assumptions are correct, nor can we say whether these policies will produce their expected effects. Even early implementers, for example Kentucky and Maryland, have had their programs fully in place for less than five years, and, in the case of standards-based reform, the implementation process is longer than for most education policies. For example, Goertz and Friedman (1996) report that, in the 18 states they studied, the standards-setting process took between 2 and 4 years from the time that legislation was enacted to final approval of the standards. Additional time was then needed for states to develop curriculum frameworks. Similarly, the initial development and subsequent modifications of new state assessments can also consume several years.12 Nevertheless, even though we cannot draw any conclusions about the effectiveness of standards policies, the experience of the early implementers does illustrate some of the potential barriers. Our analysis indicates that, unless the first four of the five assumptions discussed below are valid, standards-based reforms are likely to encounter serious implementation problems or perhaps even fail to achieve their purpose.
Standards Should Apply to All Students
The disparities in achievement among students of different demographic and socioeconomic groups represent one of the most significant problems in American education. The concept of high standards for all is viewed as one solution to this problem (Ravitch, 1995). The assumption is that, by clearly communicating the notion "all students can learn to high standards," teachers and students alike will understand what is expected of them and schools will move to equalize students' opportunities to learn. Consequently, the Goals 2000 legisla-
tion is explicit about standards applying to all students, and some states, for example Kentucky, have made this assumption a central tenet of their reforms. Nevertheless, moving from the rhetoric of "all children can learn" to everyday classroom practice poses serious political challenges—including the need to equalize instructional resources—as well as philosophical and logistical issues, such as balancing high, uniform standards with students' unique educational needs and abilities.
The assumption that standards should and can apply to all students is of particular relevance to students with disabilities. Unfortunately, the information available on how students with disabilities are being addressed in standards policies is minimal. One research project, currently under way, is using state and local case studies to examine the interaction between general and special education policies and their impact on students with disabilities (Goertz and Friedman, 1996). Some information is also available from general studies of state systemic reforms (e.g., Goertz et al., 1995). In addition, the committee reviewed a small sample of state standards documents.
The picture that emerges from these limited and nonrepresentative sources is of states acknowledging their responsibility to include students with disabilities in standards-based reforms, but unsure of exactly what that means or how to accomplish it. Most of the state Goals 2000 plans that we reviewed specifically mention students with disabilities, and a number list special support services for these students, such as preschool programs. Some states, for example Vermont, have changed the way they fund and regulate services for students with disabilities as a way of creating incentives for local schools to serve them in regular classrooms with appropriate instructional support systems, and to do so without labeling or classification.
States that are developing new forms of assessment are paying greater attention to ensuring that students with disabilities are included in assessments and that reasonable accommodations are provided. Kentucky and North Carolina are two states that have created strong incentives to minimize local exclusion of students with disabilities from the state assessment. For example, in North Carolina, schools must test 95 percent of the students eligible for state testing or face having "chance scores" added to their performance reports. Those scores represent what a student would receive if he or she answered test questions at random. In Kentucky, only students with severe disabilities who do not follow the regular curriculum are included in an alternate portfolio assessment system, and the state estimates that only 1 percent of Kentucky students take this alternate test (Schnaiberg, 1995b). In both states, the assumption is that, if local schools have to include students with disabilities in the state assessment, they will also include them in the curriculum on which they are tested.
Implementing appropriate support services and creating incentives for including students with disabilities in the mainstream curriculum and assessment will continue to challenge states and local districts. But what seem to be an even
greater challenge and a major source of ambiguity are the prior issues of deciding to which standards students with disabilities are to be held, whether those standards are common to all students or whether there can be differences within some general parameters, and how students with disabilities are to be taught effectively in a standards-based curriculum. Part of the problem seems to stem from the historical divide between general and special education personnel. Goertz and Friedman (1996:18) report: "based on our interviews with state special education directors and state directors of curriculum and instruction, it appears that special education has not played a major role in the development of either state content standards or specific curriculum frameworks in most states. Rather, special education's involvement has generally been limited to a review of standards and curriculum documents prepared by other educators—if that." However, these researchers did find a few notable exceptions to this patterns. For example, in Missouri, state special education staff have developed sample instructional activities to illustrate how state performance standards can be applied to students with cognitive disabilities.
Leaders of interest groups representing students with disabilities, professional educators, and policy makers have also expressed uncertainty about the specifics of standards-based reform. At an October 1995 workshop sponsored by the committee as part of its information-gathering activities, groups that advocate on behalf of students with disabilities argued that standards-based reforms embody a potentially effective strategy for improving educational opportunities for the students they represent (see Appendix B). Representatives from groups including the Council for Exceptional Children, the United Cerebral Palsy Association, and the National Association of State Directors of Special Education argued that educators and the public often hold low expectations for students with disabilities; including them in standards-based reform would raise expectations and allow these students to accomplish more in school. They also maintained that placing students with disabilities in a state's or local community's standards framework would require school systems to be more explicitly and publicly accountable for them. Those making workshop presentations on behalf of groups representing educators and policy makers, such as the National Education Association, the Council of Chief State School Officers, and the National Governors' Association, concurred in the view that standards-based reform could serve as a vehicle for improving the educational opportunities of students with disabilities.
However, their clarity about the potential benefits of standards-based reform was not matched by equal precision about how the standards framework might be implemented for students with disabilities. Most presenters acknowledged that they and their constituents lack sufficient experience with the reform to suggest concrete strategies for how students with disabilities might effectively participate in curricular standards and the accompanying assessments. There was general uncertainty about the extent to which standards would need to be individualized; whether this individualization should apply to the content standards or just to
performance levels on the common content standards; the extent to which accommodations would apply to the curriculum as well as to assessments; and who ought to make decisions about participation in or exclusion of students with disabilities from the common standards framework. Presenters from groups representing state and local policy makers also questioned whether special education policy has created a dual system that makes integrating students with disabilities into the common standards more difficult.
The interest groups' lack of specificity about the relationship between special education and standards-based reform further illustrates a central fact about standards policies at this time: systematic efforts to determine whether state content standards are appropriate for all or most students with disabilities and to identify the conditions under which these students might be taught and assessed according to those standards are not yet an integral part of state policy frameworks. Consequently, even with the limited data available, it seems reasonable to conclude that the assumption "all children can learn to high standards" has not yet been adequately defined in policy, much less implemented.
Two recent surveys of Kentucky and Maryland teachers suggest that translating the call for high standards for all students into classroom practice will also require that teachers first be persuaded of the veracity of that claim. The Kentucky teachers surveyed were evenly divided about whether or not they agreed with the tenet "all children can learn to a high level." An overwhelming majority (83 percent) agreed that, regardless of whether it is possible for all students to learn to that level, it is an appropriate message to send Kentucky students. However, very few (9 percent) agreed that all students can reach the same high level of performance, with most teachers in the sample (90 percent) saying that novice, the lowest performance level in the Kentucky system, is a high level for some students (Koretz et al., 1996b). The results from the Maryland sample are essentially similar, except that a slightly higher proportion of teachers (21 percent) felt that students could learn to the same high level (Koretz et al., 1996a).
Content and Performance Standards can be Defined
The effectiveness of a standards approach to school reform initially depends on a clear definition of exactly what is important for students to learn. The definitional process is likely to be both a technical, professional one—translating rhetorical goals into specific curricular objectives—and a political one, because a broad consensus on the standards is needed among policy makers, educators, parents, and the public. Ravitch (1995:12) outlines the criteria that content standards should meet:
A content standard should be measurable, so that students can demonstrate their mastery of the skills or knowledge; if mastery of the standard is neither measurable nor demonstrable, then it is probably so vague that it has little meaning or
value for teachers and students. Content standards should be specific enough to be readily understood by teachers, parents, students, and others. They should be clear enough so that teachers know what students are supposed to learn and can design lessons to help them learn what is expected.
Once content standards are defined, then standards must be set for what constitutes inadequate, acceptable, and outstanding performance in demonstrating mastery. The traditional approach to large-scale assessments in the United States requires that students' general knowledge be assessed across some broadly defined areas of achievement and their performance ranked and compared on numeric scales. In contrast, the new performance standards require that student performance be evaluated in relation to absolute standards (Taylor, 1994).
Promulgating clear and precise content standards depends on the ability of policy makers, educators, subject-matter experts, and the public to reach a consensus on what those standards ought to include. Basically, the relevant community needs to agree on what constitutes the valuable knowledge that students should learn. However, the data on which to draw inferences about the degree of public and elite support for the concept of standards and for specific types of standards show a mixed picture. An overwhelming majority of the American public supports having local schools conform to a set of national achievement goals and standards and requiring that standardized tests be used to measure student achievement on those standards (Elam et al., 1991, 1992). A majority also sees raised standards as a way to encourage students, including ones from low-income backgrounds, to do better in school (Elam and Rose, 1995).
