Results Driven Accountability: Raising the Bar for Students with Disabilities

Today, the US Dept. of Education announced the first results of its new Results Driven Accountability (RDA) system for monitoring the performance of state education agencies’ implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the federal special education law.  This new system moves away from decades of focus on procedural compliance and towards an examination of how well students with disabilities are learning.  This is a welcome change as parents and advocates have learned that procedural compliance alone does not guarantee that children with disabilities are actually learning what they need to know in order to become independent productive adults.

In his press release, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan stated what parents and advocates for children with disabilities have known for decades:

Every child, regardless of income, race, background, or disability can succeed if provided the opportunity to learn. We know that when students with disabilities are held to high expectations and have access to the general curriculum in the regular classroom, they excel. We must be honest about student performance, so that we can give all students the supports and services they need to succeed.

This chart showing the poor and declining math performance for students with disabilities from 2005-2010 demonstrates exactly why this new emphasis on educational results is so critical to the long-term success of children with disabilities.


Reading results are similarly poor with less than 40% of students with disabilities capable of reading proficiently, with stagnating results from 2005-2010.  Worse yet,

Less than 10 percent of our nation’s eighth graders with IEPs are scoring proficient in reading, according to the best available data. We can and must do better,

said Michael Yudin, acting assistant secretary for special education and rehabilitative services.

Today, the Dept. of Education announced the results of its multi-pronged RDA analysis based on 2012-13 data, where states are grades in one of 4 categories: Meets Requirements; Needs Assistance; Needs Intervention; or Needs Substantial Intervention.  Here is how all state education agencies were categorized.

  • Meets Requirements

Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming, Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Palau

  • Needs Assistance

Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Washington, West Virginia, American Samoa, Commonwealth of Northern Marianas, Guam, Puerto Rico

  • Needs Intervention

California, Delaware, District of Columbia, Texas, Bureau of Indian Education, Virgin Islands

Fortunately, no states were deemed in need of substantial intervention, but it is deeply troubling that nearly 40 years after Congress first passed federal special education mandates, a majority of states still need federal assistance or actual intervention in order to provide meaningful education to their students with disabilities.

It remains to be seen how vigorously the US Dept. of Education will enforce these new requirements, as prior federal enforcement has been notoriously lax.  In theory, if a state needs assistance for 2 years in a row, the Dept. of Education must take actions such as requiring the state to obtain technical assistance or identifying the state as a high-risk grant recipient. If a state needs intervention for 3 years in a row, federal law mandates that the Dept. of Education must take specific actions, which can include requiring the state to prepare a corrective action plan, enter into a compliance agreement or, ultimately, withholding a portion of the state’s funding.

To help states improve the quality of education which students with disabilities receive, the federal government is providing $50 million for a new technical assistance center, the Center on Systemic Improvement to help states make effective use of the $11.5 billion in federal special education funds which they currently receive to improve outcomes for students with disabilities.

Parents of and advocates for children with disabilities should pay close attention to the new RDA, particularly in states which need assistance or intervention,  to make sure that the federal promise that this new program will improve the education of students with disabilities comes true.


For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.


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