The Strengthening America's Schools Act: A summary of disability related provisions

June 21, 2013


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Following is a summary of the Strengthening America's Schools Act, legislation to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) introduced by Sen. Tom Harkin on June 4, 2013 and reported out of the Senate HELP Committee on June 12, 2013.

College and Career Readiness

The bill emphasizes ensuring all children have access to a quality education and have the opportunity to graduate from high school ready for college, career, and citizenship.

State Assessments

  • States must develop performance targets for schools, LEAs and the state using one of three methods: 1) adopting their waiver performance targets, 2) bringing all students to the 90th percentile on the date of the enactment within a time period negotiated with the Department of Education, or 3) performance targets negotiated with the Department that are equally ambitious as the first two.
  • State assessments can be one summative assessment, or multiple formative assessments administered throughout a school year, as long as the formative assessments can be aggregated to provide a grade level assessment that is reliable and valid.
  • Assessment of student academic achievement must be conducted through multiple measures and may include portfolios, projects, extended performance tasks but can not be solely based on those methods.
  • The bill provides for the federal government to issue grants to states to enhance assessment quality, validity, reliability, and accessibility through collaboration with institutions of higher education and other research entities.
  • All assessments must be accompanied with valid and reliable use of adaptations and accommodations so the academic achievement of students with disabilities can be assessed using those instruments.
  • States and LEAs must assure that teachers and administrators know how to administer assessments, adaptations, and accommodations.

Alternate Assessments

  • The bill prohibits the use of Alternate Assessments using Modified Achievement (AA-MAS) standards.
  • The bill imposes a hard cap on the use of the Alternate Assessments using Alternate Achievement Standards (AA-AAS) to 1% of all students assessed in a school district, in a subject, in a grade.
  • Alternate assessments can only be used with students with the most severe cognitive disabilities and for whom the alternate assessment is determined to be appropriate, based on the professional judgment of the student's IEP team. A decision to use the alternate assessment with a student must be made separately for each academic subject.

Universal Design for Learning

  • The bill requires schools to use principles of universal design for learning in the development of curriculum, instructional materials, and assessments.
  • States must certify their assessments are universally designed to be accessible to students with disabilities with reasonable adaptations and accommodations.
  • The bill emphasizes the use of universal design for learning within effective literacy instruction.
  • The bill also emphasizes ensuring schools are able to address individual student needs and personalized learning approaches.

Multi-Tiered Systems of Support

  • Multi-tiered systems of support are emphasized throughout the bill as a means for supporting the academic achievement and assessment of all students.

Data Collection

  • States are required to have robust data collection systems to measure the achievement and academic growth of all students to determine whether schools and districts are meeting their performance targets and preparing students to graduate college and career ready.
  • States are also required to collect, report and disaggregate data regarding student achievement. These reports must be provided to the public at least annually for each school and every assessment conducted. The disaggregation and cross-tabulation must occur for major race and ethnicity categories, disability status, English proficiency, and poverty status. Reporting of subgroup data must occur if 15 or more students are in a category.

Early Education/Intervention

  • Early grade standards must be developed and aligned with 3-12th grade standards.
  • Coordination of transition to kindergarten must take place with early childhood programs in the jurisdiction of each LEA.
  • Early childhood program staff may participate in professional development conducted at local elementary schools.

Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Learners

  • Academic achievement and growth of culturally and linguistically diverse learners is emphasized throughout the bill through evidence-based, linguistically and culturally appropriate services to meet these students' unique needs.

School Climate

  • The bill emphasizes improvement in school climate to establish an effective learning environment for all students through use of positive behavioral interventions and supports (PBIS), school-based mental health programs, and data collection.
  • Specific data collection areas include:
    • discipline data for all students
    • incidence rates of school violence, bullying, disciplinary transfers and detentions, arrests and law enforcement referrals, and drug and alcohol abuse
    • number of school districts that implement positive behavioral interventions and supports and school-based mental health programs
  • The bill explicitly prohibits discrimination of students who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.

Teacher Quality

  • The bill emphasizes ensuring all students have access to high quality teachers who are well trained and qualified to teach their assigned subjects
  • Teachers may be trained through multiple preparation pathways.
  • Parents have the right to know teachers' qualifications (licensure, baccalaureate degree major, degree held, discipline of degree) and paraprofessionals' qualifications.
  • Induction, mentoring support, and professional development for teachers are stressed to improve instruction and achievement for all students; mentors must meet selection criteria, receive high quality training, have scheduled time for collaboration, and are matched to same field/grade/subject area as mentee.
  • The bill stresses the importance of recruitment, retention, and equitable distribution of teachers and principals across high-need schools in addition to the expansion of strategies to ensure the most effective teachers and principals are serving in the lowest performing schools.
  • Teacher performance is tied to data on students' achievement and growth.
  • Teacher performance also tied to preparation programs.
  • Teachers must be technologically literate.
  • All teachers should be prepared to teach students with disabilities and English learners.

Charter Schools

  • Must provide equitable access and effective educational services to meet the needs of students with disabilities and English learners
  • Charter schools must use outreach and recruitment activities targeting families of children with disabilities and English learners