Similarly, based on the initial response to the mathematics standards, a sample of federal and state policy makers interviewed in 1991 thought that a broad-based consensus could be reached on curriculum standards (McDonnell, 1994). A few acknowledged that agreement might be considerably more difficult to reach in subjects such as science, English literature, and social studies—some of whose content reflects geographic, ethnic, and ideological divisions in society. A few observers have also raised the question of who has the right in a democracy to set educational standards. Sizer (1992), for example, questioned whether subject-matter experts who are neither elected nor representative of the interests of all parents and citizens and who operate at a distance from most local communities should be the ones to decide what students should learn. But most policy makers in the 1991 study agreed with a respondent who argued that "if we had a referendum on what topics should be included in standards, there would be agreement on content. People tend to overstate the disagreement."
By 1994, however, the belief that a consensus could be easily reached on curriculum standards had proven overly optimistic. The continuation of the California Learning Assessment System (CLAS), widely touted as a model performance assessment, had been vetoed by the governor after strong opposition to the content and format of its language arts test. A small but vocal group of opponents
in Kentucky was lobbying to have that state's assessment terminated or significantly modified. Other states, for example Pennsylvania, were experiencing serious opposition to efforts aimed at specifying a set of intended outcomes for students (Ravitch, 1995). At the national level, the U.S. Senate, on a vote of 99 to 1, passed a resolution early in 1995 condemning voluntary national history standards that had been drafted by a group of subject-matter experts and classroom teachers (Lewis, 1995).
These controversies, along with public opinion data, suggest that consensus breaks down once the public moves beyond a general belief in the need for standards and assessments to questions about what those standards should be and how students should be taught and tested. Groups representing religious conservatives have been the most visible opponents of recent curricular innovations and new forms of assessment, questioning their content and format (McDonnell, 1997). But public opinion data indicate that some of the questions these groups are raising reflect broader public concerns. For example, recent surveys about the teaching of mathematics and writing point to fundamental differences between the curricular values of education reformers and large segments of the public. These are reflected in differences of opinion about when students should be allowed to use calculators, the relative importance of grammar and spelling, and the value of teaching students in heterogeneous ability groups (Johnson and Immerwahr, 1994).13 Differences between education reformers and parents have been reinforced by recent controversies over the use of "whole-language" pedagogy, which deemphasizes phonics and emphasizes the use of literature in reading instruction. In admitting that reading instruction had swung too far in what had been considered the reform direction and that a balance now needs to be struck between traditional and whole-language methods (California Department of Education, 1995; Jolley, 1996), state education officials in California appeared to validate parental concerns that their children are not learning the building-block skills needed to read well and that "invented spelling" and a lack of knowledge of grammar rules will hinder their writing ability.
Those advocating standards-based reform can draw a number of inferences from public opinion data and case study research on state efforts to reach consen-
sus. Some conclusions relate to the importance of state political leadership that is strong in its support of standards-based reform, yet flexible enough to make needed modifications as technical and political problems arise.14 But for our purposes, two other inferences are perhaps more important. First, consensus about the specific content of standards and assessment is proving much more difficult to reach than reform advocates had initially assumed. Moving from a widespread belief in the idea of standards to the detail of what should be taught and tested is a challenging task, not only because it touches on deeply held religious, cultural, and political values, but also because it tests competing beliefs about what the purpose of education should be. The prominent role of societal values in reaching a consensus leads to the second inference: the development of new curriculum standards and assessments is likely to encounter problems if it is solely a technical process with participation limited to experts. The contrasting experiences of Vermont, with its more open, participatory approach to standards development, and California, where curriculum and assessment design was confined to teachers and other experts, suggest how critical the nature of the standards development process is to whether or not the consensus assumed in standards-based reform can be reached (Goertz et al., 1995; McDonnell, 1997).
Student Performance Can Be Measured Validly and Reliably
If students are to be held to a certain performance level on a set of curriculum standards, then they have to be assessed in a way that is cost-efficient and comparable across large numbers of students. Historically, these two criteria have led states and local districts to rely on standardized, multiple-choice tests because they offer a variety of practical and measurement advantages. They can be administered and scored at relatively little cost in time and money. They eliminate subjectivity of scoring—a concern that initially contributed to their development and popularity. Because of the short time required to administer each item, these tests can be sufficiently long to be acceptably reliable and to cover a wide range of content. The validity of inferences based on many of these tests was bolstered by attention to content coverage, the performance of individual items (e.g., their discriminating power and freedom from bias), the quality of reporting scales, and other factors. Now, although policy makers and testing experts disagree about the difficulty of designing assessments that measure more rigorous curriculum standards, they do agree that traditional multiple-choice tests alone are inadequate (McDonnell, 1994; Taylor, 1994).
But the move to alternative forms of testing that are based on a precise set of standards and parallel real-world tasks presents a number of technical challenges, which are discussed in greater detail in Chapter 5.15 In contrast to multiple-choice items that require only a few minutes or less for students to answer, some performance tasks may take 30 minutes or even an hour to complete. As a result, unless the testing time is greatly increased, it is difficult to test the entire domain of what students are expected to know (Linn, 1993). Furthermore, alternative assessments cannot be machine-scored in the way that multiple-choice tests are. As a result, cost and reliability become more of a challenge as expert scorers must be trained and monitored to apply the same set of scoring rubrics across thousands of individual assessments. Although acknowledging these technical challenges, policy makers have continued to believe that they can be overcome. Officials in a number of states have chosen to move ahead before public and media attention shift and the opportunity for significant change is lost (McDonnell, 1994). The metaphor governing assessment design in the most innovative states has been "building the airplane while we fly it."
Instruction Consistent with the Standards Can Be Implemented in Individual Schools and Classrooms
Curriculum reformers and their allies in the policy community assume that content standards, coupled with the appropriate assessments, will change classroom instruction. Although the accountability purposes of student testing remain prominent, assessments are also now intended to serve as powerful forces for curricular change. Despite this strong expectation that classroom teaching consistent with standards and assessment policies will occur, reform advocates also assume that content standards will serve only as a general guide to instruction, and that teachers will use their professional judgment in customizing the standards to their individual classrooms. Yet some of the content represented in the new standards differs significantly from what is traditionally covered in most courses.
In addition, as Chapter 4 explains, many of these standards embody assumptions about pedagogy as well as content, and many of the accompanying assessments are geared toward instruction that emphasizes student writing, learning by discovery, and collaborative student work. However, schooling in the United States has traditionally been characterized by teacher-directed instruction that relies on only a few strategies such as teacher lecture, boardwork, and students working individually on assignments (e.g., see Oakes, 1985; Gamoran and Nystrand, 1991; Burstein et al., 1995). Despite this persistent and enduring pattern of instruction, the standards movement assumes that teachers will accept
Chapter 5 also analyzes the assumption of the standards policy framework that performance on content standards can be measured reliably and validly, with particular attention to its implications for students with disabilities.
different content and pedagogical approaches as preferable to current practice, and that they will have the ability to make the necessary changes.
Because most studies of the impact of the standards movement on classroom teaching are still ongoing, we do not yet know whether standards-based reform can be successfully implemented in the way that its proponents assume. However, several studies provide insight into two of the major challenges involved. The first is translating curriculum standards into classroom practice. For example, teachers in California and Kentucky have found themselves in somewhat of a bind. On one hand, state officials formulated curriculum and performance standards on which students will be assessed. On the other hand, they have avoided specifying too detailed or prescriptive a curriculum in order to defer to teachers' professional judgments about how best to customize instruction to their own students. Although teachers may appreciate having their professional statu status acknowledged, this strategy has often left them with little direction. Further complicating the problem is that instructional materials reflecting the new standards are not yet widely available, and teachers have been left to patch together ne materials from a variety of different sources.
A second problem is that the new curriculum standards expect teachers to teach very different content from that of the past and to teach it in fundamentally different ways. As Cohen and Peterson (1990:233) ask in their study of the implementation of the California mathematics frameworks, "How can teachers teach a mathematics that they never learned in ways they never experienced?" These researchers and their colleagues studied a group of elementary teachers, some of whom have embraced the mathematics frameworks and believe that they have revolutionized their teaching. However, classroom observations indicated that teaching innovations were often filtered through a very traditional approach o instruction, so that the new curriculum was used "in a way that conveyed a sense of mathematics as a fixed body of right answers, rather than as a field of inquiry in which people figure out quantitative relations" (p. 313).16
Although most studies of the effect of new standards and assessments on classroom teaching and learning are still limited, the few available do suggest that teachers are making changes, but that those changes are not yet as deep or extensive as reformers expect.
