NCLB requires every state to implement annual assessments in reading/language arts and math in grades 3 through 8 and at least once in grades 10-12. Science assessments are also required beginning in 2008. (See box on page 12.) The assessments must be aligned with the challenging state academic content standards and based on academic achievement standards that have been set by the state.
Results of this testing must be reported for the overall school and must also be disaggregated, or broken out, by specific groups of students that historically underachieve. These groups are known as “subgroups.” A student's performance data are included in every applicable subgroup. The performance of subgroups is only reported if the number of students in the subgroup meets or exceeds the minimum set by the state. The minimum size of each subgroup varies greatly among states.
IDEA requires students with disabilities to participate in all state assessments. If a state has a more comprehensive assessment program than required by NCLB, IDEA requires that students with disabilities participate in those assessments as well.
The required subgroups that must be reported are:
- Students from major racial/ethnic groups
- Economically disadvantaged students
- Students with limited English proficiency
- Students with disabilities (eligible for services under IDEA)—such students must have an IEP in place annually
The results of the testing, along with other indicators such as attendance and graduation rates, are used to determine if schools are providing substantial and continuous improvement in the academic achievement of its students and to determine if schools are making AYP.
NCLB expects that the vast majority of students with disabilities will participate in the same assessment as all other students. Some may need accommodations such as extra breaks, reading the math test, or a braille edition (see page 14). However, the academic content being tested and the achievement standard that is expected does not differ from that of all other students.
There are several options available to students with disabilities to participate in the regular assessments—the same assessments that all students take.
Regular Grade-level Assessment
Most likely, many students with disabilities will participate in either:
- Regular grade-level state assessment
- Regular grade-level state assessment with accommodations
Accommodations for Students with Disabilities
States must provide appropriate accommodations that are needed by students with disabilities to fully participate in state and districtwide assessments. Accommodations level the playing fi eld so that the test measures what a student knows and can do and not the effect of the child's disability.
IDEA requires every state to establish guidelines for accommodations to make sure that students use only accommodations that produce a score that is valid for school accountability purposes. For example, if the reading assessment is supposed to measure how well a student can decode text, then reading the test aloud to the student as an accommodation would result in an invalid score on the test because the accommodation would interfere with the skill being measured. If, however, the skill is comprehension of text, reading the test aloud might be a permissible accommodation.
Accommodations used in state and districtwide assessments should mirror those used in day-to-day classroom instruction and classroom tests, to the extent possible. An accommodation should never be introduced for the fi rst time in a state assessment. The student's IEP team must make decisions about the accommodations needed on state assessments. These accommodations must be clearly listed in the student's IEP.
Accommodations are generally grouped into the following categories:
- Presentation (e.g., repeat directions, read aloud, use of larger bubbles on answer sheets)
- Response (e.g., mark answers in book, use reference aids, point, use of computer)
- Timing/Scheduling (e.g., extended time, frequent breaks)
- Setting (e.g., study carrel, special lighting, separate room)
Alternate Assessment on Grade-level Achievement Standards
An alternate assessment based on grade-level achievement standards (with or without accommodations) assesses the same content as a regular grade-level assessment and holds the student to the same expectations based on the same definition of proficiency. However, unlike the regular assessment, this option provides different ways for students to show what they know. Results from such an assessment are treated in the same manner as results from regular assessments. There is no limit to the numbers of students who can be assessed in this manner. This option, however, is not available in all states.
Some students with disabilities have never been taught academic skills and concepts, for example, reading, mathematics, science, and social studies, even at very basic levels.Yet all students are capable of learning at a level that engages and challenges them.Teachers who have incorporated grade level content standards into their instruction cite unanticipated gains in students' performance and understanding. Furthermore, some individualized social, communication, motor, and self-help skills can be practiced during activities based on the content standards. Office of Special Education Programs, U.S. Department of Education
Alternate Assessment on Alternate Achievement Standards
NCLB recognizes that some students may have significant cognitive disabilities that prevent them from attaining grade-level achievement standards, even with the very best instruction. For such students, NCLB allows an alternate assessment based on alternate achievement standards— in other words, an assessment that measures student progress on state grade-level content standards but at reduced breadth, depth, or complexity, and judged against a different definition of proficiency from the regular assessment. Instruction for these students should be linked to the same challenging academic content standards that apply to their same age peers. This linkage ensures that students with the most significant cognitive disabilities are given access to academic skills and concepts — something that has been missing from much of their instructional program until now.
An alternate assessment based on alternate achievement standards measures student progress on state grade-level content standards at a reduced breadth, depth, and complexity, and is judged against a different definition of proficiency. A student's participation will likely be supported by assistive technologies, prompting, or scaffolding.
Out-of-level testing generally refers to the practice of giving a student a test intended for students at a lower grade level. Out-of-level testing is often associated with lower expectations for students with disabilities, tracking such students into lower-level curricula with limited opportunities. It may also limit student opportunities for advancing to the next grade or graduating with a regular high school diploma. According to the National Center on Educational Outcomes, research does not support the use of out-of-level test scores from state assessments when measuring student proficiency on standards for the grade level in
As with all other assessment options, the decision that a student will participate in an alternate assessment based on alternate achievement standards is made by the IEP team— including the parents. NCLB places a limitation on the scores of students assessed using this option that can be used in a school district's AYP calculation. This limitation is based on research about students with significant cognitive disabilities — including the numbers of such students within the general population —and is designed to ensure that only those students who truly need this type of assessment are assigned to participate in this manner. Out-of-level testing (see box) is considered an alternate assessment based on alternate achievement standards, and the scores of students assessed in this manner are subject to the same limitation. Rigorous standard-setting criteria and other considerations must be met before out-of-level testing can be used as an alternate assessment based on alternate achievement standards.
Additional assessment options are under consideration at this time.
IEP teams must make careful decisions about how a student will participate in state and districtwide assessments. A student's participation at the most challenging level will ensure that every student is being provided with full access to the general curriculum, appropriate accommodations, and high expectations.
IEP teams must also make careful decisions about the accommodations a student needs in order to par-ticipate in regular assessments. State guide-lines on accom-modations should be reviewed and selected accommodations should result in a valid score on the test. Accommodation decisions should not be made based on a student's disability or placement or on the school's ability to administer the accommodation.
Each state is required to establish clear guidelines for IEP teams to use when deciding if a student should be assessed using an alternate assessment based on alternate achievement standards. These guidelines should provide parameters and direction to ensure that students are not assessed based on their placement, their disability category, or their racial or economic background.
An assessment should not be selected because the student has not been exposed to the material on the test, because the student's placement has restricted access to the general curriculum, or the student's teacher isn't qualified to teach the academic content being tested. A decision should not be made based on whether the assessment option will help a school's AYP calculations.
||Access to general education curriculum
Understanding the implications of each assessment option is a critical component of making a wise decision. Some assessment options may eventually mean that the student will not be able to earn a regular diploma because of a state's requirements for awarding diplomas. While NCLB doesn't require or even encourage that the results of assessments required by NCLB should be used to make decisions regarding a student's promotion or graduation, many states have policies in effect that link a student's performance on state assessments with grade promotion or graduation with a standard diploma. Also, in many states, the same high school assessment is used to make graduation decisions and to satisfy the NCLB requirement for an assessment in reading/ language arts and math once between grades 10 and 12.