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Educators Face Confusing "Catch-22" In New Fed Testing Rules

by Dave Reynolds (subscribe)

By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express (subscribe)

SACRAMENTO--Education officials in California and elsewhere are scratching their heads trying to figure out how to implement federal testing rules that they say contradict each other.

A recent San Francisco Chronicle reports that the U.S. Department of Education's new No Child Left Behind rules require testers to mark absent any students with disabilities that use calculators or other devices when taking the math portion of their high school exit exams. Similarly, according to one official, test scores for students who use audio players to read their tests during the reading portion of their exams, will also have their scores tossed out.

Under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, however, testers are required to let students use such tools if their disabilities impact their ability to read or do math.

"We just shook our heads incredulously," Bill Padia, testing director at the California Department of Education, told the Chronicle.

It seems like a "Catch-22" or a "no-win" situation for some educators, because schools must follow both sets of guidelines or risk being punished by the federal government on one hand or individual students, parents and advocacy groups on the other.

"We've talked with students whose school districts have (advised them) not to include modifications in their programs because the test scores won't count," said attorney Stephen Tollafield of Disability Rights Advocates. "But students have a legal right to use whatever modifications they need."

The non-profit law firm has fought for a number of years against discrimination in student testing in several states.

Darla Marburger, deputy assistant secretary with the U.S. Education Department, told the Chronicle: "It's perfectly acceptable to change the environment of the test, or the seating, to accommodate certain needs. But it's not OK to use modifications that fundamentally change how the student is being assessed."

"Testing rules contradict each other / Disabled students penalized for using approved alterations" (San Francisco Chronicle)

"Access to Testing and Education" (Disability Rights Advocates)

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