Surveys of educators in two states implementing standards-based reforms indicate that, although teachers express reservations about some aspects of standards and assessment policies, the majority support the reform concept and report that these policies have changed their instruction. In their 1995 statewide survey of Maryland principals and teachers in two of the three grades in which the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program (MSPAP) is administered, Koretz and his colleagues (1996a) found that 81 percent of the principals believe it has been a useful tool for encouraging positive change among teachers resistant to modifying their instruction. The overwhelming majority of fifth-grade teachers (83 percent) and eighth-grade mathematics teachers (63 percent) in the sample reported that MSPAP has had positive effects on instruction in their schools; about half believe that it has caused some teachers who are resistant to change to alter their instruction. A total of 55 percent of the fifth-grade teachers and 33 percent of the eighth-grade mathematics teachers reported focusing ''a great deal" on improving the consistency between their instructional content and the MSPAP Other examples of reported changes in instruction include more instructional time devoted to writing by the fifth-grade teachers, with a greater proportion of that time spent on writing for a variety of purposes, analysis of text, and literary comprehension and less emphasis on spelling, punctuation, and grammar. The eighth-grade teachers reported an increased emphasis on data analysis, communication of mathematical ideas, and problem solving, with decreased attention to computation and algorithms.
The second study surveyed Kentucky principals and teachers from two of the grade levels tested by the Kentucky Instructional Results Information System—KIRIS (fourth-grade and eighth-grade mathematics), and it presents a similar picture of educators' responses. Koretz and his colleagues (1996b) found that close to 90 percent of the Kentucky teachers reported focusing "a moderate amount" or "a great deal" of attention on improving the match between the content of their instruction and what is tested on KIRIS. The specific curricular changes that they reported parallel those of the Maryland teachers—e.g., more classroom time spent on writing and a greater emphasis on communicating mathematical ideas and solutions and less attention to computation. 17
But as a number of researchers have found (e.g., Cohen and Peterson, 1990; Spillane et al., 1995; Burstein et al., 1995), there is often a substantial gap between what teachers report they are doing in response to new policy initiatives and what researchers find when they analyze their classrooms. These classroom studies, however, are typically based on either observational data or a content analysis of class assignments collected from a small sample of teachers. Consequently, they are less generalizable than teacher surveys based on state-representative samples, but they can enhance our understanding of the lag between teachers' acceptance of the language of reform and translation of it into instructional practice. A recent content analysis of approximately 35 classroom assignments from each of 24 teachers in Kentucky and 24 in North Carolina illustrates the type of responses to standards-based reform that can be expected from teachers in the first few years of implementation. McDonnell and Choisser (1997) found that teachers' assignments are reasonably consistent with state standards in the types of classroom activities they use, but not in the concepts they stress. In their assignments and classroom activities, teachers are using some strategies associated with standards reforms, such as encouraging active student participation and inquiry through group work, but they are also relying in equal measure on more traditional activities, such as whole-class instruction and review. In both state samples, teachers have combined the old and the new, adding those aspects of reform that make sense to them, while still relying on the traditional strategies with which they are most comfortable and that they believe have been effective in the past.
Teachers' willingness to use instructional strategies consistent with standards-based reform is not matched by equal attention to the concepts embodied in the two states' standards. For example, the Kentucky teachers included in only a few of their assignments the state learning goals that stress thinking critically, developing solutions to complex problems, and organizing information to understand concepts. Similarly, low-end content standards such as understanding computational procedures and reading comprehension were more likely to be reflected in assignments than complex standards such as understanding space and dimensionality and using reference tools appropriately. Teachers were also asked to select from among their assignments those that they consider to be most similar to the state assessments in purpose and format. Only 32 percent of the North Carolina "most similar" assignments and 53 percent of the Kentucky ones were judged by coders to be similar. Teachers' misjudgment about the similarity of their assignments typically stemmed from their not recognizing the full complexity of the skills being measured on the state assessment. 18 Since these assign-
ments represent teachers' own judgments about which aspects of their teaching most closely mirror the purpose, content, and format of the state assessments, it seems reasonable to assume that these teachers lack adequate information about the objectives of the state standards and assessments.19
Although past research on the implementation of curricular reforms would suggest that these findings are not surprising, it should be noted that, in some sense, Kentucky may be a best possible case. The reforms in Kentucky are quite far-reaching and much has been expected of teachers there, and the state has provided far more in resources for teacher training than is typically the case School districts have been allowed to use up to nine days a year for professional development; in addition, $400 per teacher was allocated for professional development, with 65 percent of that sum under the control of the local school site. Even this substantial resource commitment has been insufficient. In eight focus groups of teachers conducted around the state by the Appalachia Educational Laboratory (1995), teachers reported that training opportunities for curriculum development and alignment are limited and the quality mixed. They also indicated that they were uncomfortable developing curriculum at the local level and aligning it with the state standards because they were accustomed to its being done by textbooks. In addition, the teachers in the focus groups reported needing much greater guidance about how to apply the state's academic expectations to specific grade levels.
Whether the type of instruction that reformers advocate can actually be implemented in most classrooms remains unknown at this time. However, before any significant progress can be made, investments in capacity-building will need t be increased substantially.
Standards Reform is One Component of a Broader Strategy for School Improvement
Standards-based reform is often viewed as one element of what has come to be known as systemic reform (Smith and O'Day, 1991). This strategy advocates a unifying vision based on educational goals that are consistent at the national, state, and local levels, as well as a coherent system of state policy guidance based on a set of curriculum standards that inform related policies dealing with teacher training and licensure, curricular materials, and student assessment. In addition, systemic reform also assumes that governance changes will simultaneously promote clearer state guidance and support along with greater school-site autonomy, thus giving teachers more of a role in deciding how best to tailor the curriculum to individual student needs.
Goals 2000 strongly encourages a systemic approach to reform in legislative language detailing what should be included in state improvement plans. States are encouraged to describe the process they will use to align curricular materials with state content standards, provide professional development to teachers, ensure that decisions about meeting content standards are made closest to individual learners, encourage parental participation, and increase student access to needed social services. Although a number of states have adopted some of the individual elements included in systemic reform, only one, Kentucky, has implemented a comprehensive policy that includes all the major components.20 Nevertheless, there remains a widespread assumption that standards and assessment policies will be linked (at least informally) to policies that decentralize more authority over funds, curriculum, and personnel to individual schools and that enhance teachers' professional skills.
We leave this examination of the standards policy framework with many unanswered questions. It is clear that standards-based reform is still viewed by many—including national and state political leaders, influential groups such as The Business Roundtable, and the public—as a promising strategy for effecting improved student achievement. However, standards-based reform poses serious challenges for which there are no obvious or easy solutions. It attempts to influence teaching and learning, even though research has demonstrated the limited ability of top-down policy to change classroom practice. In addition, standards-based reform seeks to minimize direct regulation by giving teachers and other education professionals discretion in how they translate curriculum standards into practice. Yet with its strong emphasis on both accountability and a particular instructional approach, standards-based reform expects teachers to produce better results from their teaching, often with little guidance about how to surmount the practical difficulties associated with such a transformation. Standards-based reform also rests on a set of assumptions that have not yet been proven true in practice, and the political and technical challenges facing implementers are formidable. None is perhaps more demanding than demonstrating that all children can indeed learn to high standards.
For students with disabilities, one obvious question is whether the special education policies that have been designed to ensure an appropriate education can aid in integrating these students into a standards-based curriculum. We turn to that question now by examining the special education policy framework and its implications for the standards movement. In doing so, we compare federal and state laws that start with premises different from most standards policies. Whereas the standards framework emphasizes common benchmarks for all students and public accountability for their attainment, the special education framework focuses on the individual student and the educational services most appropriate for his or her particular needs. As such, it not only creates very different incentives for schools in deciding how to serve such students, but it also forces them to balance diverse learning goals in an environment of constrained resources.
Federal statutes and regulations, along with judicial interpretations of the constitutional due process and equal protection clauses, have played a preeminent role in the education of students with disabilities for the past 25 years. These federal policies are mirrored in state law and regulations and in many state court decisions, some of which expand the protections afforded individuals with disabilities beyond those offered in the federal laws.
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is the primary federal law providing funding and policy guidance for the education of students with disabilities; its major policy goals have remained constant since the IDEA's predecessor, Public Law 94–142, was enacted in 1975. The IDEA is basically a grants program that provides funds to states to serve students with disabilities in need of special education on the condition that the states ensure an appropriate education for them. The IDEA is also a civil rights law extending the constitutional right to equality of educational opportunity to students with disabilities needing special education. The law sets out three basic requirements with which states and local districts must comply:
All children with disabilities and in need of special education must be provided a free, appropriate public education.
