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Gallaudet Univeristy
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NCLB, IDEA, and Deaf Children

Two pieces of federal legislation have had a significant impact on the education of deaf and hard of hearing children: the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) and the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA).

No Child Left Behind

The NCLB was authorized in 2002 as Public Law 107-110 to:

  1. Raise the academic achievement of all students up to age 21, regardless of race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, proficiency level in English and/or disability;
  2. Close the achievement gap which continues to pervade the educational system.

With the NCLB, the responsibility for over-all student achievement rests on the academic institution, the school system, and the state. To achieve these goals, all states must:

  • Develop challenging academic standards and benchmarks
  • Develop annual academic assessments
  • Ensure that every teacher is highly qualified
  • Define the amount of academic progress to be achieved in order to reach proficiency goal by 2014
  • Test at least 95% of all students
  • Determine a minimum size required for subgroups of students to be included in the annual yearly progress (AYP) calculations
  • Make available every reasonable adaptations and accommodations for students with disabilities; and
  • Produce an annual Report Card of performance that is available to the public.

With the implementation of the NCLB, all students in the United States, including students who are deaf or hard of hearing, and other students with disabilities, are now subject to the same high academic standards as their peers who do not appear to have any form of disability. The goal is for all students to:

  • Attain a rating of minimum proficiency or better in reading and mathematics by 2014
  • Become proficient readers upon finishing their third grade
  • Become proficient in English if they have limited proficiency in English;
  • Be taught only by highly qualified teachers
  • Be educated in safe, drug-free and conducive learning environments; and
  • Graduate from high school.

The most significant aspects of the NCLB relate to accountability for student progress and the standards-based education that every student in United States will receive, neither of which are provisions in the IDEA, the second major legislation that impacts the education of deaf and hard of hearing children.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

First passed by Congress in 1975 as the Education of All Handicapped Children Act (Public Law 94-142), the IDEA legislation required that all students with disabilities up to age 21 must be provided with free appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment and with accommodations.
Since the original legislation was passed, states and educational institutions that receive IDEA funds have been required to:


  • Provide full educational opportunities to children with disabilities within a specific timeframe
  • Identify, locate and evaluate all children within their jurisdiction who are in need of special education and related services
  • Ensure that all special education teachers are highly qualified
  • Evaluate all children suspected to have a disability following the IDEA guidelines
  • Develop annually an individualized educational plan (IEP) for all special needs children; and
  • Ensure a least restrictive environment for all special needs children, removing them from regular classroom environments only if they have severe disabling conditions that can be addressed in a more focused environment

With the IDEA, students with disabilities are assured free appropriate public education and IEPs that address how they, given proper accommodations, will be able to participate and achieve academically in the same curriculum as other students. However, with the IDEA alone, if students fail to progress even after implementing what their IEP stipulates, the school, the school district or the state are not held responsible and may continue to receive the same support and funding as before.

What this Means for Deaf Children

In the past, children with disabilities, including many deaf and hard of hearing children, were frequently left out of the state and district level assessment and accountability systems. In many cases they also did not have access to the general curriculum on which these assessments are based. Because this type of access and assessment did not happen, there were no external measures to indicate whether deaf and hard of hearing students were learning enough to move on to a post-secondary education or to get a job, and there was no system to hold anybody accountable.

With the NCLB, deaf and hard of hearing students and students with disabilities may no longer be excluded from any type of assessment available to students attending mainstream academic programs. Furthermore, they will be educated according to the same standards-based curriculum in which every student in the same state is expected to become proficient. Now, IEPs must also address how students with disabilities will participate in state assessments in the same way as other students, or with accommodations or by participating in alternate assessments (in the case of students who have documented severe cognitive or developmental disabilities).

Thus, NCLB and IDEA work together to ensure that deaf and hard of children have the following:

  • Access to the same standards and benchmarks that other students do
  • Support to help them succeed
  • A system of assessments that tracks their progress

Additional Information and Resources:

The National Center on Educational Outcomes, at the University of Minnesota, has developed a brochure and a PowerPoint presentations for educators and families of children with disabilities looking for information on their children's participation in national and state assessments, standards-setting efforts, and graduation requirements. .