Student Writing

NCLD Supports ED’s Enforcement of IDEA: The Texas Education Agency Must Comply

WASHINGTON – September 13, 2021 – The National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) supports the decision by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) to fully enforce the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and require that the Texas Education Agency (TEA) comply with federal law. 

For years, countless children with disabilities in Texas have been denied services they are guaranteed by law under IDEA. On August 27th, 2021, the U.S. Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), notified the TEA Commissioner that TEA has failed to provide a free appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment for students with disabilities. TEA has also failed to identify children who needed services under IDEA, provide those services to them, and help districts uphold the law. The state has 30 days to make and provide documentation of the necessary changes to be in compliance. This current action follows up on earlier monitoring reports issued by OSEP that notified the state that it had not properly followed federal law. OSEP issued the most recent letter because it determined that TEA still has not satisfied the majority of the items previously identified to address the noncompliance in 2018 and 2020 OSEP monitoring reports. 

TEA’s noncompliance with IDEA has been long-standing and we are concerned that the state has still failed to complete the corrective actions it pledged to implement. We applaud OSEP and the U.S. Department of Education for taking an important step to protect the rights of students with disabilities and their families.” said Lindsay E. Jones, President and CEO of NCLD. “We urge Texas to take the necessary actions to equip its educators to effectively support students with disabilities, and ensure  every child with a disability receives the services they are guaranteed by law.” 


Read the full statement here.

The National Center for Learning Disabilities’ mission is to improve the lives of the 1 in 5 children and adults nationwide with learning and attention issues—by empowering parents and young adults, transforming schools and advocating for equal rights and opportunities.

For more information, please contact:
Lindsay Kubatzky, Policy Manager 

What We are Learning from Leading States about the Importance of Equitable Whole-Child Education Policy

Since March 2020, the pandemic and extended periods of distance learning have shined a spotlight on the critical role that schools play in providing for the social, emotional, and health needs of each child, in addition to their academic development. This is especially true for our students with disabilities who experienced challenges accessing critical services and supports in a distance environment. This fall, most students will return to in-person learning. Supporting students to succeed means supporting districts and schools that promote their physical, social, emotional, cognitive, and academic development — all at the same time. It has never been more important to attend to students’ holistic development in equitable and effective ways.

With close to $200 billion in federal aid authorized for recovery, state and local education agencies have an unprecedented opportunity to support schools in improving education for all students. This is especially true for students with disabilities who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. In An Urgent Imperative for States: Developing Whole Child Policies to Support an Equitable Education for Students with Disabilities, the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD), with guidance from the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), highlights several states leading the way to support whole-child learning and development inclusive of young people with disabilities and their families. These states provide examples for other states looking to strengthen equity-focused whole child education.

For example, the brief highlights Ohio’s vision for education inclusive of all students. In the state’s strategic plan “Each Child, Our Future,” the Ohio Department of Education goes beyond simply mentioning the importance of better meeting the needs of students with disabilities as part of their vision. Ohio State Superintendent Paolo DeMaria directed the Office of Exceptional Children (OEC) to develop a complementary plan focused on realizing this vision for students with disabilities. This plan “offers robust recommendations, tactics and action steps to ensure students with disabilities benefit from the vision and core principles heralded in Ohio’s strategic plan.” Since 2018, as part of the state’s strategic plan, Ohio has been involved in CCSSO’s Advancing Inclusive Principal Leadership State Initiative to support school leaders in cultivating inclusive and equitable learning environments that promote the academic and social success of each learner, with an emphasis on those with disabilities. A team comprising state, district, and school leaders across Ohio will provide district and school leaders with training on inclusive practices in preparation for the return to school this fall.

Another example is from Massachusetts, where the state education agency developed the Educator Effectiveness Guidebook for Inclusive Practices, which aims to “enable educators to create a place for all students to thrive in general education settings.” The Guidebook highlights strategies that improve academic and social-emotional outcomes for all students and emphasizes educators’ roles in establishing an inclusive learning environment. The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) disseminates the guidebook on its website to support educators in implementing evidence-based best practices for inclusion (such as Universal Design for Learning, Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, and Social and Emotional Learning). DESE also provides an aligned virtual course for general and special education teachers to guide their work implementing the practices along with a companion guide for principals and school leaders.

