In recent years, the Kansas State Board of Education (KSBE) has initiated reforms in public education. In 1991, KSBE adopted the Quality Performance Accreditation (QPA) system to help carry out the reforms. To assess the effect of reforms, the Kansas Assessment Program (KAP) measures students' problem-solving and higher-order thinking skills. The KAP is an accountability measure of students' outcome performance.
Although all students are supposed to participate in the KAP, students with disabilities may be excluded by local staff. Students with disabilities may be excluded if their instructional level, as opposed to grade level, does not match the grade level of the assessment, or if the student will not benefit from the content area assessment. The KSBE became concerned because local district data indicated that the vast majority of students with disabilities are placed in regular classrooms for well over half the school day, but are being withheld disproportionately from the KAP. The KSBE felt that school and district accountability measures based on students' educational outcomes could not be obtained without baseline data on these students' achievement. Because of this lack of data, and because the State's intention is to implement a single system of education for all students, KSBE conducted a feasibility study to determine what modifications in the KAP were needed to assure that students with disabilities participate and that the resulting data were used for related purposes. The three research questions are detailed below.
The literature review. The review resulted in a packet of reading materials that was distributed to focus group members, who stated that the materials helped broaden their understanding of the issues confronted by KSBE and local districts.
First focus group meeting. There were two regional focus groups, consisting of a total of 26 staff, two parents, and two Board of Education members from the eastern and western regions of the State. The purpose of the focus groups was to obtain reactions of local school district stakeholders regarding the use of the KAP with students with disabilities. Based on the results of those discussions, project staff designed a survey for practitioners across the State. Participants agreed on the following: (1) districts should be accountable for all students; (2) for some students with disabilities the KAP was inappropriate; and (3) education about the KAP as a policy and practice is needed beyond that given superintendents and district-level coordinators.
State survey. The survey was designed to elicit brief answers to the most critical issues generated by the focus groups. Those issues were the purpose of the KAP, use of the KAP results, relevance of the KAP to students with disabilities, and decisions regarding which students with disabilities should participate. The survey used an open-ended format to elicit a variety of opinions regarding the issues. The survey was distributed by mail to 325 school superintendents, 100 directors of special education, and 1550 building level administrators. The building level administrators were asked to select a special education staff member (not necessarily a teacher) and a regular education teacher to complete the survey. No follow-up contact was made. Almost half the special education directors responded. Only 20 percent of the building administrators, and 30 percent of the superintendents, responded. While the response rate was less than optimal, the results are believed to represent accurately the prevailing knowledge and opinions regarding the KAP.
Appropriateness of the State's curricular standards. Thirty-five percent of the regular education teachers responding indicated they were sufficiently knowledgeable about the standards; 55 percent of the regular education administrators, and 37 percent of the special education staff, indicated they were knowledgeable. The focus groups felt the low percentages indicated that communication about the standards with local staff needed to be improved. Also, special education directors did not believe they routinely received the standards, and that special education staff did not reference the standards when considering students' IEP goals.
The majority of the respondents did not feel the standards were appropriate for students with educable or trainable mental retardation, severe multiple disabilities, severe learning disabilities, severe behavior disorders, or severe impairments. Higher percentages of the respondents felt that the standards were appropriate for students with mild or moderate impairments or disabilities. The focus groups were impressed by the respondents' high level of agreement.
Assessing students with disabilities. Forty-nine percent of the regular education teachers responding indicated that the decision to include students with disabilities in the KAP should be made by the classroom teacher and special education staff working with the student. Most of the regular education administrators and special education staff indicated that the decision should be left to the multidisciplinary or school team of special educators and include the parents. The consensus of the focus groups was that the decision should be made by a school-based, multidisciplinary team.
Of eight guidelines accompanying the question, basing exclusion decisions on a student's achievement level, particularly reading skills, was selected most often. The focus groups, however, felt differently. Because a student may never have an instructional level corresponding to the test's intended level, some students might never be tested. The focus groups felt that students should be tested if they were in an age group that was intended to be tested. The focus groups believed that a different curricular standard should be set for students with severe disabilities.
Accommodations for testing students with disabilities. Having the staff assist with the administration of the assessment or assist the student were commonly cited KAP accommodations. For particular disability categories, individual accommodations were used. One director of special education noted that providing assessments was often counter to the instructions accompanying most assessments, which emphasize that the test must be administered to each student exactly as described.
Fifty-nine percent of the respondents felt that accommodations should be individualized according to the needs of the individual student. Thirty-five percent felt that the IEP team should decide. The focus groups suggested that a list of common accommodations should be available prior to the assessments and the accommodations should be individually determined.
Participation of students with disabilities. The three most frequently cited reasons for the non-participation of students with disabilities in the KAP were: (1) students were below the testing level for their group; (2) the district's scores would be lowered; and (3) students' resistance to the testing. The focus groups felt staff would benefit from better information explaining the appropriateness of providing accommodations and that test scores were not included in district averages.
As a result of the study, the KSBE special education and curriculum sections are working to integrate the State's curricular standards into the educational programs for students with disabilities. Also, special education teachers will be trained on how to integrate the standards. In addition, in Fall 1994, students with disabilities began to be assessed under different KAP guidelines than previously. Instead of taking the KAP at the instructional level unless specifically exempted in the IEP, students with disabilities may be treated as if they were regular education students and be tested at grade level.