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Published: 6/6/2003

State may let districts omit special-ed test scores

BY SANDRA SVOBODA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Special-education students' scores could be omitted from the major indicators on school district report cards this year in a proposed change to Ohio Department of Education plans to include them, state officials said yesterday.

The adjustment would mean Toledo Public Schools likely would not decline as much as district administrators have said they anticipate when results of the March, 2003, tests are released. The district has had test results since mid-May, but Superintendent Eugene Sanders yesterday refused to provide the information to The Blade.

New federal rules, part of the No Child Left Behind Act, this year required districts to administer the five subject tests - reading, writing, math, science, and citizenship - to special-education students. The Ohio Department of Education plans to include those scores with the districtwide results for each subject at each grade level - fourth, sixth, and ninth - when it determines a district's passing percentage.

The Ohio Department of Education uses those indicators to calculate a district's rating as academic emergency, academic watch, continuous improvement, effective, or excellent. Toledo Public Schools is in academic emergency.

But Mitchell Chester, the state education department's assistant superintendent for policy development, said state officials are “playing with the idea” of releasing results with and without the special education students' results.

“We want to make it as clear as we can to the public that this is a new set of rules as to who counts this year compared to previous years,” Mr. Chester said. “If, in fact, the impact of including students with disabilities is that the results are lower than in previous years, we want to make it clear that that's not a decline in educational performance, it's a result of new ground rules for who's included in the results.”

Robert Rachor, Toledo Public Schools director of research, praised the possible change.

“We'd be thrilled if that was true because it will show a consistent picture of the school district's performance over the last three or four years. It's a fairer assessment of how well our students are doing since our contention is that many special education students are really unable to take the test because it's too difficult,” Mr. Rachor said.

District records show nearly 17 percent of the district's population is in special education, with about 7 percent of fourth graders and nearly 9 percent of sixth graders considered mentally retarded.

State board of education at-large member Sue Westendorf of Napoleon said several districts have complained about the new reporting that would include the special-education scores. “There's a lot of concern. If there's a way we can make it clearer to the public, I'm very supportive of that,” Ms. Westendorf said.

Mr. Chester said the department would decide how and if to change the reporting during the next month.



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