Disability Lawsuit in Oregon
Many state education departments are lagging behind in adjusting new assessment programs to meet the needs of students who are unable to take tests in the standard pencil and paper format without some changes. This is the case in Oregon, according to parents and students who recently filed suit in U.S. district court claiming that the state's failure to provide accommodations to some students with disabilities violates federal law.
The case stemmed from a requirement on Oregon's high school Certificate of Initial Mastery assessment, a series of tests in reading, writing and math, that students be scored on their spelling, grammar and punctuation skills. These tasks present difficult obstacles to students with learning disabilities such as dyslexia. While the state does allow certain accommodations, such as additional time to complete the tests, using a spell checker or word processor to help disabled students are considered "modifications," which state officials claim compromise test scores. Lawyers for the plaintiff argue that the state has been unclear as to whether scores on modified tests will count, and that disallowing such supports violates federal law requiring reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities.
Parents and students also fear that test results will be used to deny students access to further educational opportunities, such as Advanced Placement courses or admission to Oregon's public universities. Such worries led one student with dysgraphia, who takes advanced placement history courses and plays two instruments while earning a 3.5 grade point average, to call in sick for the test rather than risk failing the spelling and grammar requirements. 30,000 students in Oregon have been diagnosed with learning disabilities.
"If some mean spirited bureaucrat had sat down and designed a way of ruining the education of 30,000 students, they could not have done a better job than by designing a test...which tests those children on the one thing they have difficulty in presenting, which is the so-called convention of spelling, punctuation and grammar," says Sid Wolinsky, a lawyer with Oakland, California based Disability Rights Advocates, which filed the lawsuit. "It's like telling everybody in a wheelchair, sorry, you can't graduate unless you can climb the stairs."
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