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Expert Q&A

Can a student with a 504 plan be penalized for not passing state standardized tests?


I am wondering if you could address the issue of the state standardized tests (PSSAs in my state of PA) being used as a requirement for graduation and how this applies to children with a 504 plan. Currently, my 13-year-old son, who has cerebral palsy, has a 504 plan in place. He does not have an IEP because the district evaluated him twice and did not find identifiable learning disabilities. However, we know he is VERY behind in math, and that written expression is very difficult for him.

He consistently tests at the Basic level on the PSSAs and will be placed in different classes starting next year because the district did not meet Adequate Yearly Progress. The classes are called “standards” classes and are specifically for students who test below proficient, like my son. Also, in order to address the AYP failure of the district, passing (scoring proficient) on the PSSA tests will now be a condition of graduation. This type of plan was struck down in Alaska in 2004.

I am also concerned that putting him in these special standards classes is a violation of what his 504 protection affords him, specifically this — children with disabilities must be educated with their nondisabled peers “to the maximum extent appropriate.”

Your help is much appreciated.

Thanks in advance.


Dear Sandy:

Your questions raises many issues, some of which are particular to your son and the way he is being treated and some are general in relation to the impact of the state wide tests.

In relation to your concerns about the fairness of the Pennsylvania procedure, you may get useful information from the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, which is involved in many of these issues, and from your state’s protection and advocacy agency. Your question also raises the important issue of whether the remedial regular education class is being provided in lieu of the development of a more appropriate special education or Section 504 intervention.

In addition, your description of the situation suggests that your son may also be improperly excluded from eligibility for special education services based on criteria that are inappropriate and/or misapplied to his situation and disabilities. Even without an IEP, he may be getting fewer protections and services then he should through his Section 504 plan. There are many things that can and should be offered through a 504 plan, along with the Section 504 prohibition on discrimination against people with disabilities.

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