New York has established teacher preparation program requirements in an effort to ensure all educators are prepared to serve students with disabilities. The Empire State requires all general education teacher candidates to complete coursework and practice requirements aligned to specific professional standards that address students’ learning differences and needs before entering the classroom. Teachers are required to complete coursework focused on “understanding the needs of students with disabilities, including at least three semester hours of study for teachers to develop the skills necessary to provide instruction that will promote the participation and progress of students with disabilities in the general education curriculum.” And registered teacher preparation programs must include at least 100 hours of field experience prior to student teaching, at least 15 of which includes “a focus on understanding the needs of students with disabilities.” All of this is done in an effort to ensure that the educators who are serving students in general education settings are equipped with the knowledge, skills, and mindsets to do so effectively.

While still in the early stages of implementation, the New York State Education Department is also advancing a Multi-Tiered System of Supports-Integrated (MTSS-I) initiative by leveraging the funds from a federal grant to develop a statewide MTSS-I framework, establish a MTSS-I Technical Assistance Center, and provide direct supports to districts in the delivery of tiered interventions focusing on the whole child.  

A long-standing leader in whole child education, the Michigan Department of Education has implemented a Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) framework to promote the academic and behavioral success of each child since 2000. The state established the MiMTSS Technical Assistance Center to support inclusive practices using the MTSS framework in districts across the state. Over the past year, MDE has also been involved in a nine-state network to integrate equity-focused social emotional learning into their MTSS model in partnership with CCSSO and the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL). American Institutes for Research (AIR), CCSSO, and CASEL developed a toolkit with best practices and lessons learned from leading states to support state and district leaders in advancing an integrated MTSS framework that supports the whole child.

There are bright spots across the country where states have implemented whole child policies inclusive of students with disabilities. Ohio, Massachusetts, New York, and Michigan are just a few of the states highlighted in the NCLD brief as leading on this work. With recovery and school reopening underway, states have an incredible opportunity to support whole-child learning and development for all students — especially young people with disabilities.

Kaylan Connally serves as Program Manager, Student Expectations at the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) where she supports states’ efforts to develop and implement policies and practices that promote equitable outcomes for all learners, with a focus on students with disabilities.

Lindsay Kubatzky is the Policy Manager at the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD). Lindsay conducts research and produces various written products related to the many current federal and state policy challenges and opportunities facing the 1 in 5 children who have learning and attention issues.

This blog post also appears on CCSSO’s State’s Leading Blog.

Q&A: Statewide Assessments – Why They Matter

Standardized tests can be frustrating for students and families. And during the COVID-19 pandemic, it may be that statewide assessments are the last thing you, as a parent, want your student to participate in. But the U.S. Department of Education recently reminded states of their obligations and encouraged them to administer assessments this year to the extent they are able. 

Because there are many myths and misconceptions about why these tests matter and how the results are used, NCLD created this Q&A. It aims to answer some of the questions we’ve heard lately and explains why we need to pay attention to how our schools are doing, and not just our students, especially as we recover from the pandemic.  

Q. Why does my student need to take a state assessment?

Our education system has a long history of excluding and denying students with disabilities from meaningful education and high-quality opportunities. Not too long ago, when statewide assessments were given to students, they were not given to students with disabilities. Sometimes students with disabilities would be told to stay home, or they would be sent on field trips instead. As a result, when we saw the scores of how well students were doing in areas like reading or math, it was only a picture of how well students without disabilities were doing. No one was paying attention to how students with disabilities were being served. 

A shift was made in the early 2000’s to require states to assess all students and to inform the public of how different subgroups like students with disabilities performed on those tests. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)—the federal education law that governs general education in public schools across the country—was passed in 2015 and requires states to administer assessments in grades three through eight and once in high school. It requires that 95% of students participate in these tests and it requires that nearly all students with disabilities take the same test as students without disabilities.

By requiring that students with disabilities take the same test as their peers, it requires schools to start thinking about students with disabilities when designing learning opportunities and setting goals. It is one of the most important levers we have in ensuring that students with disabilities are included in general education and are held to high standards. Some states require students to pass the state assessment in order to move on to the next grade. We know that with the right supports, students with disabilities can and do achieve at grade-level standards.

Q. Can state assessments be biased or flawed?

There are many critiques of standardized state assessments, including that they are biased. There is evidence that some assessments do not accurately capture the performance of students with particular experiences, cultural backgrounds, and different levels of exposure to the content on which these tests are based. Test developers should continue making improvements in the development and administration of statewide assessments to ensure that every student has an equal chance at performing well and truly demonstrating what they know. And school districts should continue to implement formative assessments that provide timely information that educators can use to improve instruction in real-time. 

