Both the No Child Left BehindAct (NCLB) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) require states to provide students with disabilities access to the general education curriculum and to hold schools accountable for the academic achievement of all students. This executive summary highlights the core findings and recommendations of Including Students With Disabilities in Large-scale Assessment (Technical Work Group, 2006), a set of papers commissioned by the Office of Special Education Programs of the U.S. Department of Education. These papers are written for educators who are responsible for administering large-scale assessment and accountability systems and address several topics related to the inclusion of students with disabilities in large-scale assessments. The first paper, titled "Validating Assessments for Students with Disabilities," discusses different types of assessment approaches that can be used to validly assess students with disabilities. The second paper, titled "Reliability Issues and Evidence," focuses on the reliability of assessments and the evidence needed to establish reliability. The third paper, titled "Validity Evidence," focuses on documenting assessment validity evidence. The fourth paper, titled "Standards and Assessment Approaches for Students with Disabilities Using a Validity Argument," illustrates the validation process using actual state standards and assessments. The fifth paper, titled "A Decision Framework for IEP Teams Related to Methods for Individual Student Participation in State Accountability Assessments," describes a systematic framework for IEP teams to determine the most suitable way for students with disabilities to participate in the annual statewide assessments. The final paper, titled "Professional Development on Assessment Systems," discusses the need for on-going professional development for educators.
There are four assessment options available for the participation of students with disabilities in large-scale assessments that are used to judge academic achievement in schools and districts: test accommodations, alternate assessments, and modified and alternate achievement standards1. The papers identify the critical elements of an assessment system that requires careful stewardship to maintain validity when students with disabilities are fully included in the system. These papers (1) present a model for statewide assessment systems that encompass the four options, and (2) provide criteria for states to use in ascertaining the technical quality of their state assessment systems.
States differ in the content standards they have adopted and the assessments they use to measure proficiency. Therefore each state must approach student participation in a manner that is consistent with its standards and assessments. For students with disabilities who cannot participate meaningfully in general education assessments, states must provide both appropriate accommodations and alternate assessments as part of the statewide approach to assessment. The IEP team must determine how a student with a disability can meaningfully participate in the statewide assessment (e.g., whether the student needs testing accommodations or should take an alternate assessment). The outcome from this participation can be used to meet NCLB’s accountability requirement, that states report annually the academic achievement of all students in their schools and districts. This entire accountability process is based on grade-level academic content standards, assessments aligned to the standards, and performance judged against academic achievement standards (either those developed for the general education assessment or those developed as part of the alternate assessment). Adequate yearly progress (AYP) is then based on these assessment results.
Regulations published in the Federal Register (Dec. 9, 2003) announced options for evaluating proficiency of students with the most significant cognitive disabilities based on alternate achievement standards, where proficient scores can be used in determining AYP (subject to a one percent cap). On Dec. 15, 2005, the U.S. Department of Education published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) in the Federal Register that would allow states to develop modified achievement standards and use assessments aligned with those modified standards for a group of students with disabilities who can make progress toward, but may not reach, grade-level achievement standards in the same timeframe as other students2. Regardless of which achievement standards are used to evaluate performance (modified or alternate), they must be aligned with a state’s grade-level content standards.
1 Achievement (also known as performance) standards describe "how good is good enough." According to the Standards and Assessments Peer Review Guidance ( U.S. Department of Education, 2004), ". . . [they] include at least two levels of achievement (proficient and advanced) that reflect mastery." Most states have three or more performance levels that represent "proficient," "below proficient," and "above proficient."
2 Retrieved from the World Wide Web on Feb. 8, 2006 at http://www.ed.gov/legislation/FedRegister/proprule/2005-4/121505a.html