School Practices and Accountability for Students With Disabilities

Jenifer J. Harr-Robins, Mengli Song, Michael S. Garet, and Louis Danielson

Changes to federal education law—in particular, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)—have created a national conversation about accountability for students with disabilities. The purpose of the study is to provide policy-relevant information about the education of students with disabilities by examining their inclusion in school accountability systems, and the use of school practices that may relate to their educational outcomes, in both schools that are accountable and schools that are not accountable for the performance of the students with disabilities subgroup. The hypothesis underlying the study is that school-level accountability for the subgroup may lead schools to adopt different school and instructional practices with the goal of improving the educational outcomes for this student population.

This report presents descriptive findings focusing on school practices related to staffing, student support, instructional time, educational placements, teacher collaboration, and professional development in schools explicitly held accountable for the performance of students with disabilities and schools that are not accountable for their performance. Relying primarily on school survey data, this report addresses the following descriptive research questions:

  • How do school characteristics and staffing differ between the accountable and non-accountable schools?
  • How do school programs and student support strategies differ between accountable and non-accountable schools?
  • How do instructional time and settings differ between accountable and non-accountable schools?
  • How do teacher collaboration and professional development differ between accountable and non-accountable schools?

Key Findings

  • Accountable schools had a higher percentage of students identified as having disabilities, were more likely to have students attending a central district program for students with disabilities, and had more special education teachers but fewer other staff per 100 students with disabilities, compared with non-accountable schools.
  • Accountable schools were more likely than non-accountable schools to adopt new reading and mathematics instructional programs, implement a tiered instructional intervention, and provide instructional and assistive technology at the elementary school level and to adopt reading across the curriculum and implement PBIS at both school levels.
  • Findings from this study also indicate that the two types of schools used their instructional time differently, with accountable schools being more likely to provide a greater amount of mathematics instruction in middle school, less reading instruction in elementary school, and extended instructional time and block scheduling at the elementary school level.
  • Students with disabilities in schools with different accountability status appeared to have different educational experiences in terms of instructional settings, with always-accountable schools favoring co-taught settings.
  • At both the elementary and middle school levels, team teaching, professional development, and coaching were more evident in accountable schools than in non-accountable schools.