However, when you reflect on the history—the fact that our system has long excluded students with disabilities from these assessments—it is important to fight for their inclusion as long as all students are being tested. Even if assessments are imperfect, having data is more important than being in the dark about how well we are educating students with disabilities. 

Q. What is the purpose of state assessments?

Statewide assessments are meant to show a snapshot of how the school system as a whole is performing, not how each student is performing. These assessments provide education leaders information about how students as a whole are being educated each year, so that they can make decisions to improve staffing, provide targeted resources and support to different schools, and improve student achievement over time. For example, the information we get from assessments that your student takes in grade 3 will inform changes made for future 3rd graders, and for your student when they get to 5th or 6th grade. The results of these assessments can help identify trends in learning, such as where we are falling short for students and where changes should be made going forward. This is especially important if groups of students as a whole, such as students with disabilities, are being underserved. Assessment information gleaned from these statewide assessments also helps target resources to high need schools or schools where we are not serving large groups of students well.

Statewide assessments are called “summative” assessments but there are many kinds of other assessments, and this chart helps explain when different kinds of assessments can be useful. For example:

  • Screeners are quick assessments that help measure a student’s skill in specific areas. Screeners can help inform instruction and skill development. 
  • Formative assessments are also short assessments that are given repeatedly over time to see how well a student is learning and how effective their instruction is. Formative assessments can help inform instruction based on a student’s progress.
  • Summative assessments are longer tests that are given at the end of some period of time (the end of a unit, or a year) to determine how much a student has learned in that period of time. These tests might determine a student’s grade or credits earned. Summative assessments do not usually inform instruction because they look back over time, after the learning has taken place. Summative assessments might be designed by the state so that every school district uses the same test, and these are considered comparable assessments. Or, they could be designed by districts themselves, in which case your student can’t be compared to students across the state.

Q. Why can’t we use local assessments instead of statewide assessments?

Local districts might develop their own formative assessments in subjects like reading and math. While these assessments can help pinpoint how individual students are doing compared to others in the district, the tests are not required to be aligned to grade-level standards, students may not be assessed on an appropriate grade-level, and the tests cannot be used to compare students from one district to the next. 

In addition, your student may not be offered the same accommodations on a local assessment that they are entitled to on a statewide test. This is because the federal law (ESSA) that requires statewide assessments also requires students to receive appropriate accommodations on those tests. But there is no similar requirement applied to districts who want to give their own assessments. So your student might not be able to truly show what they know on a local assessment if they are not given accommodations they need (like extra time, a quiet testing space, or more). 

Finally, local assessments may not actually be available to all students with disabilities. The statewide assessment has an alternate version known as an “alternate assessment based on alternate achievement standards” (AA-AAS). The AA-AAS is designed for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities and is aligned to different standards than the test given to general education students. But local assessments don’t offer an alternate assessment. So while the majority of students with disabilities will be tested on the local assessment along with their general education peers, there is no way to measure the achievement of students with significant cognitive disabilities. This paints an incomplete picture and leaves out an entire segment of students. 

Q. What does “high stakes” assessments mean?

The federal law that requires states to administer these tests (ESSA) only requires that they be given at certain points (each year in 3rd through 8th grade and once in high school) and that 95% of students participate. The law also requires that the results of these assessments, among other measures of achievement such as access to Advanced Placement courses, graduation rates, and whether students feel supported in school, be used to determine which schools are the “lowest performing.” Schools identified as lowest performing are where students are most underserved, or where teaching is not as effective as it needs to be. The “stakes” for schools and districts is the potential to be identified as “low performing” compared to other schools. But this can be a good thing! Schools that are not performing well need additional support and resources to take corrective action to help students make progress. Statewide assessments are just one measure schools use to determine where to put their resources. 

However, states can set additional rules that put even more emphasis on these tests. In your state, your student might be required to pass the statewide assessment to move on to the next grade, or to graduate from high school. In some places, teacher evaluations might be based in part on how their students perform on these tests. Those decisions are made by each state, and not required by federal law. 

Q. Do state assessments determine whether my student gets special education services?

No, state assessments are completely different from and unrelated to the special education evaluation process. If you request a special education evaluation because you believe your student may need additional support, your student’s evaluator might look at their scores on previous state assessments or other measures of progress. However, these tests do not determine whether your student has a disability or is entitled to special education.

