K-12 Accommodations vs. Post-Secondary Accommodations

November 9, 2018 | Lydia Parenteau, 2018 AAPD Summer Intern

Approximately 87.1% of disabled students will graduate high school; 57.6% of disabled students will attend college and of those, only 18.0% will graduate (1). To compare with non-disabled students, 91.9% will graduate high school, 71.9% will go to college, and of those who go, 32.2% will graduate (2). So the question becomes why there is such a discrepancy between disabled and non-disabled students when it comes to attending and graduating college. To try and answer that, one needs to look at the different processes, laws, and statutes to receive accommodations in K-12 vs. post-secondary schools.

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), adolescents with disabilities qualify for an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). This is a way for these adolescents to receive services through their school district to help accommodate their needs. Individualized Education Plans for high school students have a “transition” section for the student. Within this section, the student talks with whoever is filling out the IEP (usually a school counselor) about how to transition into adulthood. Such things as employment, post-secondary education/training, community participation, and living arrangements are discussed.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires school districts to provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) (3). Examples of some accommodations that come from IEPs are getting two sets of textbooks, a set for in the classroom and a set for at home; having speech therapy classes; being allowed to use the elevator instead of the stairs; having longer test times; having someone else take notes for you; using a laptop instead of handwriting class notes; and the list goes on. In theory, every public school district will give the appropriate accommodations to disabled students without the students needing to advocate for themselves.

Post-secondary schools are required to provide appropriate academic adjustments as needed in order to ensure that they are not discriminating against students’ disabilities. The schools also need to provide accessible housing accommodations that are comparable to non-disabled students, at the same cost. To get these “appropriate academic adjustments” each school has different sets of requirements. For example some schools will require documentation from a medical doctor, psychologist, or other qualified diagnostician; other schools will require you to describe your disabilities and based on your academic adjustments will require additional paperwork (4).

Once a student meets with disability services office, they then have to advocate their academic adjustments to their professors (5). Sometimes, these professors will not comply with the student’s adjustments, other times professor will give the student a hard time about the adjustments, and there are some professors who will be accommodating from the beginning (6). However, the academic adjustments may not be the problem for some students, rather that their post-secondary school has non-accessible buildings or overall non-accessible campus.

Overall the statistics given at the beginning of this post are not entirely based on the differences of K-12 and post-secondary accommodations. There are other factors, such as socio-economic class, race, healthcare, and support systems. However, going from a system where the school is keeping track of your needs, to a system where you have to self-advocate and it may not be well-received, can be jarring.

As the statistics show, students with disabilities are more likely to drop out or not even go to post-secondary education. Knowledge is power, in order for disabled people to have more power in society, first we need more knowledge.


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Lydia Parenteau is a 2018 AAPD Summer Intern. She interned with the U.S. Department of Energy.


(1) Maslow, G. R., Haydon, A., McRee, A.-L., Ford, C. A., & Halpern, C. T. (2011). Growing Up With a Chronic Illness: Social Success, Educational/Vocational Distress. Journal of Adolescent Health, 49(2), 206-212. doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2010.12.001

(2)  Id.

(3) Department of Education, “ Students with Disabilities Preparing for Postsecondary Education: Know Your Rights and Responsibilities”, September 2011, available at: https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/transition.html, last visited: 4 August 2018.

(4) Id.

(5) nside Higher Ed, “Dropping the Ball on Disabilities”, 2 April 2014, available at: https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2014/04/02/students-disabilities-frustrated-ignorance-and-lack-services, last visited: 4 August 2018.

(6) Id.

Speed Tests: How Teachers Can Make or Break Special Education

October 12, 2018 | Adam Fishbein, 2018 AAPD Summer Intern

Author’s Note: Some names have been changed in this post to protect the privacy of those individuals.

I leaned over my elementary school desk, intent on finishing the speed test before time ran out. “Time’s up! Pencils down! Hands face down on your desk!” said my first-grade teacher Mrs. Smith. For a moment, her words didn’t register. “Adam, pencil down!” she yelled, storming over to my desk. I watched in shock as she promptly snatched the pencil out of my hands, pulled the test off the tabletop, and ripped it in half.

When I got off the bus that day, I said to my mother, “I hate Mrs. Smith. She ripped up my test.” My mom was shocked. That night, she called the teacher and asked if what I told her was true. Mrs. Smith denied it and said I must’ve been confused. My mother believed her at first. Then, at a Parent Teacher Organization meeting the next day, another parent came up to her and said her son had been upset the previous day about the same thing.

My mother did some digging and confirmed through multiple other parents that Mrs. Smith had, in fact, ripped up my test and lied about it. My parents were furious. They confronted her and she, again, lied right to their faces. Then, after my parents left, she said to the class, “You know I didn’t rip up Adam’s test.”

There are a few glaring problems with this scenario. First, a teacher should never lie to a parent about what happened in their classroom. This action breaks the crucial trust that parents put in their child’s teachers when they send them off to school every day. The second problem is that Mrs. Smith was not following my Individualized Education Plan (IEP), which said I wouldn’t have to take timed tests because of my processing delay. An IEP spells out any supports, accommodations or specialized instruction a special education student in public school needs to succeed. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), teachers and administrators are required to implement the plan. However, an IEP is only as effective as the teacher’s willingness to follow it.

