ELEMENTARY & SECONDARY EDUCATION
Assessment
Guidance on Alternate Assessments

May 20, 2004

Honorable Andy Tompkins
Commissioner of Education
Kansas State Department of Education
120 S.E. 10th Avenue
Topeka, KS 66612-1182

Dear Commissioner Tompkins:

Thank you for sharing with me the process Kansas has undertaken to design and implement its assessment system and to meet the goals of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB). Your letter of January 28, 2004 described Kansas' efforts to include all students in the State's assessment system. In your letter, you also asked how the Department's new regulation on alternate assessments would affect Kansas' assessment system, particularly the alternate assessment scored against grade-level achievement standards. I am sending an identical response to Alexa Pochowski.

As you know, under NCLB States are required to implement annual assessments in reading and math in grades 3-8 and once in high school by the 2005-06 school year, including alternate assessments. Until we conduct a peer review of each State's assessment system, we cannot determine whether the assessments in the system meet the requirements of Title I. Consequently, because we have not yet reviewed the Kansas "alternate assessment based on grade level achievement standards", we cannot, at this time, make a determination as to whether that alternate assessment reflects the same set of expectations for students as your State's regular assessment. This determination can be made only after we receive input from the peer reviewers and thoroughly review the evidence.

With that in mind, until a State submits its assessments for peer review, the State may continue to administer its alternate assessments based on alternate achievement standards consistent with the December 9, 2003 regulation. A State may also continue to administer its alternate assessments based on grade-level achievement standards and include the results as grade-level scores in AYP determinations irrespective of the 1.0 percent cap.

We will soon begin the process of peer reviewing state standards and assessment systems to ensure they meet the NCLB requirements by the 2005-06 school year. This review will review alternate assessments and alternate achievement standards as part of the entire state assessment system and not separate from the regular assessments. With respect to alternate assessments aligned to grade-level achievement standards, a State should be prepared to submit evidence that those alternate assessments meet the same technical requirements as the State's regular assessments aligned to grade-level achievement standards. Specifically, the State should be prepared to demonstrate the following for those alternate assessments based on grade level achievement standards:

  • That these alternate assessments are aligned with the State's content and grade-level achievement standards;
  • That these alternate assessments are comparable to regular assessments in terms of content coverage, difficulty, and quality; and
  • That these alternate assessment results can be aggregated with regular assessment results.

The Department's peer review guidance provides more detail about these issues and provides examples of evidence that would demonstrate the alignment and quality of such assessments. This guidance is available on our website: www.ed.gov/policy/elsec/guid/saaprguidance.pdf. Until the peer review has occurred, if your agency believes Kansas' alternate assessments aligned to grade level achievement standards meet the criteria summarized in this letter and contained in the Title I regulations, the results from these assessments can be included in AYP determinations as you deem appropriate.

As you prepare for the peer review, we want to bring to your attention a few statements from your letter that we feel need to be addressed. Although your letter states that the Kansas alternate assessment is measuring grade-level achievement standards, another statement in the letter indicates that items on that test "may represent a different cognitive level" compared to items on the regular assessment. Moreover, the sample items for the alternate assessments aligned to grade-level achievement standards seem to measure lower-level skills than the regular assessment. As noted above, grade-level standards measured by alternate assessments must be comparable in terms of content coverage, difficulty, and quality to the standards measured by regular assessments.

We encourage States to work with us throughout the development process so that the peer reviews are successful and are a capstone in State efforts to develop assessments that will measure student achievement for all students in valid and reliable ways. We know that through your regular assessments Kansas has shown its commitment to high standards for all students. We wish you much continued success in your efforts to ensure that all your students, including students with disabilities, are held high standards of student achievement.

Sincerely,

Raymond Simon
Assistant Secretary
Office of Elementary and Secondary Education

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Last Modified: 07/15/2004