Q. Why does my student have to take a grade-level assessment when we know they haven't had the support to reach grade-level standards?

Our current system prevents many students with disabilities from performing to the best of their abilities. It can be frustrating to require these students to participate in a test on when we haven’t set them up for success.  It can be hard to manage student anxiety around the tests as well. However, these tests are not designed to focus on the individual student’s level of performance. They are meant to show system-level data and whether certain groups of students need more attention. If we allowed students with disabilities to take tests at the grade level at which they are performing rather than the grade level in which they are enrolled, it would appear that those students are doing well, when in fact schools need to work harder and provide more effective strategies to help them catch up. By requiring students to take tests at the grade level in which they are enrolled, we can ensure that the gaps in achievement remain apparent and that steps are taken to ensure students with disabilities are supported in making meaningful progress.

With New Assessment Flexibility, NCLD calls on States to Prioritize Equity, Access & Achievement in 2020-2021 School Year

WASHINGTON, DC – February 22, 2021 – The National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) appreciates that today’s guidance from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) reiterates the value of statewide summative assessments while offering states some limited flexibility in administering the tests. The guidance rightly recognizes the challenges facing schools and families amidst the COVID-19 pandemic but holds strong to its commitment to equity, opportunity, and data transparency for all students. 

As we emerge from the pandemic, it is more important than ever that we continue to collect data that illuminates the inequities in our system and pushes us to make change that will benefit our most vulnerable students. For the past 20 years, statewide assessments have provided the only data showing how students with disabilities are performing compared to their grade-level peers. Importantly, today’s guidance encourages states to meet their obligation under federal law and administer statewide summative tests as best they can during this time and offers support to those states who cannot do so.  

To be clear: ED’s guidance does not allow states to replace statewide assessments with local assessments, nor should it be used as an opportunity to hold lower expectations for students with disabilities. NCLD is pleased to know that ED will closely monitor state requests for additional flexibility and provide clear guidance and technical assistance to ensure states are gathering high-quality data and holding all students to high expectations. As states and districts develop their assessment plans and consider taking advantage of the flexibility offered today by ED, NCLD urges states to prioritize equity and: (1) administer statewide assessments to the greatest extent possible this school year; (2) identify additional sources of available data that can inform parents, advocates, and policymakers about student engagement, access to resources, and academic achievement of student subgroups under ESSA; and (3) engage families and stakeholders in the planning process and account for the needs of our most systemically marginalized students. 


Download the full statement here.

The National Center for Learning Disabilities’ mission is to improve the lives of the 1 in 5 children and adults nationwide with learning and attention issues—by empowering parents and young adults, transforming schools and advocating for equal rights and opportunities.

For more information, please contact:
Meghan Whittaker, Director of Policy & Advocacy

January 2021 Policy News Round-Up

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris are sworn in, a new Congress begins to take shape, and NCLD releases a federal legislative agenda for the next two years. See how NCLD worked on behalf of people with disabilities this month. 

President Joe Biden Signs Executive Orders to Support Education During the COVID-19 Crisis 
On his second day in office, President Joe Biden signed an executive order on “Supporting the Reopening and Continuing Operation of Schools and Early Childhood Education Providers”. In it, he urged the next U.S. Secretary of Education to:

  • Work to provide assistance to safely reopen schools
  • Provide help for social/emotional and mental support
  • Create a clearinghouse of best practices
  • Research the impact of COVID-19 on different populations
  • Collect data on which schools are in-person, blended or fully remote.

NCLD will continue with the Biden Administration to ensure students with disabilities are receiving the support they need during the pandemic. 

Additional COVID-19 Relief Package Faces Barriers in Congress 
On the heels of Congress allocating $900 billion in relief to address the ongoing COVID-19 crisis in December, President Biden and other leaders in Washington, D.C. are looking for more. However, some Republicans in Congress are pushing back against the proposals due to the cost. President Biden has proposed a $1.9 trillion relief package that would provide individuals with a $1,400 relief check, more assistance to those who are unemployed, support for small businesses, and a moratorium on evictions. In addition, the proposal has $170 billion to K-12 schools, colleges and universities to help them reopen and operate safely or to facilitate remote learning.

