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

May 20, 2004

Honorable Susan Tave Zelman
Superintendent
Ohio Department of Education
25 South Front Street, Mail Stop 702
Columbus, OH 43215-4183

Dear Superintendent Zelman:

This is in response to your January 22, 2004 request for a one-year 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 can 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 Ohio, we are approving your request to use proficient and advanced scores from alternate assessments in AYP decisions subject to a cap of 1.3 percent for the 2003-04 school year.

This approval is intended to support Ohio's commitment to ensure that as many students with disabilities as possible are held to grade-level achievement standards, that the use of alternate achievement standards is limited to students with the most significant cognitive disabilities, and that you anticipate that your need for such an exception will decrease over time. We recognize that the Department's December 9, 2003 regulation on this issue requires, for many States, changes in policy as well as practice. Our discussions with you indicate that Ohio is undertaking a number of changes (e.g., improved training for individualized education program teams, alternate assessments, and explanatory manuals and documents regarding alternate assessments) to align its assessment system with NCLB and our implementing regulations and to integrate the requirements of our regulations into its own policies and practices.

We will soon begin the process of peer reviewing State standards and assessment systems to ensure that they meet the NCLB requirements by the end of the 2005-06 school year. This review will cover alternate assessments and alternate achievement standards. The peer review process will determine the extent to which State assessment systems (including alternate assessments) fulfill the NCLB requirements. In general, alternate assessments will be reviewed 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 such assessments. This guidance is available on our website at www.ed.gov/policy/elsec/guid/saaprguidance.doc.

In particular, as you continue developing and improving your state assessment system, we want to highlight two important issues that became apparent to us during our review of your request. First, Ohio must take additional steps to improve its technical assistance, monitoring, and training materials, particularly the instructions to individualized education program (IEP) teams. These instructions, on occasion, seemed to indicate that alternate assessments based on alternate achievement standards might be appropriate for students who do not have significant cognitive disabilities. Although you provided us with several assurances that this was not, in fact, the case, Ohio needs to ensure that IEP teams understand that alternate assessments are available for all students with disabilities who require them but that alternate assessments based on alternate achievement standards are appropriate only for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities. Moreover, as you institutionalize these policies, you must ensure that students with disabilities have access to the general curriculum.

Second, of the students taking an alternate assessment in the 2002-03 school year (1.25 percent of the population), the vast majority of those students (1.19 percent) scored proficient or better. As you know, alternate assessments based on alternate achievement standards must reflect professional judgment of the highest learning standards possible for students who take these assessments. As you prepare for the peer review of your assessments system, you will need to take care to ensure that the standards will meet this requirement.

The Office of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Office of Special Education Programs will continue working with you to ensure the successful implementation of the regulations. If Ohio wishes to request an exception in subsequent years, Ohio must demonstrate, at a minimum, that it has addressed the issues outlined in this letter. In addition, the Office of Special Education Programs is available to provide technical assistance to your State around related requirements of IDEA, including assessments; placement in the least restrictive environment; the provision of supplementary aids and services; and access to and progress in the general curriculum.

We encourage States to work with us 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. Ohio has shown a commitment to raising standards for students with disabilities and to improving 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: 07/15/2004