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 Home > News > IDEA Report Cards: Did Your State Pass or Fail? by Pamela Wright, MA, MSW (06/26/07)

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IDEA Report Cards: Did Your State Pass or Fail?
by Pamela Wright, MA, MSW

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When Congress reauthorized the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, they added new requirements about accountability. One of these requirements is that states will be evaluated on how well they educate children with disabilities. While this plan sounds good, when you look a closer, you find serious problems.

In this article, we describe state performance plans, how the Department of Education determines which states pass and which need improvement or intervention. We share our predictions about the future (and our reasoning).

We pose questions for individuals who work at the federal Education Department and state departments of education.

State Performance Plans

people in meetingHow does this evaluation or grading process work?

IDEA 2004 requires all states to develop Performance Plans to evaluate how well the state is implementing IDEA and how the state will improve. 20 U.S.C. 1416(b)(1) (Wrightslaw: Special Education Law, 2nd Edition, pages 125-126)

The requirements a state must meet are those it sets for itself in its State Performance Plan (SPP). States tend to set extremely modest goals. A plan that calls for any increment in performance, no matter how small, was approved by the Department of Education.

How is progress measured? The Department of Education uses data from the Annual Performance Reports prepared by the states to determine if states meet the requirements of IDEA.

Update July 2011: 2009-2010 Data can be found at the links below.

Part B State Performance Plans (SPP) Letters and Annual Performance Report (APR) Letters All years.

State Ratings in Special Education. Click on the Interactive Map from Education Week to see your state ratings.

IDEA Report Cards

Last week (Feb 07), the U.S. Department of Education published Report Cards for the 50 states and 8 territories. The news is sobering.

Only nine states met their own self-imposed requirements for educating children with disabilities. Forty-one states and eight territories did not, so they fell into the “needs assistance” or “needs intervention” categories.

If these states do not improve how they are educating children with disabilities, they face sanctions, including loss of federal funds. Maybe.

Weaknesses cited by the U.S. Department of Education include:

  • States failing to ensure that local school districts comply with the law
  • States failing to comply with requirements for providing transition plans from school to college or work

What information did the feds use to grade the states? The data about compliance with IDEA was submitted by the states in their Annual Performance Reports. The data did not come from independent, objective sources.

Did your state pass or fail on the IDEA Report Card? This Fact Sheet lists the status of all states and territories.

Since the reports are based on requirements established by the states and used data provided by the states, we urge you to take these assessments by the Department of Education with a grain - no, with a pound or two of salt.


What will happen next? Will the states take these reports seriously and clean up their acts?

We doubt it. Here is our prediction, based on what bureaucracies do when they are under pressure to change and improve.

States that need to improve will pull their wagons in the circle and develop game plans. They may attempt to persuade their citizens that they didn't really fail. They may pitch the tired old argument that it is unreasonable to expect schools to educate children with disabilities.

School lobbyists may attempt to persuade members of Congress to eliminate this provision when the law is reauthorized.

If states feel threatened with the loss of dollars, some may file lawsuits against the Department of Education, claiming that this provision of the law is unlawful, unfair to them, also requesting more money.

Why are we pessimistic about the willingness of the U.S. Department of Education to enforce the law?

Back to School on Civil Rights: Advancing the Federal Commitment to Leave No Child Behind

"Those that fail to learn from history, are doomed to repeat it." - Winston Churchill

In 2000, the National Council on Disability (NCD) published, Back to School on Civil Rights Advancing the Federal Commitment to Leave No Child Behind. Back to School on Civil Rights is a shattering report about the complete failure of the U.S. Department of Education to enforce IDEA.

Back to School on Civil Rights was based a review of the Department of Education’s (DoED) reports of states between 1994 and 1998. NCD found:

"Every State was out of compliance with IDEA requirements to some degree; in the sampling of states studied, noncompliance persisted over many years."

NCD found that "enforcement of the law is the burden of parents who must invoke formal complaint procedures and due process hearings, including expensive and time-consuming litigation, to obtain the appropriate services and supports that their children are entitled under the law."

NCD concluded, "The Department of Education has made very limited use of its authority to impose enforcement sanctions such as withholding of funds or making referrals to the Department of Justice, despite persistent failures to ensure compliance in many states." See full text

Failure to Enforce the Law

Because of the Department of Education's long-standing failure to enforce IDEA, NCD recommended that "Congress should amend IDEA to provide the Department of Justice with independent authority to investigate and litigate against school districts or states where pattern and practice violations of IDEA exist."

"The Department of Justice should play a greater role overall in the enforcement of IDEA. DOJ is not plagued by the conflicting roles of grant manager and law enforcer with the same entity." (Back to School, Recommendation VI.1)

"As an agency that specializes primarily in enforcing the law, DOJ's first responsibility is to those protected by the laws it enforces. DOJ is not as susceptible to political pressure from states and their Congressional delegations when initiating enforcement action because it has no pre-existing economic relationship (grant maker-grantee) with the defendant. DOJ can initiate an investigation upon receiving a complaint or other information and coordinate with the Department of Education throughout case development. Information about coordinated enforcement activities should be included in DOJ's Annual Report to Congress." (Back to School, Recommendation VI.2)

Why does the Department of Education, a funding and training agency, have enforcement power over the entities they train and fund? Wouldn't the system work better for all - the Department of Education, state departments of education, and parents of children with disabilities - if enforcement of the law was vested with the U.S. Department of Justice?

The National Council on Disability published Back to School on Civil Rights on January 25, 2000. (News Release)

Perhaps legal and advocacy organizations that represent the interests of children with disabilities need to revisit this issue before Congress begins the IDEA reauthorization process next time.

Questions for the Federal and State Departments of Ed

We have a few questions to ask individuals who work for the U.S. Department of Education and state departments of education.children's hands raised

1. While you discuss these minimal requirements, what is happening to the millions of children with disabilities whose schools are not preparing them "to lead productive and independent lives" as Congress intended - children who attend schools that are not preparing them "for further education, employment, and independent living?" 20 U.S.C. § 1400(c)


2. While you attend meetings and write reports based on self-reported data, what is happening to the millions of children with disabilities who continue to be damaged by their school experiences? What is happening to the children whose teachers do not have the knowledge, skills, and time to teach them?


3. While you strive to maintain the status quo, what will happen to the millions of children with disabilities whose self concept is so damaged that they drop out of school and are never able "to lead productive and independent lives"?

Any ideas about how you can help these young people?

We welcome your ideas, suggestions and answers to these questions.

More Resources

This document from the Education Department outlines the new IDEA requirements about issuing state progress reports and includes links to the current report cards for each state.


Feds Cite D.C., Others for Problems in Special Education On Special Education, by Nirvi Shah (July 2011). "According to the letter, 'after more than 10 years of documented noncompliance by D.C. with the requirements to ensure timely initial evaluations and re-evaluations, and despite enforcement actions taken by the department, ... D.C. continues to demonstrate noncompliance with these critical requirements in IDEA.'"

Ed. Department Evaluates States' Records on Students with Disabilities by Christina A. Samuels, Education Week 2008 (registration required) -
The Education Department released evaluations of each state’s efforts to teach children with disabilities. Most states fell into the “needs assistance” or “needs intervention" categories, with only nine ranked as “meets the requirements.”

Education Department says states aren't meeting special-ed law's requirements (article in the San Diego Union-Tribune/Associated Press, June 07)

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Created: 06/25/07
Revised: 07/19/11

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