With no consensus on the horizon, Democrats have decided to move forward with or without Republican support through the budget reconciliation process—a process in which certain bills can be passed with only a 51 vote majority in the Senate.

Chairman of the House Education Committee Releases Bill to Address Instructional Loss
In response to the COVID-19 crisis, Chairman Bobby Scott (D-VA) introduced the Learning Recovery Act of 2021. The bill would provide an additional $75 billion to states and schools to build out summer school programs, extend school days, and extend school programs. The bill also directs the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) to study the impact of COVID-19 on learning and to focus on how the pandemic disproportionately impacted different subgroups of students like those with disabilities. NCLD has pushed for this type of additional investment in education funding as well as advocated for IES to study the effects of the pandemic on students with disabilities.

NCLD Releases Legislative Agenda for the 117th Congress
On January 12th,  NCL) released its 2021 federal policy agenda detailing the most critical issues the Biden Administration and 117th Congress should focus on due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our education system. “As we continue to see the effects of the COVID-19 crisis, lawmakers must act to ensure marginalized students receive a high-quality education,” said NCLD President and CEO, Lindsay Jones. “NCLD looks forward to hearing how a new Congress and Administration will work to improve our education system for the 1 in 5 with learning disabilities and attention issues.” Read the full agenda here.

NCLD Joins with Partners to Support Fully Funding Title I and IDEA
On January 27, U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and U.S. Representative Susie Lee (D-NV) announced the reintroduction of the Keep Our Promise to America’s Children and Teachers (PACT) Act, legislation to put Congress on a fiscally-responsible path to fully fund Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education/Every Student Succeeds Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) on a mandatory basis.

In Fiscal Year 2019, Title I which is a grant program to support schools serving high populations of students impacted by poverty, was underfunded by $29 billion according to the National Education Association. In addition, IDEA calls on the federal government to fund 40 percent of the cost of special education, but Congress has never fully funded the law. According to the National Education Association, IDEA state grants are currently funded at just 13.8 percent – the lowest percentage since 2000.

NCLD joined with over 30 other disability rights, civil rights, and education organizations to support the bill. NCLD is committed to continuing to work together to provide the necessary funding to support students with disabilities and students impacted by poverty. 

Student Writing

With the Nomination of Dr. Miguel Cardona for Education Secretary, NCLD Hopeful for the Future

WASHINGTON – December 22, 2020 – The National Center for Learning Disabilities is encouraged to hear the news of the nomination of Dr. Miguel Cardona for U.S. Secretary of Education. The importance of this cabinet position cannot be understated, as the next Secretary of Education bears the responsibility of supporting all students and educators in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The person who assumes this role should have a track record of prioritizing equity, meaningfully engaging with families and communities, and putting students first. 

We know that the Senate will engage in a careful and rigorous review process to ensure that the next Secretary of Education is well prepared to meet the challenges facing our nation’s schools and families. As the confirmation process unfolds, we look forward to learning more about the impact of Dr. Cardona’s work on historically marginalized populations, including students with disabilities. We will be listening carefully to his views on special education and his vision for improving outcomes and promoting equity in America’s schools. 


Read the full statement here.

The National Center for Learning Disabilities’ mission is to improve the lives of the 1 in 5 children and adults nationwide with learning and attention issues—by empowering parents and young adults, transforming schools and advocating for equal rights and opportunities.

For more information, please contact:
Meghan Whittaker, Director of Policy & Advocacy 

U.S. Capitol in the Summer

Congress Passes FY21 Funding Bill that Includes COVID-19 Relief

With hours to spare before a potential government shutdown, Congress has passed a bill to fund the government for the remainder of the 2021 fiscal year (which ends in September 2021). Members of Congress agreed to modest increases in critical education programs such as Title I of the Every Student Succeeds Act (+$227 million for a total of $16.537 billion) and Part B Grants to States under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (+$173 million for a total of $12.937 billion). 

Written into this funding bill is also more than $900 billion to address the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. This investment in our nation comes after months of negotiation and nine months after the last COVID-19 relief bill was passed. The bill includes a number of investments into education programs including:

  • $819 million for the Bureau of Indian Education; 
  • $4.1 billion for the Governors Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund (which can be used for early childhood, K-12, or higher education);  
  • $54.3 billion for the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund; and  
  • $22.7 billion for the Higher Education Emergency Relief (HEER) Fund.

