Laws & Guidance ELEMENTARY & SECONDARY EDUCATION
Assessment
Guidance on Alternate Assessments

June 24, 2004

Honorable Linda McCulloch
Superintendent of Public Instruction
State Office of Public Instruction
1277 11th Avenue
Helena, MT 59620-2501

Dear Superintendent McCulloch:

This is in response to your March 25 request for an exception to the 1.0 percent statewide cap on the number of proficient and advanced scores from alternate assessments based on alternate achievement standards that may be included in adequate yearly progress (AYP) decisions. We appreciate your staff's willingness to provide additional information to us and to speak with us about this request.

Based on all the information provided by Montana, we are approving your request, within certain parameters, to receive a statewide exception to the 1.0 percent cap so that every district in the State with fewer than 200 students in the tested grades would be able to count up to two proficient scores (based on alternate achievement standards) when calculating AYP. This exception is granted for two years to cover AYP determinations based on assessments administered in the 2003-04 and 2004-05 school years. The continuation of this exception beyond assessments administered in 2004-05 will depend upon a successful peer review of Montana's regular and alternate assessment system following the expiration of Montana's Title I compliance agreement in April 2005.

We are granting your request for an exception based on Montana's extraordinary rural nature. If a 1.0 percent limitation were applied to every district, 84 percent of the districts in your State would not be able to count the score of a single student as proficient on the Montana Criterion-Referenced Test-Alternate (CRT-Alt) when calculating AYP. In addition, Montana has a large number of very small districts, which could make a State-managed exceptions process for these districts administratively complicated. Based on data from the 2002-03 school year, 404 districts had fewer than 200 students in the tested grades..

The exception is intended to address the unique nature of Montana's rural districts, and is not an exception based on a higher incidence rate of students statewide. If you believe that your State has a higher incidence of students with the most significant cognitive disabilities,you may apply for an exception on that basis under the terms of 34 CFR §200.13(c)(2)

Districts that are eligible for this exception (i.e., the small districts) would be able to count as proficient up to two proficient scores from an alternate assessment aligned with alternate achievement standards, but only if there are students in those districts with the most significant cognitive disabilities who actually score proficient on the alternate assessment

Districts with more than 200 students in the tested grades (i.e., the large districts) would be held to an overall 1.0 percent cap on the number of students who score proficient on an alternate assessment aligned to alternate achievement standards as proficient, unless the following situation occurs. If the State as a whole has less than 1.0 percent of students in the grades assessed scoring proficient on an alternate assessment aligned with alternate achievement standards, the State maya grant exceptions under §200.13(c)(3) to districts that need them, up to the point where the total of proficient scores on an alternate assessment aligned to alternate achievement standards is equal to 1.0 percent of the number of students in the grades assessed Statewide. In other words, the State would not be able to reallocate to other districts any unused capacity from the 'up to two' per small district exception granted above. These parameters are intended to ensure that, in granting this exception, the State does not significantly exceed the 1.0 percent cap.

At the end of Montana's compliance agreement with the Department, the Department will peer review your standards and assessment system to ensure that it meets NCLB requirements. This review will include a review of your alternate assessments and alternate achievement standards. In general we will review alternate assessments as part of the entire State assessment system and not separate from the regular assessments. The Department's peer review guidance provides more detail about these issues and examples of evidence that would demonstrate the alignment and quality of those assessments. This guidance is available on our website at: http://www.ed.gov/policy/elsec/guid/saaprguidance.doc.

We encourage States to work with the Department throughout their assessment 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. Montana has shown a commitment to raising standards for students with disabilities and to improve its assessment system. We wish you success in your efforts to ensure that all your students are held to high standards of student achievement.

Sincerely,

Raymond Simon
Assistant Secretary for
Elementary and Secondary Education
Troy R. Justesen, Ed.D.
Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary
for Special Education and
Rehabilitative Services

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Last Modified: 01/17/2006