The state board of education decided Monday to allow special education students who use calculators to be counted on standardized state and federal tests like the Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards. The decision is likely to have a big impact on the five Ahwatukee Foothills schools that failed a federal AIMS benchmark last year. "If approved by the federal government, this will correct a major injustice that caused 140 schools to not pass AYP under the federal system because of an unfair and irrational ruling by the federal government," State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne said on Monday. Horne has been pushing for the reclassification since last year's AIMS scores were released and the 140 Arizona schools failed "average yearly progress," or AYP, one of the AIMS benchmarks. Horne on Friday urged the state board to change calculators for special needs kids from a "non-standard accommodation" to a standard one. An accommodation is considered non-standard if it has the effect of enhancing a student's score on the test. "Reclassifying this accommodation as a standard accommodation will enable a number of schools to make adequate yearly progress under the federal No Child Left Behind system that were not able to do so last year," Horne's office said on Friday. If a child uses a non-standard accommodation on things like the AIMS test, the student is not counted in federal accountability surveys, even if the special education student is required access to a calculator on math tests by his or her Individual Education Plan (IEP). The 2004 reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act stipulated that all special needs students must have an IEP, and some of those IEPs mandated that calculators must be allowed for math tests. Since 95 percent of every subcategory of students - including special education students - must count as having taken the test for a school to make AYP under No Child Left Behind, a school with even a few students requiring calculators could be predetermined to fail AYP. That's what happened to Kyrene de las Lomas Elementary School. Last year, Lomas failed AYP and was set to be placed on a mandatory "school improvement plan," this despite the fact that all subgroups at Lomas actually made AYP on the strength of test scores alone. Because of conflicts between No Child Left Behind and student IEPs, though, the school couldn't test 95 percent of its special education students. "This will certainly help those kids that need them (calculators) that are on IEPs and are in special education," said Kyrene board member Rich Zawtocki. "I think it's a step towards fairness. It's a very good decision." The non-standard accommodation label also caused Akimel A-al and Centennial middle schools, as well as two other Foothills schools, to fail AYP last year, but those schools' situations weren't as dire. Lomas, which receives federal funding for its relatively high number of low-income students, was held to stricter federal standards than the Ahwatukee Foothills middle schools. The reclassification of special education students' calculators is contingent upon the federal Department of Education agreeing to the decision. Horne said he suspects the feds will play ball, since his recommendation came on the back of a study performed at the behest of the Arizona Department of Education. The study, performed by University of Arizona professor, Jerome V. D'Agostino, urged the reclassification. "A decision to allow alternate mathematics accommodations as standard accommodations in Arizona will be congruent with results of this study," the study results reads. It seemingly shouldn't be a problem: according to a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Education last year, it was the state of Arizona and not the federal government that classified the calculators a non-standard accommodation in the first place. "This is something Arizona has to work on with its test contractors and its special education teachers; this is an Arizona issue," said Kerri Briggs, with the federal education department, last October. Jason Ludwig can be reached at (480) 898-7916 or

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