In addition, the bill includes:

  • $600 in direct payments to individuals making up to $75,000 per year and $1,200 for couples making up to $150,000 per year, as well as a $600 payment for each child dependent. 
  • $10 billion in emergency funds for the child care sector through the Child Care Development Block Grant (CCDBG) program. 
  • $3.2 billion in emergency funds for low-income families to access broadband through a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) fund. 

While neither the FY21 investments nor the COVID-19 relief provision in this bill are sufficient to meet the growing needs of our students, educators, and families, they are a welcome way to end this Congress. NCLD looks forward to working with the 117th Congress and the Biden Administration in January to secure more funding for our communities in need.

NCLD Speaks out: Concerns about potential nomination of former NEA President for Secretary of Education (Updated)

On Thursday, December 10th, NCLD joined several disability organizations to express concern after media outlets suggested that Lily Eskelsen Garcia, former National Education Association (NEA) president, might potentially be the nominee for Secretary of Education under President-Elect Biden.

NCLD and other members of the disability community outlined in this letter our concerns about the problematic and harmful positions taken by the NEA under Eskelsen Garcia’s leadership from 2014 through 2020. The issues on which NEA advocated against the interest of students with disabilities and their families include the core tenet of least restrictive environment (LRE) under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), assessment of students with disabilities under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), and restraint and seclusion of students.

NCLD is encouraging the Biden Administration to select a Secretary of Education who will prioritize equity and has demonstrated their commitment to increasing access and opportunity for all students, including students with disabilities. 

An updated letter was sent to the Biden Transition team on Dec. 16th. Read the full letter here.

Senate Republicans Announce FY 2021 Budget Proposal

Earlier this week, Senate Republicans released their proposals for next year’s federal budget. This comes months after the House of Representatives passed their version of next year’s budget. While both proposals have modest increases for important education and research programs, Senate Republicans and House Democrats are still at odds on a number of big items including additional funding for the border wall. Congress has until Dec. 11th to agree on a budget and send to President Donald Trump or the government is at risk of a shutdown.

Here are a few highlights from the Senate’s proposal:

  • +$125 million for schools with low-income students (Title I of ESSA) for a total of $17.122 billion
  • No additional funding to support teacher training and professional development programs (Title II of ESSA).
  • +$40 million to support educating the whole child (Title IV, Part A of ESSA) for a total of $1.25 billion
  • +$110 million for IDEA grants to states for a total of $12.874 billion. 
  • +$7.5 million for the IDEA Preschool Program (Part B, Section 619) for a total of $401 million
  • +$7.5 million for IDEA Infants and Toddlers with Disabilities Program (Part C) for a total of $484.5 million
  • +$100 million for Head Start and Early Head Start for a total of $10.713 billion. 

Senate Republicans are also proposing an additional $12 million for the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) for a total of $635 million and an additional $100 million for the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). In their recommendations for how to spend this funding, the Committee stated that NICHD, among other areas, has had an insufficient focus on research around learning differences and that the Committee “encourages NICHD to consider otherwise qualified grants in these areas on the same basis as any other areas of focus.” 

NCLD will continue to work with leaders in Congress to ensure that students with disabilities, their families, and their teachers continue to have the necessary resources they need to succeed. Over the next month, we will be meeting with Congressional offices to ensure that investments in important programs that support students with disabilities is a top priority for lawmakers. 

National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) Calls on Leaders to Uphold the Voting Rights of Individuals with Disabilities

WASHINGTON – November 4, 2020 – NCLD is heartened to see increased participation this year in the 2020 election, and we predict high turnout for voters with disabilities. Given the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of voters exercised their right to vote through mail-in voting, a long-established voting option for voters with disabilities. We stand with the disability and civil rights community in the call to ensure no voters are disenfranchised and applaud states in their efforts to #CountEveryVote. As such, we hope the voices of voters with disabilities will be heard this election and every vote is counted. Accuracy is vital to our democracy.


A PDF version of the full statement can be found here.

The National Center for Learning Disabilities’ mission is to improve the lives of the 1 in 5 children and adults nationwide with learning and attention issues—by empowering parents and young adults, transforming schools and advocating for equal rights and opportunities.

In 2020, NCLD launched Our Time, Our Vote, a nonpartisan, nonpolitical initiative to provide voters with learning disabilities the resources and tools necessary to vote. We do not endorse any party or candidate or engage in lobbying that seeks to influence the outcomes of elections. 

