Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Achieving Testing Fairness for Students with Disabilities

Right now the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, the HELP Committee, is working on a new education bill Every Child Ready for College or Career Act of 2015 (ECRCCA), amending the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).
It deals with all the education programs that the federal government supports for students in kindergarten through twelfth grade. In the media standardized tests and their consequences have received much attention. I think one thing that would help is making effective accommodations available to students with disabilities when they take these tests. Of course, educators need to know about them.  Why not a web-based repository where educators could find out about effective accommodations? Here's text I drafted. I shared it with the HELP Committee and disability advocates.

Section (    )  Web-Based Repository for Accommodations in Testing Situations for Students with Disabilities

a. Purpose. Through a grant, contract, or other means the Secretary of Education is authorized to award funds on a competitive basis to an entity for the design, development, implementation and maintenance of a website that contains policies and procedures that prevent a student’s disability from being a barrier to his or her demonstration of knowledge or its application through a test.
b. Scope. The website will provide information about how to provide accommodation to students with disabilities in K-12 in testing situations.
c. Nature of data maintained on the website. Information on the website will be gathered from LEAs and SEAs that have promoted and implemented robust testing accommodation programs for students with disabilities. At a minimum these data will provide information about the following–
1. Policies and procedures about how testing accommodation for the individual student with a disability were –
i. allowed (e.g., any test, standardized tests only)
ii. determined,
iii. approved,
iiii. provided
v. evaluated, and
vi. reported;
2. Examples of the procedures used in testing accommodation situations for students with the full range of accommodation needs – 
i. Environmental adjustments, such as – 
I. change in location of testing,
II. change in lighting,
III. change in testing table,
IIII. use of low tech aides (e.g., taping of test to desk),
V. allow another individual to turn pages;
ii. Format modifications, such as – 
I. change print,
II. allow reader,
III. allow recorder,
IIII. allow cueing;
iii. Performance adjustments, such as – 
I. allow student to show how rather than write how he or she would do something,
II. allow the student to use a writer or dictation to record the student’s answer;
iiii. Pacing  flexibility, such as – 
I. change in length of time to take a test,
II. allow multi-day completion
III. allow break(s) when taking test,
IIII. provide prompts related to test segments.  
3. Notification. How are teachers, parents, and students made aware of the availability of accommodation during testing?
4. Stakeholder involvement. How were educators, other relevant professionals, parents, and students involved in the design, development,  implementation, and evaluation of the accommodation in testing program?
d.    Authorization of appropriations.  Such sums as necessary shall be authorized appropriated for fiscal years 2016, ....

Feel free to share my suggestion with your friends and Senators.

Thank you.
Common Grounder

Monday, February 2, 2015

U.S. Standing on Disability Rights on the International Stage -- How about an Amendment to Section 504?

Sometimes when an idea pops in my head that is so clear and simple, I rush to share it. The Americans with Disability Act does not apply to the federal government, but section 504 of the Rehabilitation does. So if we amended section 504 by deleting the phrase “in the United States” from section 504 (a), all federal financial assistance spent overseas could not discriminate against individuals with disabilities on the basis of disability. Take a look.
[Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (Title 29Chapter 16Subchapter V › § 794)]
(a) Promulgation of rules and regulations
No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States, as defined in section 705 (20) of this title, shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance or under any program or activity conducted by any Executive agency or by the United States Postal Service….
This change in section 504 would mean qualified individuals with disabilities overseas would have the opportunity to participate in or benefit from U.S funded programs, services, or other benefits, conducted directly by the U.S. or through others, in a wide range of areas such as education, health, housing, transportation, and disaster preparedness or recovery. For example, if this amendment were enacted, when the U.S. government gave money to a foreign government or nongovernmental agency to build a school, the school would need to be accessible to individuals with disabilities.
As we know most Republican Senators opposed the ratification of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in the 112th and 113th Congresses. However, we also know, most expressed support for people with disabilities, described the Americans with Disabilities as the gold standard, and endorsed bi-lateral international agreements on disability-related initiatives. If they would consider the extension of section 504 to international platforms, this would be consistent with previous Republican statements. Democrats would support the intent. A bi-partisan window of collaboration would be opened. An exciting idea I think.
In March I am heading to Istanbul to provide a little history on U.S. disability laws. Many countries are challenged and struggling with responding to the CRPD. Countries recognize and welcome U.S. technical assistance. If this amendment to section 504 were enacted, U.S. companies, especially those that manufacture assistive technology, more quickly would see expanded market opportunities. The U.S. standing on disability rights would have a new shot of credibility.  The Obama administration would have the obligation and incentive to be proactive and concrete in ensuring that federal agencies, especially the Department of State and U.S. AID, focus on, promote, and monitor this change in law.
Let the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions know what you think. It’s time to get engaged with the new Congress and reaffirm our sustained interest in the international arena.
Thank you.

Common Grounder