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For those of us in the education industry (since when did education become an industry?), the debate rages over the "No Child Left Behind" laws and changes thereto. The changes range from teacher quality to measuring student progress.

The Education Department plans to give some states more flexibility in how they test children with disabilities, if the states can give evidence that they are strongly committed to improvement or in fact can show improvement already accomplished.

The aim of the 2001 law is to get all children to grade level in reading and math by 2014; only 1 percent of students (those with significant cognitive disabilites) will be tested at their instructional level rather than their grade level. "It doesn't make sense to decide there is a group of kids who will never make grade level," said Ricki Sabia, associate director of the National Down Syndrome Society Policy Center. "We hold great exception to that concept."

I applaud the upbeat, positive, hopeful tone of the concept, but I have worked with severely cognitively impaired students and I find Sabia's comment to be pie-in-the-sky optimistic. There will always be students, with or without disabilities, who will not make grade level. Has Sabia not heard of the normal bell curve?

I have seen and worked with students whose handicaps were so severe that it is a wonder they have survived and that they can communicate at all, let alone work up to grade level.

In addition, I taught "regular" students for 11 years. In all cases, students' abilities and achievements ranged in a normal bell curve from below standard, through meet standard, to well above standard to exceptional. That is to be expected. The only way Sabia's hope could be realized is if educational grade levels were lowered drastically. It would be cruel to expect and demand of students to achieve at their grade level when they try their best and cannot hit some predetermined mark. It is unrealistic for both children and teachers.

Furthermore, children mature and learn at different rates. This year's failure may be next year's late bloomer. This year's prodigy may be next year's average student.

This is another area in which, under Republican leadership, the federal government has expanded and intruded into state business, just as it has into our personal lives. Bigger and meaner federal government brought to you by our Republican Big Brothers.

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