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April 11, 2005 Extra Credit
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April 11, 2005

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Raising Achievement: Alternate Assessments for Students with Disabilities

The U.S. Department of Education recently announced a new policy with respect to students with persistent academic disabilities under the bipartisan No Child Left Behind (NCLB) education reform law.

New Policy: States may develop modified academic achievement standards and use alternate assessments based on those standards for students who have persistent academic disabilities and are served under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. States may include proficient scores from such assessments in making adequate yearly progress (AYP) decisions but those scores will be capped at 2% of the total tested population. This provision does not limit how many students may be assessed against modified achievement standards. Individualized education program (IEP) teams will make the decision about which individual students should take such an assessment.

Continued Policy: States may continue to use alternate assessments based on alternate achievement standards for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities. States may continue to include proficient scores from such assessments in making AYP decisions and those scores will still be capped at 1% of the total tested population. Proficiency for all other students above the 1% and 2% cap will be measured against grade-level achievement standards. IEP teams will continue making the decision about which individual students should take such an assessment.

Why? Like the regulation for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities, this provision is tailored to the needs of the student while ensuring the goals of No Child Left Behind are achieved. This provision ensures that the success of a child who takes an assessment based on modified achievement standards will count and be recognized for his or her achievement in calculating school and district performance under AYP. This policy is for those students who are not likely to reach grade-level achievement in the same timeframe as all other students because of their disability, but who can make significant progress.

Research: This new policy best tracks the available research and findings about students with disabilities. In addition to students with the most significant cognitive disabilities, these findings suggest that there are about 2% of children who are not able to reach grade-level standards, even with the best instruction.

How? To implement this policy for students with persistent academic disabilities, States must develop modified achievement standards and improved alternate assessments as well as agree to several activities related to assessment, accountability, professional development, and training for IEP team members and teachers.

Action Plan: The Department will unveil a comprehensive technical assistance plan designed to help States with these activities. This technical assistance will provide needed resources to improve instruction, assessments, and accountability for all students with disabilities.

When? This new policy will be released in a notice of proposed rulemaking later this spring. The Department anticipates that most States implementing this policy will be able to develop modified achievement standards and assessments based on those standards by 2005-2006 or (at the latest) 2006-07. In the short-term, the Department will establish interim State-specific flexibility agreements that may include amendments to accountability plans.

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NCLB Extra Credit is a regular look at the No Child Left Behind Act, President Bush's landmark education reform initiative passed with bipartisan support in Congress.

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Last Modified: 04/12/2005