For more information, please contact:
Joey Hunziker, Director of Young Adult Initiatives 

NCLD Announces First 100 Days Agenda

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the next Administration will play an important role in quickly addressing significant equity gaps for students with disabilities, students of color, students from low-income backgrounds, and other systematically marginalized students. NCLD calls on the Administration to take steps to meaningfully address the following issues within the first 100 days of the Administration to ensure equitable educational access and opportunity for every child.

Support States & School Districts in Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic to Maintain a Safe & Equitable Education for all Students

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the challenges that have long plagued our education system. As a result of school closures, students have lost anywhere from a quarter to a full year of learning and districts are facing serious budget shortfalls. Millions of students have failed to attend virtual classes this fall, and far too many families still lack access to reliable internet or a computer at home. To prevent growing achievement gaps and ensure equitable education for all, schools must have the resources to not only manage existing health and safety challenges but to also innovate and rethink instruction and learning. To address this crisis, the next Administration must:

  • Prioritize a COVID-19 stimulus bill that invests heavily in public schools, providing at least $12B for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), $12B for Title I of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA); $1B for Title III of ESSA, and $4B to address the digital divide through the E-Rate program.
  • Request an increase in the President’s FY22 budget for IDEA, Title I of ESSA, Title III of ESSA, and the E-Rate program for FY22.
  • Issue guidance and provide technical assistance to states on how to administer assessments and meet accountability requirements under the Every Student Succeeds Act during the COVID-19 crisis.
  • Issue guidance on evaluation and service delivery for students with disabilities during COVID-19.

Enforce Civil Rights and Invest in Educational Equity

Equity gaps have long-existed in the education system and they have been made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic. The federal government plays a critical role in enforcing federal education and civil rights laws. This must be done through adequate funding for the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), comprehensive data collection, thorough investigations into complaints, and responsive guidance. The next Administration must: 

  • Issue an Executive Order affirming the U.S. Department of Education (ED) as a civil rights enforcement agency and creating a commission to examine the capacity and needs of OCR.
  • Request an increase in the President’s FY22 budget for the Office for Civil Rights.
  • Direct ED to administer the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) during the 2020-2021 school year and annually thereafter, expanding the collection of data so it is universal and disaggregated by race/ethnicity (American Community Survey) and by disability category.
  • Request an increase in the President’s FY22 budget for innovative assessment grants and state assessment grants.
  • Issue guidance on and provide technical assistance on significant disproportionality in special education.

Prioritize Literacy Rates & Evidence-based Literacy Instruction

Literacy has become a national crisis in recent years. We have seen only marginal gains in reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), and socioeconomic disparities in literacy are growing: Black and Hispanic students enter high school with average literacy skills three years behind those of white and Asian students, and students from low-income families enter high school with average literacy skills five years behind those of high-income students. For decades, experts have known what it takes to effectively teach reading skills, but school instruction has not caught up. Now that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused additional instructional loss for all students in reading, literacy must become a national focus in every grade. To address this crisis, the next Administration must:

  • Establish a Commission that builds off of the work of the National Reading Panel and is charged with assessing the existence and quality of evidence-based literacy instruction in schools across the nation and developing a plan to get evidence-based literacy instruction in every classroom.
  • Request an increase in the President’s FY22 budget for the Comprehensive Literacy State Development program under ESSA. 

Spur Education Research, Development and Innovation

The current reality of COVID-19 requires new solutions to persistent problems. There is much we don’t yet know about how best to instruct diverse learners (including students with disabilities and English Learners) in a virtual environment. With virtual learning becoming a more frequent mode of instruction, additional research is needed to ensure that all learners have access and can benefit from it. At the same time, longstanding research to practice gaps must be eliminated so that research findings can quickly make it to the hands of educators and parents. 

