By Christina Samuels
Senate Republicans on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee are upset about the U.S. Department of Education’s recent decision to evaluate states’ special education systems based on the academic performance of students with disabilities.
“This is clear influence and coercion, if not direct control,” the GOP committee members wrote to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan in a letter dated Aug. 4. “It is troubling that the department made unilateral changes to the [Individuals with Disabilities Act] compliance framework without seeking legislative approval, disregarded congressional intent, and appears to have violated the clear letter of the law.”
In June, the department rolled out of a revised evaluation process. The 2004 reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, requires that states submit data to the Education Department about how students with disabilities are doing. But before this year’s annual report, states were only graded on what are called “compliance” indicators, such as whether students were evaluated for special education in the appropriate amount of time, or whether due process complaints were resolved in a timely fashion. Now, states are being checked on factors such as test scores from the National Assessment of Education Progress, or NAEP, and the gap between those scores and the scores of children in the general population, in addition to compliance.