NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Learning Disabilities Collide With Educational Standards

March 18, 2002

Just last month in California, Federal District Court Judge Charles R. Breyer ruled that students with learning disabilities had the right to special treatment when taking statewide tests to determine whether they could graduate high school.

It was the first time a state had been ordered to adjust the conditions for its graduation exams for students with learning disabilities -- most of whom are dyslexics with reading problems.

  • Students affected would be afforded special accommodations -- such as the use of a calculator or the chance to have test questions read aloud.
  • Education specialists predict that with more than a dozen states putting graduation exams into effect in the next three years, many courts and legislatures will have to weigh the question of fairness to the learning disabled with the value of a diploma granted to students who cannot read, write or do arithmetic.
  • More than 12 percent of the nation's schoolchildren are now identified as disabled -- some with physical problems, but most with learning disabilities.
  • In recent years, half the states have enacted laws requiring that high school students pass standardized exams to graduate.

High failure rates on the tests have prompted some states to delay putting them into effect or lower the score for passing. The concern over testing students with learning disabilities is further complicated by the fact that there is little scientific data on precisely which accommodations help which disabilities.

Source: Tamar Lewin, "In Testing, One Size May Not Fit All," New York Times, March 18, 2002.


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