ESSA and Special Education Students

What is the connection between ESSA and special education students?

As we’ve explored ESSA over the past few weeks we wanted to delve into the link between ESSA and special education students and teachers. Our classroom observation solution, ClassGather, has been widely adopted by SpEd teachers and directors around the country so it made sense to look into this impact for ourselves.

We came across a few summaries of how SpEd programs are impacted and what ESSA means for Special Education students. They are a bit lengthy but informative and worth your time.

Inclusion is not simply about physical proximity. It is about intentionally planning for the success of all students.

Nancy Bailey’s article on the issue proved most insightful for us (FYI it was written just before ESSA passed into law). As a disclaimer she is not a fan of the law for many reasons; among them - what ESSA does (or doesn’t do) for students with special needs.

Download the ESSA guide

  1. Special Ed students will have to reach the same standards as their fellow students who do not have disabilities. Meaning that special ed students will need to take the same state assessment tests as their non-special ed peers. There is an exemption for students with severe cognitive disabilities but the amount of students is capped at 1% - so only small percent of students with disabilities are allowed to take an alternative assessment.
  2. Closely associated with the first point - if a student, because of severe disabilities, takes an alternative assessment test ESSA requires that parents be informed by the school as to how an alternative assessment would impact their student completing the requirements for graduation.
  3. In the same breath ESSA requires that, should a student take an alternative assessment test, that decision will not hinder them from graduating from school.
    • Pardon the side note but the last two points are tough to reconcile in our minds. It seems like the authors of the law are talking out of both sides of their mouth here. This should be examined and pressed into further…
  4. Finally, the post also comments on the state of the teaching in special education and how it will be impacted by ESSA. The quality of teaching in special education has become a race to the middle, all about assessments and data. Bailey claims that ESSA supports this mindset and believes that because of this there will no longer be education programs in our universities or elsewhere that are committed to providing instruction for teachers to work with students who have mild learning disabilities, among other things.

In summary, some fascinating points were brought to light by Nancy within the context of ESSA and special education students. While the article was a bit gloomy us we found it eye-opening and a bit concerning.

We continue to think that ESSA is a step in the right direction for all students across the country.

Learn more about ESSA

Download the ESSA guide


Matt Phillip Senior Marketing Manager at Thrivist, LLC