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Big Idea 4: Making Decisions One Child at a Time
The fourth big idea is making decisions one child at a time. All students with disabilities must be included in statewide and districtwide assessments. The IEP team plays a role in deciding how a student with the most significant cognitive disabilities will take the statewide assessment. The decision should be based on educational needs and parents should be active in this decision process. One way to prepare for making decisions about statewide assessments is to think about the following questions:
- How does your child get access to the general education academic curriculum
and the topics that the testing will cover?
- How does your child communicate (for example, with pictures, words or signs)?
- How does your child interact with text (for example, does your child pay
attention to a reader, identify pictures, recognize some letters and sounds,
match words and use symbols to represent objects, wants or needs or read a
- What kind of supports or modifications does your child use in order to be successful and participate actively in the general academic curriculum? Are those supports and accommodations going to be available for your child?
I found for our daughter that the topics of the 11th-grade
curriculum, such as biodiversity and [the American novel], were engaging to
her. They provided motivation that reduced the need for prompting.
— Mary Calie, parent
If the parents and their child's IEP team decide that the child will take an alternate assessment based on alternate achievement standards, the IEP must contain a statement about why the student cannot participate in the regular assessment, and how the particular alternate assessment selected is appropriate for the child.
Parents should learn more about the methods that will be used to assess their child. The design of alternate assessments varies from state to state. In almost all states, the alternate assessment incorporates the use of pictures, visual cues and objects.
In some states, parents may be asked to give permission for their child to be videotaped or photographed while engaged in schoolwork, and a collection of school work samples as well as video or photographs are gathered over the course of several months. These collections of student work are then evaluated and given a score that indicates the level of achievement. This type of alternate assessment is sometimes called a portfolio assessment or a body of evidence.
In other states, the state prepares a performance assessment for each student's teacher to administer to the student—these assessments are a set of specific tasks that the student performs over the course of several days. Usually the teacher provides whatever supports and learning tools the student uses in instruction to be sure that the student can give a response in a meaningful way. The teacher scores the tasks and submits them to the state for review.
Still other states may have a checklist of essential skills and knowledge for each grade and content area, sometimes called a rating scale or checklist. Over the course of several months, a teacher gathers information that results in a rating of the student's achievement of these skills and knowledge. Usually evidence of those skills also is kept in the student's file for occasional review by the state or district to be sure the ratings are accurate.
There are many different variations of these types of alternate assessments. Ask your child's teacher or IEP team members to help you become familiar with the type of assessment your child will take.
Parents may also want to think about how much support and prompting may be too much. Students with the most significant cognitive disabilities may need lots of supports to successfully participate in assessments, but those supports should not prevent the student from demonstrating independent skills and problem solving.