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National shift in special ed accountability could impact Colorado

Federal officials have announced a major shift in how states will be held accountable for serving students in special education — and Colorado could be among those affected if it does not show improvement.

U.S. Department of Education (DOE) officials announced Tuesday that states and territories would now be measured on how well special education students perform on state and national tests. In the past, the department has looked exclusively at how well states comply with federal laws on the education of students with special needs.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said the shift was intended to raise the bar for states on how well they educated students with special needs.

“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,” he said in a press release Tuesday.

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the federal government must monitor states and place them in one of four categories: meets expectations; needs assistance; needs intervention; and needs substantial intervention. Last year, nearly all states met expectations.

This year, just 18 states and territories met expectations under the new system, known as Results-Driven Accountability (RDA). Colorado was among those that fell in the second category, needs assistance. If a state remains in that category for two years in a row, the DOE could require them to get technical assistance to come into compliance. They could also be classed as “high-risk” when applying for grants.


To ease the transition, the government is funding a technical assistance center to help states access additional funds, as well as helping states develop comprehensive plans to meet the new guidelines.

More on the changes here.