As I think back over all of the interactions I have had with disabled students and their families, I realize that most of the complaints and traumas the students, themselves talked about were about how they were treated by people … teachers, counselors, and fellow students … and relatively little about the curriculum itself being too hard. I mean, I’m sure that most of them also experienced a lot of frustration over the content, too, but most of even those complaints were about botched or denied accommodations, not about the material being “above” their cognitive ability.
Quite a few parents, and a lot of teachers, worried about whether it was cruel to hold more disabled students to “higher standards”. There was this very prevalent idea that it was somehow self-evident that some unspecified percentage of Special Education students were simply incapable of getting a regular diploma … and the percentage was aways inching upward.
I almost never heard students, themselves, complain about higher standards. One might argue that perhaps they didn’t have the vocabulary or conceptual understanding to make complaints that specific, but in my experience they had little trouble being specific about their other complaints.
Also, I can’t think of a single disabled student who ended up worse off or more unhappy because they took more tests or were more fully integrated in more demanding classes. But I can think of scores of kids and young adults I met who were definitely worse off than they needed to be, in part because teachers, counselors, and families thought school should be “easier” for them.
This is all anecdotal of course, based only on my personal memories which may also be faulty. Still the pattern is striking.
So although I’m still ambivalent about stuff like “high stakes” testing, and I don't necessarily trust schools to make good decisions about accommodations, I generally feel an instinct to stick up for more rigor, not less, in education of kids with disabilities.