Oklahoma state testing law could be amended for special needs students

BROKEN ARROW, Okla. - Some parents of Oklahoma special needs students worry their children won't graduate this spring because of new state testing guidelines.
    
The Chada family is fighting the Oklahoma Department of Education over an alleged federal civil rights violation regarding the testing.

Now they have some help. Some state lawmakers are stepping in and trying to change the law.

Autistic senior high student Mary Washer uses help from color coding to pass her state-mandated tests. And that's allowed under her federally supported "individualized education program" or IEP.

But new ACE test requirements led to the state department of education banning color coding for testing.

"The actual violation is that the state is trying to say what modifications and accommodations a child can have," said Angela Chada, Mary's mom.

For the past few months, Angela says Mary was considered failing. After more testing, the IEP team now expects Mary to graduate.

"It doesn't matter what OCR says, it doesn't matter what the state says, Mary now has done it on her own. And she will graduate and get a diploma," Chada said.

But Chada worries about other special needs students, who may not be that lucky.

State representative Jadine Nollan of Sand Springs wants to amend the ACE legislation. Under her bill, HB 1756, special needs students could still graduate -- even if they don't pass the tests.

But they would have to meet several requirements, including retaking the failed tests, maintaining at least a "C" average and meeting all school graduation requirements.

The final word would be up to the IEP team and the school district.  

"I think the sooner we do something for these students, the better. I know that their families feel that way, I know that their families want to celebrate their achievements," Nollan said.

Angela knows Mary may never be able to use her diploma, but she came too close to losing it all.

"It's been blood, sweat and tears. Just getting through the 12 years that we have," Chada said.

The Chada family expects to hear from the Office of Civil Rights on their complaint in the next three weeks. The state bill passed through committee and will head to the House and Senate next.

The Oklahoma Department of Education tells 2NEWS there are mechanisms in place to accommodate special needs students during testing.

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