With few exceptions, useful performance measures are lacking in special education. Virtually no information exists allowing educators to compare student outcomes among different placements. In addition, the costs of special education are rarely considered together with actual student results.

"[T]here has been very little information about the educational results of this group of students," reports the U. S. Department of Education in its annual report to Congress about students with disabilities. The department notes that students with disabilities are disproportionately excluded from state and national assessments for a variety of reasons.30 According to the report:

Guidelines about inclusion and exclusion, where they exist, are inconsistently applied. Students may be excluded for reasons that are only incidental to their disability for example, telephone surveys usually exclude people who are deaf or use telecommunication devices. National education surveys often do not include special schools. On some school sampling rosters, all students within a specific category were excluded. Many large-scale assessment programs allow exclusion of students who might experience discomfort during testing, thus excluding a substantial proportion of students with mental, emotional, and/or physical disabilities. Finally, exclusion may occur if administrators feel the students’ test scores would lower a school’s or district’s performance level.38

Only recently has the U. S. Department of Education begun to measure the achievement of public-school students with disabilities as a group. Existing research indicates that students with disabilities fare poorly. As a group, students with disabilities have higher rates of absenteeism, are more likely to drop out, and earn lower grades than their nondisabled peers.39 Taken from the National Longitudinal Transition Study, the research evaluated results only from regular public secondary schools; students in private schools, nonpublic schools, and separate public schools were not included in the study. More refined measures are needed, so that parents and educators can identify educational placements that result in improved student achievement.

Nonpublic and private schools are also attempting to offer more conclusive evidence about the value of their programs. Says Gerard Thiers, executive director of New Jersey’s Association of Schools and Agencies for the Handicapped (ASAH), "The National Report to Congress indicates high rates of failure. Our [nonpublic school] members think they’re more successful getting kids into the community and getting them employed. We think we’re more effective and we want to get the data."40

Guidelines about inclusion and exclusion, where they exist, are inconsistently applied. Students may be excluded for reasons that are only incidental to their disability for example, telephone surveys usually exclude people who are deaf or use telecommunication devices. National education surveys often do not include special schools. On some school sampling rosters, all students within a specific category were excluded. Many large-scale assessment programs allow exclusion of students who might experience discomfort during testing, thus excluding a substantial proportion of students with mental, emotional, and/or physical disabilities. Finally, exclusion may occur if administrators feel the students’ test scores would lower a school’s or district’s performance level.38

(See Case Study 1, Case Study 2.)