Each child's education must be determined on an individualized basis and designed to meet his or her unique needs in the least restrictive environment.
The rights of children and their families must be ensured and protected through procedural safeguards.
The primary mechanism for ensuring that the educational objectives of the IDEA are met is the individualized education program (IEP) that must be prepared for each child identified as having a disability and in need of special education. The IEP is a written statement that describes the child's current level of educational performance, the annual goals and short-term objectives that have been established for him or her, the specific educational and related support services to be provided, and procedures for evaluating progress on the stated goals and objectives.
The IDEA is the second-largest federal program supporting elementary and secondary education and currently provides about $2.3 billion a year to help fund the extra costs associated with educating students with disabilities. When Public Law 94–142 was passed, the initial funding to states was 5 percent of the estimated excess costs of special education. The legislation authorized the phasing in of additional support, with the goal that the federal government would fund 40 percent of the average excess costs of special education by 1981. That objective has never been met. At its highest level, in 1979, the federal appropriation reached 12.5 percent of the excess costs. Currently, federal aid provides about 7 percent of the excess cost, with states and localities responsible for the remainder (Box 2-1).
The centerpiece of the law is Part B, which authorizes the grants to states and outlines the requirements that states and districts must meet as a condition of funding. Part B is permanently authorized. However, other sections of the IDEA, which authorize funding for various discretionary grant programs, expire every 3 to 5 years.
Although the IDEA is both a civil rights statute and an education statute, the line between the two aspects is blurred. As one commentator has suggested, its legislative history shows that Congress clearly intended not to choose between these two goals and purposely left to state and local officials the responsibility for defining an appropriate education and deciding various policy issues, such as the resource trade-offs between groups in meeting excellence and equity goals. Furthermore, Congress purposely left resolution of these matters to evolve over time rather than setting specific national educational priorities (Yudof, 1984). The advent of standards-based education reform is a prime opportunity for testing how the excellence and equity goals for students with disabilities that were sought by Congress have evolved over time.
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
Because the IDEA is essentially a federal grants program, state participation is voluntary and the act's requirements are imposed on states and local districts only if they choose to accept the funding. All states are currently accepting IDEA funding. However, even in its absence, school districts would still have a legal obligation to serve students with disabilities because of two federal civil rights
BOX 2-1 Special Education Costs and Financing
The exact amount spent on the education of students with disabilities is unknown. The federal government no longer requires states to report the statewide cost of their special education programs, and many states do not collect this information. The most recent national study of the cost of special education found that the expenditure for the average special education student is 2.3 times that of the average general education student, but this study is based on 10-year-old data (Moore et al., 1988). Using this cost ratio, the Center for Special Education Finance has estimated that the marginal cost of special education was $32.3 billion for the 1993–94 school year, about 14 percent of total education spending in that year (Parrish, 1996).
The lack of precise information about special education costs has meant that public perceptions of these costs vary considerably. Recent articles in the education and popular press have described the growing proportion of local district budgets spent on special education, often focusing on the small group of special education students who are the most expensive to educate or who attend private special education schools at public expense (e.g., Toch, 1995; Schnaiberg, 1995a; Stanfield, 1995). Such articles have generated calls for greater attention to these costs and for financing methods that are less burdensome on local districts. At the same time, however, national public opinion data indicate that the overwhelming majority of the American public does not know how much special education services cost or what proportion of students receive them. Only 7 percent estimated that the average special education student costs at least twice as much as the average general education student; 75 percent assumed the differential to be much lower; and 44 percent assumed that over 20 percent of all students are receiving these services (Elam et al., 1996). So, although special education costs continue to be a factor in policy debates and local district resource decisions, they are typically not informed by current, accurate data.
Although it is difficult to document levels of and trends in spending on programs for students with disabilities, two recent studies of a small number of school districts and one state suggest that special education expenditures have grown more rapidly than those for general education. Both studies, which examined the allocation of spending increases, found that 38 percent of new education dollars spent in the 1970s and 1980s
were allocated to special education (Lankford and Wyckoff, 1995; Rothstein and Miles, 1995). However, a decomposition of changes in special education expenditures in one of the studies shows that most of this growth was attributable to increases in special education enrollments. Although enrollment growth accounted for most of the cost increase, changes in the composition of special education enrollments over time in New York also drove changes in the cost of that state's program (Lankford and Wyckoff, 1996). Parrish (1996) estimates that, even when adjusted for changes in enrollment, special education costs have risen 20 to 100 times faster than costs for the general education student. Regardless of the reasons for increased special education costs, when budgets were tight in New York in the early 1990s, spending on students with disabilities absorbed most of the few new dollars available to local school districts (Lankford and Wyckoff, 1995).
The categorical nature of much special needs funding is another issue in special education financing. Historically, state and federal funds for special needs students—students with disabilities, students who are economically or educationally disadvantaged, and students with limited English proficiency—have come with conditions attached to ensure fiscal and programmatic accountability. For example, school districts must ensure that special needs funds supplement and do not supplant general operating funds and that they are used for special education services and students. These fiscal accountability rules have served as an incentive for schools and districts to segregate special education services and students to maintain a clear audit trail (Moore et al., 1983; Knapp et al., 1983), and they appear to limit local program flexibility. In addition, many researchers and policy makers have argued that the structure of federal and state special education funding formulas creates an incentive for school districts to place students in more, rather than less, restrictive placements. Research on the actual impact of state funding formulas on special education services is limited and reports mixed results (e.g., Hasazi et al., 1994, cited in Parrish, 1995; Coleman et al., 1994; O'Reilly, 1996). Nevertheless, a few states have enacted census-based funding formulas, which allocate funds to local districts based on an assumed proportion of students with disabilities (e.g., 10 percent of total enrollment) rather than on the actual number of students identified as having disabilities and needing special education. This change is viewed as a way to discourage districts from over-identifying special education students.
statutes: Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1974 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
Section 504 prohibits discrimination, solely on the basis of disability, against otherwise qualified persons in federally assisted programs and activities. It applies to virtually all public schools, since the overwhelming majority receive some form of federal assistance. In the context of elementary and secondary education, the regulations implementing Section 504 require that local districts provide a free, appropriate public education to each school-age child, regardless of the nature or severity of the person's disability.
Although many of the steps taken to comply with the IDEA's requirement for a free and appropriate public education also meet some of the requirements under Section 504, Section 504 differs from the IDEA in four significant ways. First, Section 504 applies to any educational institution, public or private, that receives any type of federal funding, making its reach broader than that of the IDEA. Second, as a civil rights statute designed to ensure nondiscrimination and equality of opportunity, Section 504 requires that comparable educational benefits be provided to individuals with and without disabilities. Third, whereas the IDEA addresses individuals with disabilities who need special education, Section 504 defines and protects a broader category of these individuals, whether or not they require special education programs or related services. So, for example, elementary and secondary students requiring only special accommodations but not special education are covered by Section 504. Fourth, Section 504 requires the provision of reasonable accommodations for individuals with disabilities who are otherwise qualified to participate in an educational program or activity.
Americans with Disabilities Act
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) is a comprehensive federal civil rights statute that provides a "national mandate to end discrimination against individuals with disabilities in private-sector employment, all public services and public accommodations, transportation, and telecommunications" (Hardman et al., 1996:13). The ADA requires "reasonable accommodations," a term that has not yet been definitively interpreted by the courts. Perhaps the greatest impact of the ADA on the education of students with disabilities is the increasing availability of accommodations for persons in the private sector in employment, recreation, living arrangements, and mobility, thus necessitating a more comprehensive effort to prepare students for greater participation in community settings.
The ADA's Title II mirrors the nondiscrimination provisions of Section 504. It extends civil rights protections for otherwise qualified persons with disabilities to include services, programs, and activities provided by "public entities," which include state and local governments and their instrumentalities. Consequently, access to state and local programs must be provided irrespective of the receipt of
federal funding. Thus, even public schools not covered by other federal laws governing special education must comply with the ADA.
In addition to the federal laws governing the education of students with disabilities, all states and many local governments have enacted statutes and regulations designed to promote the rights of students with disabilities. Since states must have a plan to qualify for IDEA funds, all have enacted special education statutes that incorporate the major provisions of the IDEA. Some state laws, however, extend beyond the federal criteria for an appropriate education. Melnick (1994) notes, for example, that Massachusetts law refers to the "maximum possible development of handicapped children" and that New Jersey's statute establishes the principle that all students "be assured the fullest possible opportunity to develop their intellectual capacities" (p. 174). The First, Third, and Ninth U.S. Circuit Courts have all argued that the IDEA should be interpreted to include such state laws.
