Please call your Senators (202-224-3121) and ask them to vote against the likely Senate Minority Amendment to the Strengthening America’s Schools Act. The Amendment would allow schools to significantly lower the academic expectations for students with disabilities by allowing an overuse of alternate assessments.The amendment is expected to come up for a vote in the Senate Committee early this week and Senators need to hear from you on Monday and Tuesday.If you cannot call, then send an email,
The Senate HELP Committee is considering the Strengthening America’s Schools Act this week. Please vote against the likely Senate Minority Amendment to the bill that would allow schools to overuse alternate assessments set to weaker achievement standards (called the Alternate Achievement Standards and Modified Achievement Standards). These standards are not grade-level standards.The amendment would allow schools to take millions of students with disabilities off track for a regular high school diploma as early as 3rd grade when assessment decisions are made in schools, relegating them to lower career and college expectations—simply because they receive special education.The amendment promotes the false view that most students with disabilities can’t learn or achieve.In reality, most students with disabilities can achieve grade-level work when given the right access to high quality instruction, with qualified teachers and appropriate accommodations for both instruction and assessment.Senator Harkin’s bill will give them the opportunity to be educated in the general curriculum, be assessed against grade-level standards, and achieve a standard diploma.High school graduates on average make $9,000 more a year than those who do not graduate.
Please support the language in Senator Harkin’s bill, the Strengthening America’s SchoolsAct, that would sharply limit use of weaker achievement standards and ensure that schools provide grade-level educations with appropriate supports.The Harkin bill would end the use of Alternate Assessment to Modified Achievement Standards entirely. It would cap the use of the Alternate Achievemnt standards at 1% of students in the state (10% of students with disabilities). The Harkin approach will enable students with disabilities to obtain standard diplomas, and the higher quality education they need for college and career success.Please vote against the likely Senate Minority Amendment that will strip this language and allow schools unlimited power to use the Alternate Achievement Standards and Modified Achievement Standards. Please also oppose Senator Alexander’s bill, which would also strip this language.
The Two Assessments.There are two assessments to weaker achievement standards in the bills being considered in the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee early this week. The Committee will consider the Strengthening America's Schools Act, a bill by Senator Harkin to revise the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The Committee will also consider a bill from Senator Alexander, and a likely amendment from the Senate Minority. Both the Alexander bill and the likely Senate Minority Amendment will drastically expand the use of Alternate Assessments tied to much weaker achievement standards for students with disabilities. Tell your Senators to Oppose the Alexander bill and the likely Senate Minority Amendment about Alternate Assessments.
1.The Alternate Assessment tied to Alternate Achievement Standards (AA-AAS) is an assessment given to children with the most significant cognitive disabilities who--even with appropriate accommodations and supports--would never be able to make grade-level academic achievement. These alternate achievement standards are below grade level.Senator Harkin’s bill, Strengthening America’s Schools Act, will limit this assessment to 1% of all students (10% of students with disabilities), similar to the limit in current regulation.Many children with intellectual, cognitive, and other disabilities can, with appropriate accommodations, make grade-level achievement as measured by regular assessments.Senator Harkin’s bill will ensure that these students receive the education necessary for a regular diploma, and the rigor and interventions necessary for success.
The Senate Minority amendment (and Senator Alexander’s bill) would eliminate this cap and you should oppose it.The Senate Minority Amendment would allow states and school districts to administer the alternate assessment to alternate achievement standards to unlimited numbers of students.It would be harmful to students for all of the reasons that the Harkin bill would be helpful.It would perpetuate old, outmoded views that children with significant disabilities cannot learn and cannot achieve.
2.The Alternate Assessment to Modified Achievement Standards (AA-MAS) was an assessment that allowed up to 2 percent (20 percent of students with disabilities) to be assessed against standards below grade level.Senator Harkin bill, the Strengthening America’s Schools Act, rightly will end the use of these Alternate Assessments using Modified Achievement (AA-MAS) standards. Currently, states with ESEA waivers from the Department of Education must phase the Modified Standards out by 2014-15.But the Senate Minority Amendment would keep the modified achievement standards in place, and allow schools unlimited authority to assess unlimited numbers of students with disabilities against them.
Senator Harkin takes the right approach and the Minority Amendment takes the wrong approach.While some students with disabilities are not at grade-level proficiency, there is no empirical evidence that exempting many of them from grade-level academic achievement standards is the appropriate response.Many students with disabilities can achieve grade-level work when given the right access to high quality instruction, qualified teachers, and appropriate accommodations (including universally designed learning) for both instruction and assessment.Senator Harkin’s bill will give them the opportunity to be educated in the general curriculum and achieve a standard diploma, and to be ready for college and career success.Employers are not going to place employees without the right education in the “modified”track; they likely will not hire them at all. The Senate minority amendment will not even give these students a chance; it will consign them to weaker achievement standards, a weaker education, and deny them a regular diploma.
PLEASE TELL YOUR SENATORS TO VOTE AGAINST THE SENATE MINORITY AMENDMENT ON ALTERNATE ASSESSMENTS AND AGAINST SENATOR ALEXANDER’S BILL.Do not allow students with disabilities to be pushed into lower expectations and a far poorer education.Support the language in Chairman Harkin’s bill protecting students, and ensuring that alternate (weaker) achievement standards are used only when absolutely necessary.Call your Senators (202‑224‑3121) on Monday or Tuesday. If you cannot call, please send an email, http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm which lists each Senator’s contact form.
Thank you very much for your help and advocacy.
Congressional Affairs Coordinator
Autism National Committee (AutCom)
23 years of advocating for children and adults with autism