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Special Education Subgroups Under NCLB: Issues to Consider


by Suzanne Eckes & Julie Swando — 2009

Background/Context: There are few empirical studies exploring the alleged conflict between the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Objective: The purpose of this study was to examine what impact the No Child Left Behind Act has had on students with disabilities.

Research Design: Specifically, using large data sets from three different states, this article examines how the students with disabilities subgroup has fared under the No Child Left Behind Act. Under NCLB, there are four different subgroups: race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, limited English proficiency, and students with disabilities. If any one of these subgroups fails to make adequate yearly progress (AYP) under NCLB, the entire school fails.

Findings: This study found that schools fail to make AYP most often because of the students with disabilities subgroup. The failure of the special education subgroup to make AYP occurs mainly because the students with disabilities subgroup is expected to maintain the exact same proficiency levels as their general education peers—a standard that has proved to be problematic because special education students often start out with lower average test scores than general education students. In addition, the students with disabilities subgroup is the only subgroup in which actual limitations on ability to learn might come into play. The existence of these limitations calls into question the wisdom of trying to close the general education–special education “achievement gap” at the same pace as the race- or class-based achievement gaps. In addition to quantitative methods, this study also used legal research techniques to examine the legal impact that the two laws are having on students with disabilities.

Conclusions: The study found that although judicial challenges may be one route to try to change the law, pressure at the state and local levels by educators and parents of students with disabilities working together with the U.S. Department of Education may have an impact as well.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 111 Number 11, 2009, p. 2479-2504
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 15437, Date Accessed: 10/23/2017 4:11:13 AM

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About the Author
  • Suzanne Eckes
    Indiana University
    SUZANNE E. ECKES is an assistant professor in the Educational Leadership and Policy Studies Department at Indiana University. She researches how the equal protection of laws protects students with disabilities, GLBT students, women, and racial minorities. Suzanne has published over 50 articles on these topics. Her most recent publications include a coauthored piece in the American Educational Research Journal about the legal rights of GLBT teachers, and a coauthored piece in Educational Policy about racial integration in charter schools.
  • Julie Swando
    Indiana University
    JULIE SWANDO is a PhD candidate in the Department of Sociology at Indiana University. Her major research interest is the study of education reform, specifically how reform policies develop and their effects on students and schools. Her dissertation research compares the processes by which school voucher and school funding equalization policies were proposed and implemented in five states. With this work, she hopes to expand the body of knowledge on the development of school reform policy and to refine theories of social policy development more generally.
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