Fortunately for future students, Mrs. Smith retired several years ago. However, I’m sure there are many others like her. My parents advocated for me and I was switched to a different class for the rest of first grade, but this story has stayed with me to this day as a reminder of why I want to spend my career improving the lives of people with disabilities. With a rate of 1 in 5 Americans with disabilities, this population is the largest marginalized minority group in our country and the most underrepresented. Providing equal opportunity in education from a young age is one of the best ways we can improve the lives of people with disabilities. That starts with hiring teachers who will advocate for the individual needs of all students, no matter how difficult it may be, and firing the teachers who do not have students’ success as their top priority.


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Adam Fishbein is a 2018 AAPD Summer Intern. He interned with the National Center on Learning Disabilities.

The Need for More Diverse Educators

October 2, 2018 | Danielle Drazen, 2018 AAPD Summer Intern

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Part D helps to fund teacher preparation and retention. It serves to ensure professionals serving students with disabilities are fully qualified to work, possessing the requisite skills and knowledge to work with these students. IDEA Part D awards funding through grants that provide training activities and preparation programs for both special educators and educational leadership. However, this is still not enough. According to the Council for Exceptional Children, 48 states and the District of Columbia report shortages of special education teachers. Furthermore, the burnout rate for professionals leaving the field of special education is five years. Thus, more is necessary than just the provisions outlined in IDEA Part D. We need to create a pipeline for attracting, training, and retaining qualified, quality special educators.

About one in five people in the United States has a disability. However, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, only 69% of students served by IDEA exit high school and graduate with a diploma. This leads to dismal post-secondary outcomes. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2015 only 17.5% of people with disabilities were employed, while 69% of their non-disabled counterparts were employed. An investment on the front end, during K-12 education, helps to improve these startling statistics and outcomes for students with disabilities. Again, IDEA Part D does not do enough to create a pipeline for qualified special educators.

One piece of legislation that aims to create such a pipeline and improve these outcomes through training and retention is the STRIVE Act (S. 2370 and H.R. 4914). Within this act there are specific measures to attract more diverse educators and to target high-poverty and significant at-risk populations, like special education students. Research has shown that when we attract teachers that our students can identify with, these students benefit. The rationale behind this is that the students are able to see those they identify with in positions of authority, these educators have higher expectations for at-risk students, and the effect of cultural diversity. However, there has not been research done to look at the student outcomes when their special educators identify as disabled. Furthermore, there are not specific initiatives to attract disabled special educators to the field. From my own experience as a special education teacher that identifies as disabled, I can tell you the profound impact that this has had on my students. I was able to disclose my disability to my students and I was able to share my frustrations and successes with them. When my students realize that someone like them, with a disability, can not only graduate high school and college, but can go on to pursue their master’s degree, it helps them realize that they can also achieve their goals. I have seen my students reach this point and then begin to think about and plan their goals for their future.

IDEA Part D funding is not enough to ensure success for our students with disabilities. We need to find new ways to recruit more diverse educators, including those with disabilities. And one step towards this, if we’re playing the long game, is to elect more disabled officials to public office as well.


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Danielle Drazen is a 2018 AAPD Summer Intern. She interned with the Institute for Educational Leadership.

Action Alert! Tell Your Senators to Preserve Critical Protections for Students with Disabilities

February 21, 2017

The U.S. House of Representatives has voted to overturn the Department of Education’s regulation implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act’s (ESSA’s) core requirement that schools be held accountable for the performance of historically marginalized students, including students with disabilities.  Congress has never before voted to overturn an education regulation.  The Department issued this regulation after the public, including both educators and students and their families, filed over 21,000 comments.  The Senate will vote soon on whether to follow the House and overturn the regulation.  We ask you to call your Senators today to vote “no” and protect students with disabilities.


What You Need To Know:

The ESSA provides states with flexibility in how they identify schools where students are struggling, how they will hold those schools accountable, and how the states will support those schools.  But the ESSA also provides strong “guardrails,” to ensure that schools actually help students, including students with disabilities, learn and achieve proficiency.  The ESSA also requires states to issue a “report card” for every public school in the state, so that parents can make informed decisions about where their children will attend school.

Last year the Department of Education issued a regulation strengthening the ESSA, clarifying what the law requires, and specifying timelines for states to develop an accountability plan, including report cards, for schools.  In a robust public process, the Department received over 21,000 comments from parents, students, educators, advocates, and others about what the regulation should say.  The final regulation gives content to the ESSA’s core requirement that states must ensure that schools take steps to help struggling students, including students with disabilities.

Despite this robust process, on February 7 the House of Representatives overturned the Department’s ESSA accountability regulation.  The Senate may vote soon to join the House and overturn the regulation.  If the Senate votes “yes” on this bill, H.J. Res. 57, President Trump has said he will sign it, and the Department won’t be able to enforce the ESSA regulation and core protections for students with disabilities will be lost.  New Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has already told states they don’t have to follow the regulation, pending the Senate vote.


What You Can Do:

CALL YOUR SENATOR!  The Senate will vote on whether to overturn the ESSA accountability regulation soon – perhaps later this month.  Please call your Senators and ask them to vote “no” on H.J. Res. 57, and to protect the rights of marginalized students, including students with disabilities, to get the help they need to achieve.  Call the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121 (the Switchboard line may be busy—you can call back as many times as needed) and ask to be connected to your Senator’s office.

Tell your Senators to vote NO on the bill to overturn the ESSA accountability regulation, and to protect the rights of students with disabilities!


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This Action Alert was developed with content provided by the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law.

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