The academic gap between students with disabilities and their non-disabled peers is growing, according to public school scores from the grade 4 mathematics portion of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). In 2009, the gap between the average scores of students without disabilities and those with disabilities (served by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA) was 22 score points. By 2015, the gap had grown significantly to 28 points. Most of this increase is due to a significant decline in scores for students with disabilities: Over this time period, the average for non-disabled students increased by two points and the average for students with disabilities decreased by four.
Other assessments (e.g., grade 4 reading, grade 8 math) show a similar pattern. The gap may be growing for any number of reasons. For example, the widening gap could be caused by schools’ education-related decisions that impact students with disabilities, or by the increased severity of disabilities themselves. Researchers must work to determine which factors are driving this academic gap, or IDEA’s promise of “free appropriate public education” for children with disabilities may go unfulfilled.
Made possible by support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation