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Is the Testing Legal?

By: Paul T. O'Neill

5 key factors to look for when high stakes graduation tests are imposed on kids with LD

Many states require that students pass some sort of "exit exam" in order to receive a high school diploma. Such tests are often referred to as "high stakes tests" because of the severe consequences they carry for those who do not pass them. Parents and others concerned with the rights of children with LD may want to pay attention to the following factors relating to high school exit exams:

  1. Are LD kids being excluded? The first question to ask is whether the test is being given to children with disabilities at all. Federal law requires that, if a state chooses to impose an exit exam program or other large scale assessment, all children must be included. This ensures that children with disabilities are not allowed to slip through the cracks -- that they are held to high expectations of performance and schools are held accountable for addressing any problems revealed through the testing.
  2. Are there alternatives to the testing? In some states, children with LD are allowed to take an alternate assessment or to pass the exit exam with a lower score. There are some states which offer more than one form of diploma, certificate or other exit credential, not all of which require a passing score on a high stakes exam.
  3. Has there been enough lead time? States are on shaky legal ground if they try to push through high stakes exit exams too quickly. Courts have found that 4 - 6 years may be an appropriate amount of lead time to give to students. This is often called a "phase-in period," during which the tests are given and scores recorded, but no children are denied diplomas.
  4. Has the school actually taught what it is testing? Exit exams are supposed to measure how well children have learned what they have been taught in school, so states must be careful to limit their exit exams to material actually covered.
  5. Are appropriate accommodations being provided? Children with identified learning problems must be provided with appropriate accommodations on exit exams.

There are various resources on the internet and elsewhere which can help you learn about your state's testing program. Don't be shy about contacting your state's department of education, either, or about trying to ensure that your child is being treated fairly under the law.

Paul T. O'Neill, J.D. Willkie Farr & Gallagher 787 7th Avenue New York, NY 10019 (c)2000 Paul T. O'Neill All rights reserved.