Because the U.S. Constitution does not create a fundamental right to education (San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez , 411 U.S. 1, 1973), the constitutions of all 50 states contain provisions setting forth each state's responsibilities for educating its citizens. Over the past 25 years, lawsuits have been brought in 27 states alleging that the state system for financing and operating public schools violates these constitutional mandates. Early cases focused solely on funding inequities, aiming to increase and more equitably distribute resources among local school districts. Some recent cases have gone further, challenging the substantive adequacy of state education support. These required state courts to assess the impact of state constitutional language specifying the parameters of an adequate education. In six states, a constitutionally adequate public education system has been defined as one that enables students to meet the broad educational outcomes anticipated by the relevant state constitutional provisions. In five others, the courts have held states to a less precise standard, but one that still requires the public schools to provide students with an education sufficient to allow them to function in society (McCusic, 1991; Underwood, 1995).21
The outcomes articulated in this subset of school finance cases are part of what constitutes an appropriate education in a particular state for the purposes of the IDEA's definition of free, appropriate public education. In Kentucky, for example, the state supreme court held that the Kentucky constitution, which requires that the legislature "provide for an efficient system of common schools throughout the state," means that "every child … must be provided with an equal opportunity to have an adequate education"; the court then went on to specify a
number of outcomes that could be expected for educated persons (Rose v. Council for Better Education, 790 S.W. 2d 186, 1989). In another state case that specifically assessed school finance issues affecting students with disabilities, the Alabama supreme court held that constitutionally adequate education for students with disabilities was the same as that for all children, in addition to whatever special education law required (Alabama Coalition for Equity v. Hunt, 19 IDELR 810; see also Opinion of the Justices of the Alabama Supreme Court no. 3, 624 So. 2d 107, 1993). These outcomes can also serve as a baseline against which the opportunities afforded children with disabilities may be compared for purposes of determining if the state meets the provisions for nondiscrimination required under the ADA and Section 504 (Ordover et al., 1996).
Rationale Behind the Special Education Policy Framework
Current policy frameworks for special education were initiated by an alliance of families and professionals working with individuals with disabilities and advocacy groups dedicated to disability rights. Special education policy in the United States over the past 25 years is a direct response to a history in which students with disabilities were either excluded entirely from educational opportunities or were often segregated in inadequate programs in inadequate facilities (Sarason and Doris, 1979; Minow, 1990). Current special education policy also reflects the evolving professional practices, knowledge base, and interests of educators and other professionals working with persons with disabilities.
As one commentator has noted, ''The history of special education has been a tale of exclusion—the exclusion of the handicapped from schools and the exclusion of their representatives from participation in educational policy making" (Tweedie, 1983:48). Even the advent of compulsory attendance laws in most states in the period between 1852 and the end of World War I allowed local school officials to routinely exempt from attendance requirements students who were deemed "uneducable" (Mayer, 1975; Lazerson, 1983). In addition to, or as a part of, compulsory attendance laws, many states maintained statutes that permitted the exclusion of certain types of educationally difficult children from school (Trudeau, 1971). Although a number of private schools were established in the nineteenth century for children with certain types of disabilities, particularly deaf and blind children, little public schooling was available for students with disabilities before 1900.
By the early twentieth century, public education programs for students with disabilities gradually began to be implemented. However, a 1972 report estimated that only 40 percent of all children with disabilities were being provided educational services (Weintraub et al., 1971), and congressional committees, during the debate leading to the passage of Public Law 94–, 142 concluded that more than half of the children with disabilities in the country were not receiving an education appropriate to their needs (Aleman, 1995).
The first goal for special education policy in the second half of this century has been access to education for all students with disabilities. Between 1966 and 1974, 38 states and the U.S. Congress passed statutes that began to address this goal. Access to education was expanded to embrace several key policy goals: "zero reject," the concept that every child with a disability is educable; the principle that, to the maximum extent appropriate, students with disabilities should be educated in the same settings and classrooms as their peers without disabilities; the provision of individually appropriate education for all students with disabilities; and the use of procedural safeguards to protect the rights of students with disabilities (Minow, 1990; Tweedie, 1983; Sarason and Doris, 1979; Butts et al., 1953).
The most significant early victories of the disability rights advocates occurred in two pieces of litigation: the 1971 case of Pennsylvania Association for Retarded Children (PARC) v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (334 F. Supp. 1257 E.D. Pa., 1971, 343 F. Supp. 279 E.D. Pa. 1972) and a 1972 case, Mills v. Board of Education of the District of Columbia (348 F. Supp. 866, 1972). The settlement agreement reached by the parties in the PARC case and the court decision in the Mills case served as models for many state legislatures and for Congress as they wrote new legislation to ensure equality of educational opportunity for children with disabilities. The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed that these state efforts and the IDEA were means to aid states in "complying with their constitutional obligations to provide public education for handicapped children" (Smith v. Robinson, 468 U.S. 992, at 1009, 1984).
Guiding Assumptions and Whether They Are Being Met
State and federal policies for the education of students with disabilities are based on a common set of assumptions that were first embodied in the legislative and judicial determinations of the early to mid-1970s. Here we describe the assumptions undergirding special education policy, assess available evidence about their current status, and consider the impact of standards-based reform on these assumptions.
All Students Can Learn
The most fundamental assumption of state and federal special education policy is that all students with disabilities can learn and that all, no matter the nature or severity of their disability, should be given access to an appropriate public education. Neither the federal nor any state statute has attempted to specify what children with disabilities could or should learn. Instead, an individual determination is to be made for each student, guided by the requirements of the IDEA.
One of the benchmarks for assessing whether the goal of education for all students with disabilities is being met is participation rates. In the 1992–93 school
year, almost 4.5 million children with disabilities were served by programs aided with IDEA funds (Aleman, 1995:35). As noted by the Congressional Research Service (Aleman, 1995:8), "wholesale numbers of children with disabilities are no longer being denied equal access to public education." There are, however, some areas for concern about the participation of students with disabilities in elementary and secondary education. For example, high school dropout rates are higher for students with disabilities than for those without (see Chapter 3). There are also concerns in many states, such as Massachusetts, that students with disabilities are increasingly denied access to education because of disciplinary exclusions from school through long-term suspensions and permanent expulsions (Aleman, 1995). There remain considerable disagreements over the quality of the services provided to groups of students and individuals.
No one disputes that access to educational services for students with disabilities has improved dramatically. To the extent that large numbers of students with disabilities were excluded from schooling entirely when the federal laws were first passed, the goal of greater inclusion of students with disabilities in elementary and secondary education programs began to be realized within the first decade of the statute's passage. However, concern over educational outcomes for students with disabilities began growing in the mid-1980s, with the publication of follow-up studies documenting high unemployment and social isolation among former special education students (Edgar et al., 1986; Hasazi et al., 1985; Mithaug et al., 1985). Studies such as the National Longitudinal Transition Study (Wagner et al., 1993; see Chapter 3 for further discussion) focused attention on the long-term outcomes of special education.
As a result, attention has shifted away from questions of access to ones about the quality of education received by students with disabilities (Aleman, 1995). Consistent with this focus, attention has also shifted to how students with disabilities have fared during their school careers and the extent to which they are included in assessment and accountability systems (McLaughlin and Warren, 1992; National Center on Educational Outcomes, 1992; Brauen et al., 1994). Similarly, attention has turned from a focus on the IEP as an instrument for documenting procedural compliance to the IEP as a vehicle for ensuring school district accountability for student outcomes.
Students with Disabilities Can Be Accurately Identified for Education Services
The provisions of the federal IDEA and Section 504 and the requirements of most state special education laws that require an individualized, appropriate education for students with disabilities rest on two key assumptions about student evaluation and identification. First, students are not eligible for coverage under the laws unless they have either been identified as "disabled" and in need of special education or, under Section 504, are either "disabled" or "regarded as
being disabled." Consequently, a process has to be undertaken to determine whether each individual is eligible for the procedural protections or services each law provides. Second, the laws require a process to evaluate each individual with a disability in order to identify the student's capabilities and needs and the appropriate programs and services. Whether the current technology for student identification is sufficient to meet these two assumptions is an issue worthy of further inquiry (see Chapter 3).
Under the IDEA and most state special education laws, a student is either eligible or not under the statute, a distinction that is somewhat at odds with current professional practice, which assumes more of a continuum of disability dimensions.
The federal regulations implementing the IDEA note that the statute applies only to students with learning problems based on a disability and not to students whose special needs stem from "environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage" (CFR, Title 34, Subtitle B, Chapter III, Section 300.7 [b]). These distinctions are not always easily made or even possible, given that such factors as prenatal nutrition and environmental pollution can lead to bona fide disabling conditions.
