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Monday, November 7, 2011

The Education of Students with Disabilities: Alignment Between the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

Erin D. Lomax
Specialist in Education Policy

Ann Lordeman
Specialist in Social Policy

The largest sources of federal funding for elementary and secondary education are the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), as amended by the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB; P.L. 107-110), and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA; P.L. 108-446). The ESEA provides funding and services for a broad population of students, including disadvantaged students, migrant students, neglected and delinquent students, and students with limited English proficiency. Approximately 6 million students with disabilities ages 6 through 21 attend elementary and secondary schools; however, they are not afforded special services under the ESEA due to their disability status. The IDEA provides funding and services specifically for those students with disabilities. Both the ESEA and IDEA aim to improve the educational outcomes for students with disabilities. The ways in which they do this sometimes differ, and when the laws are not fully or clearly aligned it can be difficult for educators to plan and execute an appropriate education for students with disabilities.

In the 112th Congress, legislators may consider the reauthorization of the ESEA. This report focuses on four broad policy issues within both the ESEA and IDEA, which potentially create differing expectations or requirements for schools and teachers educating students with disabilities: 

  • Standards. Under the ESEA, students with disabilities are taught to state academic content standards that apply to all children in the state. Under the IDEA, academic goals are established for each child in an individualized education program (IEP). 
  • Assessments. Under the ESEA, students with disabilities participate in annual assessments that determine adequate yearly progress toward meeting expectations associated with state academic content and achievement standards. Under the IDEA, students with disabilities are assessed for identification purposes and for monitoring progress toward meeting goals articulated in their IEPs. 
  • Accountability. The ESEA accountability system primarily measures whether schools and local education agencies are making adequate yearly progress in reading and mathematics achievement. The “students with disabilities” subgroup is expected to make adequate yearly progress. The IDEA monitoring system measures whether states are meeting certain compliance and performance indicators to determine whether the law is being implemented as intended. 
  • Teachers. Both the ESEA and IDEA have requirements regarding “highly qualified” teachers. The ESEA includes a definition of “highly qualified” teacher as the term relates to teachers of elementary and secondary education. The IDEA also includes a definition of “highly qualified” teacher as the term relates to special education teachers of elementary and secondary education. Because students with disabilities spend the majority of time in the general education classroom, they are affected by both definitions. 
This report highlights issues pertaining to alignment and misalignment among ESEA and IDEA provisions within these areas, describes how statutory and regulatory language has sought to clarify these issues, and addresses specific issues that Congress may want to clarify as it considers the reauthorization of ESEA.

Date of Report: October 31, 2011
Number of Pages: 37
Order Number: R42070
Price: $29.95

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