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Published: Thursday, 4/24/2003

Factoring special-ed scores drop test rates

New proficiency test reporting that will include special-education students' results in the district scores likely will cost Toledo Public Schools all its recent gains in passage rates and any hope of climbing out of academic emergency this year, district officials told a new City Council committee yesterday.

Dr. Robert Rachor, the district's director of research, said new federal and state testing requirements now mandate that all special-education students take the annual exams in reading, writing, citizenship, math, and science, and that their scores are included in calculations of overall district results.

About 16 percent of Toledo Public Schools students are in special education, some with IQs as low as 19, said Marge Goldstein, a special-education teacher at McTigue Junior High School.

The Ohio Department of Education has not adjusted its passage standards with the inclusion of the special education students, spokesman J.C. Benton said.

“There was a good idea behind this,” Dr. Rachor said at the first meeting of council's intergovernmental relations committee. “But should these children take this test or should there be some other assessment for them?”

If the district's results last year had included special education students' scores, Toledo Public Schools would not have earned the six indicators it did, Dr. Rachor said. Including the special education students' scores would have dropped the passing rate below the state standard.

The district had to achieve seven of 22 standards to rise from the academic emergency category to academic watch. The standards include certain passing percentages of each test in fourth, sixth, ninth, and 10th grade as well as attendance and graduation rate.

Dr. Rachor's research has shown among the six biggest Ohio districts, only Akron would have met any indicators using last year's test results and the new standards. Cincinnati and Columbus would lose their five indicators, Akron would lose two of its four, and Dayton and Cleveland would lose their two.

“It's a huge effect on Toledo as far as public perception, a huge effect probably on our ability to pass millages for future support of education,” Dr. Rachor said.

Mrs. Goldstein said special education students need to be evaluated, but using Ohio's proficiency tests isn't fair to them since some of them can't hold pencils to write the answers, are unable to repeat questions posed to them, or don't read well enough to understand the exams.

“Tell me, how we could have those students take a test,” she said.

But Mike Armstrong, director of the Ohio Department of Education's office for exceptional children, said including special education students in regular testing is a move toward improving their overall educational experience. The provision was part of the federal No Child Left Behind Act enacted last year and also was adopted by the state.

“We're in the earliest stages of being able to understand what this law really means and its impact. I think it's important for us to realize that we've set the stage for all students to be part of an assessment system, setting up the stage by where all buildings and districts are accountable for at least reporting a student's progress.”

He said districts should explain to their communities the reporting requirements and the impact of this year's reporting changes.

“I think it's important for the public at large to realize that this is not going to turn around overnight, but it will get better with time,” Mr. Armstrong said.

Kathy Wissler, whose daughter is a special education student who is mainstreamed in Washington Local schools, does not agree that special education students should be held to the same testing standards as other students.

“I think the special needs classes work around the children's capabilities,” she said. “I really don't think that's fair to measure them with the typical kids.”



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