As we discuss in greater detail in Chapter 3, there is a great deal of variability from place to place in the criteria used to define disability and in the local implementing conditions for deciding who qualifies as having a disability. For some students with disabilities (e.g., those with physical or sensory disabilities), the criteria are clear. However, for those with disabilities, such as learning disabilities, mild mental retardation, and serious emotional disturbance, the criteria are much less clear and the implementation practices more variable. Furthermore, research on the extent to which students with mild forms of these disabilities can be distinguished reliably from other students variously called "low-achieving" and "educationally disadvantaged" is mixed (e.g., Lyon, 1996; Kavale et al., 1994). Consequently, decisions about which children have disabilities cannot be made reliably or consistently for some categories of disability. Furthermore, it is not clear that the current research base is adequate to allow such distinctions to be made. Although difficulties with eligibility policy and practice are widely acknowledged among special education researchers and practitioners, there is little consensus about solutions.
Besides a lack of consistent identification practices across schools, educators also face competing incentives in serving students who may have disabilities. For example, financial pressures on school districts and a lack of adequate federal and state support may make local officials reluctant to refer students for special education services even when they appear to meet relevant eligibility criteria. At the same time, some schools may view their special education program as a kind of organizational safety valve that allows inexperienced teachers to remove disruptive students from their classrooms, or that responds to the demands of vocal parents wanting additional assistance for their children. Consequently, they may
refer students for special education services when other remedies are more appropriate. Although none of these reasons is an adequate or even legitimate basis for deciding whether students are eligible for services, they represent the realities of local implementation. Educators' efforts to balance their responsibilities by simultaneously serving all students, interpreting applicable legal requirements for individual children, working within existing fiscal and organizational constraints, and responding to parental concerns may result in some students receiving services in one school and being ineligible for them in another.
Students with Disabilities are Entitled to an Appropriate Education
The IDEA rests on an assumption that the best way to achieve an appropriate education for students with disabilities is to design a program of education and related services through the IEP process. The process of teachers, other service providers, and parents working together to define an appropriate program and services is as important as the IEP document itself (Zettel, 1982). Consequently, parents and educators have come to rely on the IEP as the keystone of special education, and the IEP process and the resulting document have become integral parts of special education, irrespective of the legal mandate (S. Smith, 1990). The IEP process includes both substantive protections governing a student's educational program and procedural requirements fostering a parental role in educational planning and ensuring an independent review mechanism if irresolvable disputes arise between educators and the family over how or where to educate the student.
Research has documented several shortcomings of the IEP, particularly as an accountability tool. Persistent concerns relate to the lack of parental participation and the effectiveness of that participation (Harry et al., 1995; Singer and Butler, 1987; see Chapter 3); limited instructional usefulness (Giangreco et al., 1994; S. Smith, 1990); and a lack of connection to the general education curriculum and instruction (Giangreco et al., 1994; Pugach and Warger, 1993; Sands et al., 1995). These problems may be due not to flaws in the basic concept of individualized educational planning, but to logistical issues such as lack of time for development or excessive paperwork burdens.22 Similarly, the limited utility of many current IEPs may also be attributable to a lack of clarity about the curricular function of the IEP or confusion about the nature and extent of standards-based reform in educational decision making for students with disabilities. Some studies have indicated that teachers find that the IEP is not useful as a classroom pedagogical device (Smith and Brownell, 1995), although it was not really intended to be that.
The IEP requirement for individualization has also led to variability in the
implementation of the IDEA. Evaluation, placement, and programming decisions for students with disabilities are intended to be idiosyncratic. And, although bureaucratic efficiency promotes standardization, individualization and parental input exert counterpressures.
The state and federal courts have played a role in refining the IDEA's statutory and regulatory requirements for appropriate and individualized education for students with disabilities. Several cases are particularly important in the context of standards-based reform. The first case under the IDEA considered by the U.S. Supreme Court was Board of Education of Hendrick Hudson Central School District v. Rowley (458 U.S. 176, 1982). The case involved Amy Rowley, a deaf elementary school student with excellent lip-reading skills who performed above average educationally and advanced easily from grade to grade; the focus of the dispute was a conflict over the extent of related services required. The Supreme Court held that, in order to be "appropriate," the package of special education and related services provided to a child with disabilities must be designed in conformity with the IDEA's procedural requirements and must be reasonably calculated to enable her to receive educational benefits. The Court also held that, to assess appropriateness of education (458 U.S. at 188-89, emphasis added):
Almost as a checklist for adequacy under the Act, the definition requires that such [specially designed] instruction and services be provided at public expense and under public supervision, meet the State's educational standards, approximate the grade levels used in the State's regular education, and comport with the child's IEP…. Thus, if personalized instruction is being provided with sufficient support services to permit the child to benefit from instruction, and the other items on the definitional checklist are satisfied, the child is receiving a "free appropriate education" as defined by the Act.
The Court expressly declined to establish any one test for appropriateness, but since Amy Rowley was receiving substantial special services and was performing above average in a regular classroom, it limited its analysis to that situation and concluded that she was receiving an appropriate education.
The Rowley case received considerable attention, but it was in many ways a poor case to guide educators and judges in future disputes since it involved a student who, despite her parent's requests for more special education services, was doing quite well. However, for several years the case was the only Supreme Court precedent to provide guidance in interpreting and applying the IDEA.
When lower courts have applied the Rowley test to the facts in individual cases, they have had no difficulty judging the procedural due process portion of the test. The issue of what constitutes a beneficial education has been more difficult, but the lower courts have followed the Supreme Court standard and have not substituted their judgment for that of educators on pedagogical or methodological questions; school districts have generally been successful in court if they could demonstrate that they made an earnest attempt to do all they could for a student (Broadwell and Walden, 1988).
The biggest problem for parents, educators, hearing officers, and judges trying to implement the Rowley standards is that the case was simply unclear on how to deal with much more difficult issues, such as the meaning of the IDEA's requirement for education in the least restrictive environment, access to year-round schooling, and the provision of services to students who, unlike Amy Rowley, were not in general education and performing above average compared with their peers.
Initially, lower courts reacted in most cases to Rowley by holding that the IEP, and the educational programs called for in the IEP, were appropriate if they resulted in at least some educational benefit for the student, even if the benefit was minimal (Osborne, 1996). Eventually, the lower courts began to expand their interpretations of the "educational benefit" criteria, as did the U.S. Supreme Court in a subsequent decision (Irving Independent School District v. Tatro, 468 U.S. 883, 1984, relying heavily on an equality of opportunity approach in giving a broad definition to the term related services ; see Wegner, 1985; Gallegos, 1989). However, all the federal courts were uniform in determining that maximization of educational benefit for a student with disabilities was not required unless this higher standard of service had been adopted by a state legislature (Osborne, 1996; Rothstein, 1990; Strope and Broadwell, 1990; Wegner, 1985).
Some commentators have asserted that the lower federal courts have not been uniform in following the Rowley standard (Neal and Kirp, 1985; Wegner, 1985; Melnick, 1994; Weber, 1990). Others have argued that the courts have utilized the Rowley standard and applied it to the disputes about individualized appropriateness before them (Broadwell and Walden, 1988; Gallegos, 1989; Rothstein, 1990; Strope and Broadwell, 1990; Turnbull, 1993; Osborne, 1996). At least one prominent commentator, assessing the impact of the post-Rowley cases, has noted that the lower courts have widely applied the essence of that decision, the standard of requiring that a student be provided educational benefit, but not a benefit that would maximize the student's potential. These courts apply the educational benefit standard on a case-by-case basis, with the student's present placement, diagnosis, disability, and capability all taken into account to make an individualized determination of what is appropriate for the student. In the inevitable determinations that courts must make in choosing between at least two different proposed placements or programs, the courts have tended to follow a "balancing of benefits" approach. In this approach, the courts consider the student's capability to make educational progress; appropriate education and educational benefits requirements are met whenever one placement is likely to result in higher outcomes for a student than another and the program uses appropriate curricula to meet the student's needs. Only a minority of cases, most of them less recent, reject the balancing of benefits approach (Turnbull, 1993).
Despite some disagreement among commentators on the impact of the Rowley decision on the lower courts, a legal analysis prepared for the committee indicates that the Rowley criteria provide clear guidance for defining an appropri-
ate education for students with disabilities under standards-based reform. Under the Rowley standards, an appropriate education should include elementary and secondary education as defined by state standards and should be designed to provide educational benefit. In a standards-based system, then, a free and appropriate education includes the special education and related services necessary to allow students to attain the outcomes set forth for them, as well as any programming needed to address their supplemental, individualized educational needs (Ordover et al., 1996).