  • Request an increase in the President’s FY22 budget for the Institute for Education Science, the National Center for Special Education Research, and the National Center for Education Research. 
  • Invest in research on innovative assessment models, validity and reliability of virtual assessments, and considerations for these assessments for students with disabilities.
  • Establish a Commission to explore how to improve coordination among education research  stakeholders, with a particular focus on eliminating the research to practice gap

Create Safe and Healthy Schools for Every Child

Every child should have access to a safe, welcome, and nurturing learning environment, regardless of where they live or who they are. Yet, this is not the reality for our nation’s most systemically marginalized students. For far too long, harsh discipline policies have disproportionately affected students with disabilities and students of color. Additionally, schools have struggled to address chronic absenteeism and a lack of classroom integration, both of which are detrimental to student achievement. With students increasingly learning virtually, many remain disconnected and disengaged from learning. A large number of systematically marginalized students are also experiencing additional stress due to COVID-19. Upon the return to school buildings, it will be more important than ever to address the historic barriers to developing a positive and inclusive school climate and providing a safe, supportive learning environment for all. In response, the Administration must:

  • Ban the use of federal dollars for school resource officers
  • Work with Congress to pass a comprehensive school climate and positive school discipline bill that bans harmful practices such as corporal punishment, seclusion, and mechanical and chemical restraint, significantly limits use of restraint in schools and promotes evidenced-based practices that improve student health and safety.
  • Reinstate guidance issued by the Obama Administration on discipline in school.
  • Issue guidance on student engagement and exclusionary discipline during COVID-19.


The National Center for Learning Disabilities’ mission is to improve the lives of the 1 in 5 children and adults nationwide with learning and attention issues—by empowering parents and young adults, transforming schools and advocating for equal rights and opportunities.

Click Here for a PDF version of NCLD’s First 100 Days Agenda.

For more information, please contact:
Meghan Whittaker, Director of Policy & Advocacy 

Man raising hand at community meeting

Local Advocacy, Big Impact: How to Speak Up at your Local Events

All politics are local. This election cycle, make sure the candidates running for office in your area know what you care about. You have the ability to use your voice to make the change you want to see in your community. 

Each year, there are federal, state, and local elections, and every four years there is a presidential election. This year, all of those will be happening at once! Candidates will be campaigning in your area and presidential candidates might hold a town hall near you. Now is the time to make a difference! Attend a town hall or election event to tell the candidates for office at all levels what you want to see in your education system. Many people running for office might hold virtual meetings that you can attend and you can have your voice heard right from your couch! 

Here are six questions you can ask to find out where candidates stand on important issues impacting students with learning and attention issues:

  1. Across the country, 1 in 5 children struggle with learning and attention issues, which are brain-based disorders affecting reading, writing, math, attention, and more. Knowing the early signs of and risk factors for learning disabilities and attention issues can help schools and parents address the learning needs of students with disabilities early on and lessen the risk that a child falls behind or struggles in school. What will you do to expand research into early screening, identification of and interventions for reading disabilities (like dyslexia) and math disabilities?

    NCLD’s LD Checklist contains helpful information about the early signs of learning and attention issues.

  2. More than 7 million students in our public schools have been identified with a disability, and many more struggle to learn without any formal support. Our public schools have an obligation to serve every one of these children, no matter how great their challenges are. How will you invest in our schools during and after the pandemic and ensure that public funding remains in public schools?

    Learn more about advocating for equitable funding during the pandemic and why NCLD opposes private school vouchers.

  3. Literacy has become a national crisis in recent years. Black and Hispanic students enter high school with average literacy skills three years behind those of white and Asian students, and students from low-income families enter high school with average literacy skills five years behind those of high-income students. What will you do to ensure that students have access to high quality literacy instruction?

    See NCLD’s State of LD report for the latest data and information about supporting academic success for students with LD.

  4. The 1 in 5 children with learning and attention issues —like mine— spend most of their time in general education classrooms. I know firsthand that my child’s educators have worked very hard to serve students well during the pandemic, and their work is far from over. They are teaching in virtual and hybrid environments and are tasked with making up for lost instructional time, often without the resources or professional development they need. How will you ensure educators are equipped with the knowledge, skills, and resources to serve all students well in the coming years?

    Learn more about evidence-based practices and teacher training through NCLD’s report Forward Together.

  5. Children of color are more likely to be identified as having a disability, more likely to be placed in separate educational settings due to their disability label, and more harshly disciplined than white students or students without disabilities. What will you do to help schools improve their school’s climate and eliminate racial bias from special education and discipline policies?

    Learn more about the overrepresentation of students of color and low-income students in NCLD’s State of LD report.

  6. Students with disabilities attend four-year colleges at half the rate of their peers without disabilities and are less likely to complete their post-secondary program.  If these individuals are not in college or have graduated from college, they are more likely to be unemployed than their peers without disabilities. What will you do to support students with disabilities’ transition to college or the workforce after graduating high school?

    Learn more about the RISE Act and the transition to life after high school for students with LD.