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CONTACT: Lena Parsons, for Access Living
773-425-0725
parsonslena@gmail.com


Access Living White Paper urges Illinois to modify Performance Evaluation Reform Act

Chicago – On October 19, Access Living released an education White Paper that projects the impact that The Performance Evaluation Reform Act of 2010 (PERA) may have on Special Education students in public schools throughout Illinois. The paper, “Holding Educators Accountable For the Academic Growth of Students with Disabilities” examines the relationship within PERA between the achievement of students with disabilities and the performance of teachers. Adopted in January 2010, PERA was passed in an effort to capture funds with the U.S. Department of Education's “Race to the Top” Program. The grant requirements for States to receive federal funds promote the redesign of teacher and principal evaluation systems.

Under PERA, there is considerable emphasis on student performance in terms of teacher and principal evaluation. Access Living believes that educators should be held accountable for the education and progress of students with disabilities in Illinois schools. The current standard for responsibility is governed by the 1982 Supreme Court Rowley decision, which holds that “students with disabilities are not legally required to be educated equally to their non–disabled peers.” According to the Access Living Report, “PERA could force schools to effectively educate students with disabilities.” But the report urges Illinois to modify elements of PERA in order to take some emphasis away from the test scores of students with disabilities in relation to the general student population, and put more emphasis on student growth related to his or her progress on Individualized Education Plans and related to his or her individual improvement on test scores. “If we don't make certain modifications to PERA, and we put too much responsibility on educators for student growth, then it may be students with disabilities who suffer,” said Rodney Estvan, Education Policy Analyst at Access Living, and a co–author of the report. According to the report, too much responsibility for student growth on educators in districts that lack sufficient resources may drive special education teachers from the field. In addition, mainstream educators may be reluctant to teach students with disabilities, “fearing lower performance evaluations due students who are seriously academically behind in their regular education classrooms.”

Access Living's report includes a series of conclusions and corresponding recommendations in response to the PERA. The recommendations are geared toward amending PERA in a way that creates an environment within the school system where the progress of students with disabilities is accurately and fairly measured, and where educators are not burdened with unrealistic responsibilities.

“Ultimately, we want to see improved outcomes for students with disabilities,” said Estvan. “Our hope is that legislators and leaders within Illinois' system of education use this report as a tool to help bring us closer to a system where educators are able to succeed and where students with disabilities are able to excel.”

Access Living's report, “Holding Educators Accountable For the Academic Growth of Students with Disabilities” is available online at www.accessliving.org.
Jennifer A. Ridder, M.S., co–authored the report.

Established in 1980, Access Living is a non–profit, Chicago–based disability rights and service organization that provides individualized, peer–based services for people with disabilities. With a strong influence in public policy and social reform, Access Living is a leading force in the community. Committed to challenging stereotypes, protecting civil rights and breaking institutional and community barriers, Access Living is a nationally recognized change agent at the forefront of the disability rights movement.

For more information, contact Rodney Estvan at 312–640–2149 (voice), restvan@accessliving.org or Gary Arnold at 312–640–2199(voice), garnold@accessliving.org

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Established in 1980, Access Living is a change agent committed to fostering an inclusive society that enables Chicagoans with disabilities to live fully–engaged and self–directed lives. Nationally recognized as a leading force in the disability advocacy community, Access Living challenges stereotypes, protects civil rights and champions social reform.