Students with Disabilities Should Be Educated in the Least Restrictive Educational Environment
In addition to decreasing the number of students with disabilities who are excluded from education, federal laws also sought to ensure that, whenever possible, participation in special education classes would be reduced in favor of placement in the regular classroom (Benveniste, 1986). The requirement for educating students with disabilities in the least restrictive environment is rooted in the belief that the approach will remove stigma from these students, enhance and normalize their social status (e.g., Nirge, 1970; Wolfensberger, 1970), facilitate modeling of appropriate behavior, provide a richer educational environment, be more flexible and cost-effective, and enhance broader public acceptance of people with disabilities (Weatherley, 1979; Minow, 1990).
The issue of what constitutes education in the least restrictive environment is one of the more controversial issues currently confronting special education, particularly among educators, some parents, and more than a few public officials. State and federal statutes specify that, in determining what constitutes the least restrictive environment, the IEP team is to begin with the general education classroom and consider which supports or accommodations can be made; only after determining that this environment would not afford appropriate education should more restrictive placements be considered. School districts must maintain or make available a continuum of placements, including special classrooms, schools, and even residential or other instruction. Students with disabilities should be removed from general settings only to the extent essential to meet their individual needs.
Many students with disabilities are currently being educated in general education classrooms for a large part of their school day. Recent data indicate that more than 70 percent of students with disabilities spend at least 40 percent of the school day in the regular classroom (U.S. Department of Education, 1996a; see also Chapter 3). The issue of least restrictive environment for these students is not whether they can access the general education classroom, but whether appropriate types and levels of support will be provided entirely in the general education classroom or partially in a specialized environment such as a resource room, pullout program, special classroom, or separate school. In the past 10 years, there
have been many calls to include students with disabilities more fully in general education (Will, 1986; Gartner and Lipsky, 1987; Stainback and Stainback, 1984; Wang et al., 1986).
Nevertheless, some parents and advocates, as well as students themselves, view separate and specialized support services as necessary for students with disabilities to meet the demands of the general education curriculum or to attain adequate levels of essential skills. They maintain that a continuum of placement options should be available, and one should be selected only after educational appropriateness is determined (Bateman, 1994; Learning Disabilities Association of America, 1993; Kauffman and Lloyd, 1995). The educational goals defined for many students with disabilities include increased academic competence and emotional well-being or positive social behaviors. Since research has yet to demonstrate that these important outcomes can always be obtained in general education classrooms (e.g., Fuchs et al., 1993; Jenkins et al., 1991), the resulting tension between those advocating inclusion and those wanting to maintain a continuum of placements is strong (Fuchs and Fuchs, 1994; Kauffman and Hallahan, 1993; Shanker, 1994).
From the perspective of standards-based reform, however, the issue is not where students with disabilities receive their education, but whether they have access to a challenging curriculum and high-quality instruction consistent with state and local standards. Most disability advocates seek the participation of students with disabilities in key reform initiatives, such as high common standards, large-scale assessments, and curricular reforms, regardless of what stance they take on the general inclusion issue. These advocates endorse higher standards and higher expectations for all students and seek to give students access to a broad and balanced curriculum.
Generally, the courts have held that the least restrictive environment mandate is secondary to provision of an appropriate program and services, and that both program and placement decisions should be individualized. Thus, the degree of integration into general education is intertwined with determinations of what the educational goals should be and whether specialized services can be effectively provided in general education environments. A number of recent law-suits have focused on the standards and criteria for assessing whether the least restrictive environment requirement has been met for a particular child (e.g., Board of Education, Sacramento City Unified School District v. Holland, 14 F. 3d 1398, 9th Cir. 1994; Oberti v. Board of Education of Borough of Clementon , 995 F. 2d 1204, 3rd Cir. 1993; Daniel R.R. v. State Board of Education , 874 F. 2d 1036 [5th Cir. 1984]). These cases support the right to full participation of students with disabilities in the general education environment.
Another related issue of increasing concern is the large number of students with disabilities who are exempted from local and statewide accountability systems used to evaluate school and district effectiveness in helping students meet desired educational outcomes (Brauen et al., 1994). These systems employ a
variety of accountability measures related to student participation (e.g., attendance, promotion/retention, suspension/expulsion, and graduation) and student performance (e.g., attainment of minimum competency or common standards). Excluding large numbers of students with disabilities from these systems has resulted in a lack of accountability for the success of their educational programs.
In conjunction with the requirement for the least restrictive environment, the IDEA's definition of an appropriate education requires that the goals and content of specially designed instruction and related services be designed with reference to public education, as defined by state law and practice. The IDEA and its implementing regulations require states and local school systems to adopt and implement a goal of providing "full educational opportunity" to all children with disabilities (20 U.S.C. 1412[a], 1414[a][c]; 34 C.F.R. 300.304). When states adopt content and student performance standards and aligned curricula, these define "an appropriate … elementary or secondary education in the State involved," pursuant to the IDEA requirements.
Accommodations Should Be Provided
In order to afford students with disabilities a fair and even playing field, the laws specify that accommodations in educational services should take into account students' needs stemming from their disabilities. These accommodations, however, must be reasonable and are required only for students who are otherwise qualified to participate in an educational program or activity. Courts have held that the provisions of Section 504 do not require states or schools to alter the content of a minimum competency test used to award high school diplomas, in that a substantial modification would unreasonably alter the graduation requirement, but they do require the implementation of IEPs that facilitate successful participation by students with disabilities (Brookhart v. Illinois State Board of Education, 697 F. 2d; see also Board of Education of Northport-East Northport Union Free School District v. Ambach, 60 N.Y. 2d 758).
Although states or school districts using assessments for high-stakes purposes, such as the awarding of high school diplomas, are not required to modify the educational content they measure, they can be required to provide accommodations in administering a test or assessment. For example, the Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education has required, under Section 504, that Hawaii provide a reader for a student with a learning disability during a high school graduation examination, as it has provided readers for blind students. It ruled that the state discriminated against the student in violation of Section 504 because it failed to provide him adjustments necessary to offer him an equal opportunity to pass the test; the Office for Civil Rights noted that "equal opportunity to obtain the same result" on the test, required under Section 504 regulations, necessitates that the tests be administered so as to measure the student's proficiency in the subject tested, rather than his or her unrelated disability.
Parental Participation Should Be Encouraged Consistent with Procedural Protections
Parental involvement in the education of children with disabilities is a key principle of the IDEA. The legislation gives parents many procedural rights, responsibilities, and opportunities to shape the education of their children with disabilities. Both the state and federal laws include procedural protections for families during the special education evaluation and placement processes to ensure a mechanism for family participation in decision making and for impartial review of disputes that may arise between a family and educators about the education of a student with a disability. As the U.S. Supreme Court noted in the Rowley case, educators' compliance with procedural protections is a crucial element for ensuring that the appropriateness requirements of the IDEA are met.
The IDEA requires parents to be notified before their child is evaluated for special education services and requires their consent prior to an initial evaluation for placement in a special education program. Parents have the right to participate in planning their children's instructional program, to review educational records, and to obtain independent educational evaluations. They also have the right to receive prior written notice of significant school decisions and to file a complaint regarding decisions or actions with which they disagree. Parents are entitled to have an administrative due process hearing on all such complaints and to file a lawsuit if they do not prevail (Ordover et al., 1996:109).
Many special educators believe the parents' role in developing the educational program, particularly the IEP, is the cornerstone of parental involvement in special education. The IEP creates opportunities for parents and professionals to develop individualized approaches for every student's education, including setting long-term goals and short-term objectives, specifying evaluation measures, determining the related services to be provided and accommodations required, and deciding on student placement and involvement in the general curriculum.
The IDEA parental provisions have multiple objectives. First, the law recognizes and seeks to reinforce the positive effects that parents can have on learning and school success for children with disabilities, just as all parents can do for their children. (See Chapter 3 for further discussion of parental involvement and the educational experiences of children with disabilities.) Second, the IDEA acknowledges the critical caretaking responsibilities, support functions, and strong concerns about their children's futures assumed by parents of children with disabilities. Third, the legislation recognizes that parents, above all others, have a deep, abiding interest in the quality of their children's education and their general well-being; therefore, the law places the major burden of enforcement and accountability on parents.
This advocacy role for parents is the culmination of an evolutionary process. Public Law 94–142 broke new ground in 1975 by granting active decision-making rights to parents of children with disabilities. In doing so, Congress accepted
the basic premise that public schools may not always, of their own accord, provide an appropriate education for children with disabilities and may need prodding from parents, who have the strongest incentives to ensure that their children receive the services and rights to which they are entitled. No longer were parents expected to be passive recipients of professional decisions about their children, but instead they were to become decision makers and monitors of their children's education (Turnbull and Turnbull, in press).
One of the most significant factors in the implementation of state and federal special education policy is that the burden of enforcement largely rests on parents and advocacy groups. Yet parents have generally been reluctant to pursue procedural protections (Weatherley, 1979; Engel, 1991). With a few exceptions when advocacy groups have become involved, most of those who have pursued procedural remedies have been more affluent families.
