June 8, 2015

Edward G. Fierros, (610) 519-6969, edward.fierros@villanova.edu
Daniel Quinn, (517) 203-2940, dquinn@greatlakescenter.org

Review finds CAP report fails to connect accountability pressures to improved outcomes for students with disabilities

EAST LANSING, Mich. (June 8, 2015) – In April, a report from the Center for American Progress (CAP) linked benchmarks for inclusion in state testing and stringent accountability with improved educational outcomes for students with disabilities. While noting that causal claims could not be made, the report then proceeded to try to convince readers of exactly such claims. An academic review out today explains that causal arguments are nowhere near possible given the relatively weak data and analyses used in the report.

Edward Fierros, Associate Professor of Education and Chair of the Department of Education and Counseling at Villanova University, along with Katherine Cosner, a graduate student at Villanova University, reviewed ESEA Reauthorization: How We Can Build upon No Child Left Behind's Progress for Students with Disabilities in a Reauthorized ESEA for the Think Twice think tank review project of the National Education Policy Center (NEPC), with funding from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.

The report compared 2000 to 2013 NAEP test scores along with NCES national-level data and found increased test scores, decreased dropout rates, and increased graduation rates for students with disabilities, as well as improved outcomes for Black and Hispanic students with disabilities.

Despite the report's suggestions that tougher accountability and higher expectations produced these better educational outcomes, the reviewers found little to justify the claims.

"While these student outcomes did indeed improve for students with disabilities during this time period," the reviewers note "the report is wrong to assert that improvements were caused by NCLB or NCLB-type reforms."

Among the shortcomings identified by the reviewers, the report neglected to examine state outcomes or results by locale, to consider other factors that may have influenced the results over these 13 years, or to review possible differences by subgroups of students with differing disabilities. The reviewers recommend that an analysis that is more focused on state- and local-level outcomes would have helped reveal what the national average scores can hide.

Additionally, the review indicates that the report used simple descriptive bar charts in place of more sophisticated and appropriate analytic methods. It also found "there is not a single reference to a peer reviewed or generally accepted research report" in the CAP analysis despite an abundance of available research.

In their conclusion, the reviewers state, "In sum, the simplistic presentation of aggregate descriptive data does not provide compelling or useful data for policy purposes."

Read the full review at:

Find the CAP report on the web:

Think Twice, a project of the National Education Policy Center, provides the public, policymakers and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected publications. The project is made possible by funding from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.

The review can also be found on the NEPC website:

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The mission of the Great Lakes Center for Education Research & Practice is to support and disseminate high quality research and reviews of research for the purpose of informing education policy and to develop research-based resources for use by those who advocate for education reform.

Visit the Great Lakes Center website at http://www.greatlakescenter.org/