Standards-based reform may trigger disagreements between individual parents and educators about appropriate IEP goals and objectives, the content of instruction, and the use of alternate performance standards or assessments. Some parents may also invoke their procedural rights when such disputes arise—whether through participation on the IEP team or the filing of a complaint. Parents invoking these rights will do so within the substantive framework of the child's right to receive a free, appropriate public education as defined by the IDEA, with maximum appropriate integration with nondisabled peers.
The use of procedural protections to ensure students with disabilities access to appropriate education has resulted in the ''legalization" of special education (Neal and Kirp, 1985; Yudof, 1984). By 1982, there had been nearly 300 federal and state court cases bearing on the meaning of Public Law 94-142, mostly concerning disputes over IEPs (Yudof, 1984). One study estimated that, during the 1980s, there were 342 reported federal cases and 99 reported state cases under the predecessor legislation to the IDEA (Zirkel and Richardson, 1989).
Although several commentators have decried what they perceive as a frightening increase in litigiousness on special education issues (Melnick, 1994; Zirkel and Richardson, 1989), the total number of administrative hearings and court cases seems quite small given the millions of students receiving special education under the IDEA and the detailed substantive and procedural protections built into this law. Concerns about the volume of hearings and court activity are also offset by the fact that the majority of the cases have been won by school districts (Kuriloff, 1985; Winnick, 1987). Several studies have indicated that parents win only a minority of the hearings; according to one study of four years of hearings in Pennsylvania, parents achieved some form of victory in only 35 percent of the hearings, a percentage paralleled in a Massachusetts study and in a nationwide survey of 42 states (Kuriloff, 1985).
A more pertinent question is what effect legalization has had on the daily activities of educators, the relationships between educators and families, and the educational opportunities of students with disabilities. Studies of the implemen-
tation of the 1972 Massachusetts legislation, one of the first state statutes designed to ensure the provision of equality of educational opportunity for students with disabilities and a prototype for Public Law 94-142, concluded that teachers and administrators incorporated the new legal requirements into their daily practice, in effect making new policies consistent with, and easily accommodated into, their existing practices and procedures (Weatherley and Lipsky, 1977; Weatherley, 1979; see also Wise, 1979).
However, the efforts of well-meaning educators to cope with the added demands of the new policy requirements when resources are limited has resulted in priorities that have often benefited the affluent and penalized the poor (Budoff and Orenstein, 1982; Weatherley, 1979; Singer and Butler, 1987; Neal and Kirp, 1985). It has been easier for educators to comply with the procedural rather than substantive components of IEP requirements (Smith and Brownell, 1995; see also Clune and Van Pelt, 1985; Neal and Kirp, 1985). The combination of detailed legal requirements and insufficient resources has forced local educators to ration resources, sometimes by "slotting" or mass processing students into categories for diagnosis and service to promote administrative efficiency and keep down the cost of services (Weatherley, 1979; Handler, 1986). In these situations, the IEP process often becomes one of political bargaining, with enormous pressures on parents to comply with educators' recommendations. The collective result is considerable momentum against the high level of individualization required by state and federal laws (Weatherley, 1979; Handler, 1986).
The two policy frameworks that define standards-based reform and the education of students with disabilities embody potentially compatible goals. However, before those ideals can be melded into effective classroom practice, two major barriers must be overcome.
First, the expectations of those advocating standards-based reforms currently exceed the limits of existing professional practice and expert knowledge. Standards-based reform assumes that rigorous curriculum content, conveyed through sophisticated pedagogy, can be provided to students with diverse needs and abilities by teachers of varied experience and training. Yet research on the implementation of past education reforms and the experience of early implementers of standards-based policies indicate that translating these initiatives into widespread practice will require considerably more time and a greater investment in professional training than many states have been willing to expend. Similarly, one of the key assumptions of standards-based reform is that student performance can be accurately measured by new forms of assessment that will serve as both credible accountability mechanisms and strong instructional guides. Yet the transition away from a sole reliance on multiple-choice assessments has posed a host of technical challenges. Considerable progress has been made in addressing those
problems, but technical solutions have come more slowly than the deadlines imposed by policy makers anxious to implement alternative assessments.
The professional and technical problems associated with standards-based reform are compounded when it is melded with special education. Some of these challenges, such as the curricular ones discussed in Chapter 4, stem partly from the historical separation between general and special education, each with its own research base and norms of professional practice. Other challenges are due to the different institutional arrangements that flow from the centrality of the IEP in special education and the emphasis on a common curriculum and public, aggregated forms of accountability in standards-based reform. Still other challenges flow from a lack of experience with the practices necessary for students with disabilities to participate in the standards movement. One example is the design of valid testing accommodations discussed in Chapter 5.
All these challenges are further complicated because they must be addressed within the rights-based framework of special education, which also has professional and technical limitations. For example, substantive decisions about the participation of students with disabilities in content standards must be made within an IEP process that has become increasingly routinized and procedural in its emphasis. Similarly, assessment accommodations for some students, such as those with cognitive disabilities, will be determined on the basis of a taxonomy of disability that lacks clear and objective identification criteria. Above all, standards-based reform brings into sharp focus the major challenge of special education: ensuring that students with disabilities have access to an appropriate education, with the particular content of that education specified not in law but individually through the IEP process. The challenge is to preserve the rights of individual students within the framework of common standards, with only general guidance from legal precedents and professional practices that have not yet been tested in the evolving context of standards policy.
Unfortunately, there are no quick or simple solutions to these professional and technical challenges. Most of them are likely to be solved or at least made more tractable over time. But progress will not occur without a continued investment in professional capacity-building and in clinical and psychometric research.
In its articulation of curricular standards and the design of new forms of assessment, the standards framework emphasizes the professional judgment of classroom teachers as well as that of subject-matter and testing experts. The special education framework has a set of legal entitlements at its core, but it too relies heavily on professional judgment to determine which educational services are appropriate to meet the needs of individual children. But politics, broadly defined, also shapes both policy frameworks, primarily through public values about what constitutes a good education, who is entitled to that education, and what kinds of resources should be devoted to it.
Consequently, the second barrier is a perceptual and political one that must also be overcome if students with disabilities are to participate in standards-based
reform. The broad range of people involved in the educational enterprise need to understand and to agree on what the phrase "all students can learn to high standards" really means. Survey data from teachers and the public suggest that, at a symbolic level, the idea is accepted. But there is considerably less agreement about its operational meaning—how the idea should be applied to individual students and implemented in classrooms, and what consequences should be imposed for nonattainment of the standards.
The thorny issues of defining and operationalizing "all students" and "high standards" constitute one dimension of the political challenges facing standards-based reform. Reaching consensus on what the specific standards should be—whether or not they are truly high or apply in the same way to all students—is an equally critical dimension. The events of the past few years have demonstrated that the schools remain a major focal point for debates over the cultural values that divide Americans. Yet by definition the standards movement rests on the notion of common standards reflecting what the broader community wants its children to know and be able to do. Debates over the purposes of public schooling are a healthy part of the democratic process if they do not disrupt or impede children's education. Consequently, ways must be found to have those debates while still seeking consensus.
One lesson that emerges quite clearly from the experience of the states that implemented standards reforms early is that the development of new curriculum standards and assessments cannot be solely a technical process with participation limited to experts. Decisions as significant as what knowledge is most important for students to learn and how they should be tested on their mastery of it require open, public deliberation. That participation can be organized in any number of ways, including state-level review committees, forums in local communities sponsored by the Parent-Teachers Association or the League of Women Voters, informal gatherings in people's homes, and op-ed exchanges in local newspapers and on radio and television programs. Widespread participation should be encouraged from those representing the general and special education communities, from those with school-age children and those without, and from supporters and opponents of standards-based reform.
Because deliberation depends on the primacy of talk, it requires time and the willingness of participants to be open to viewpoints different from their own.23
Such openness to new approaches may be especially difficult in special education, because the policy framework and professional practice are well established. Similarly, those outside special education have not really had to confront exactly what their exhortation for common standards really means for students with unique educational needs. Just as standards advocates have had to listen to and accommodate the preferences of those with different cultural values, so they must be open to students whose educational needs do not completely conform to their prior assumptions. Deliberation is difficult, but not to talk constructively across interests and communities is to mock the notion of common standards for public schools.
show that many changed their views on the interpretation of social and economic problems and on their preferences for government action. Participants' level of information about national issues increased and they reported feeling more politically efficacious. (Information about the National Issues Convention is available on the Internet at http://www1.pbs.org/nic_background.html. Results of the pre- and post-deliberative polls are available at http://www1.pbs.org/nic/poll_results.html.)