May 20, 2007
The development of modified academic achievement standards for some students with disabilities and their use for making adequate yearly progress (AYP) decisions is authorized under Department regulations (34 C.F.R. Part 200) published on April 9, 2007. These regulations build on flexibility that was previously available under the Title I regulations in 34 C.F.R. Part 200 for measuring the achievement of students with the most significant cognitive disabilities. Those Title I regulations permit a State to develop alternate academic achievement standards for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities and to include those students' proficient and advanced scores on alternate assessments based on alternate academic achievement standards in measuring AYP, subject to a cap of 1.0 percent of all students assessed at the State and district levels.
A copy of the final regulations on modified academic achievement standards has been posted on the Department's Web site at: http://www.ed.gov/legislation/FedRegister/finrule/2007-2/
040907a.html. Guidance is also available at: http://www.ed.gov/policy/speced/guid/nclb/twopercent.doc.
1. Why is the Department permitting States to develop modified academic achievement standards and assessments based on those standards?
Since the regulations on alternate academic achievement standards were published in December 2003, the experiences of many States, as well as recent research, indicate that, in addition to students with the most significant cognitive disabilities, there is a small group of students whose disability has precluded them from achieving grade-level proficiency and whose progress is such that they will not reach grade-level proficiency in the same time frame as other students. These students had the option of taking either the grade-level assessment, with or without accommodations, or an alternate assessment based on grade-level or alternate academic achievement standards. Neither of these options provides an accurate assessment of what these students know and can do. The assessments based on grade-level achievement standards are too difficult and, therefore, do not provide data about a student's abilities or information that would be helpful to guide instruction. The alternate assessment based on alternate academic achievement standards is too easy and is not intended to assess a student's achievement across the full range of grade-level content. Such an assessment, therefore, would not provide teachers and parents with information to help these students continue to progress toward grade-level achievement. Modified academic achievement standards, and assessments based on those standards, are intended to fill this gap and provide a more appropriate measure of these students' performance against academic content standards for the grade in which they are enrolled, as well as provide teachers and parents with information that will help guide instruction.
2. What are modified academic achievement standards?
A modified academic achievement standard is an expectation of performance that is challenging for eligible students, but is less difficult than a grade-level academic achievement standard. Modified academic achievement standards must be aligned with a State's academic content standards for the grade in which an eligible student is enrolled. Thus, only the academic achievement standards are modified, not the content standards on which those modified academic achievement standards are based. Although the assessment and modified academic achievement standards for a particular grade must be challenging for eligible students, they may be less difficult when compared with the general test and grade-level academic achievement standards. (See Questions B-1 and D-1 of the Guidance)
3. Who may be assessed based on modified academic achievement standards?
A student eligible to participate in an alternate assessment based on modified academic achievement standards must be a student with a disability under section 602(3) of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and may be in any of the disability categories listed in the IDEA. A student's individualized education program (IEP) team (IEP Team), which includes the student's parent, determines how the student will participate in State and district-wide assessments. If a State chooses to develop modified academic achievement standards, the State must establish clear and appropriate criteria for IEP Teams to apply in determining whether a student should be assessed based on modified academic achievement standards in one or more subjects. These criteria must include, but are not limited to, the following:
- There must be objective evidence demonstrating that the student's disability has precluded the student from achieving grade-level proficiency. Such evidence may include the student's performance on State assessments or other assessments that can validly document academic achievement.
- The student's progress to date in response to appropriate instruction, including special education and related services designed to address the student's individual needs, is such that, even if significant growth occurs, the IEP Team is reasonably certain that the student will not achieve grade-level proficiency within the year covered by the student's IEP. The IEP Team must use multiple valid measures of the student's progress over time in making this determination.
- The student's IEP must include goals that are based on grade-level academic content standards. It is a State's responsibility to establish and monitor implementation of clear and appropriate guidelines for IEP Teams to use when deciding if an alternate assessment based on modified academic achievement standards is appropriate for an individual student. These guidelines should provide parameters and direction to ensure that students are not assessed based on modified academic achievement standards merely because of their disability category or their racial or economic background or the lack of appropriate instruction. (See Question C-1 of the Guidance.)
4. What do alternate assessments based on modified achievement standards look like?
Alternate assessments based on modified academic achievement standards are intended to be challenging for a limited group of students whose disability has prevented them from attaining grade-level proficiency. These students must have access to a curriculum based on grade-level content standards and, therefore, must be assessed with a measure that also is based on grade-level content standards, although the assessment may be less difficult than the general assessment. The content standards are not modified, but the achievement expectations are less difficult than those on the general assessment. This means that the same content is covered in the test, but with less difficult questions overall.
A State may modify an existing assessment or develop a new assessment. An out-of-level assessment may not be used as an alternate assessment based on modified academic achievement standards because it is, by definition, not aligned with grade-level content standards. Out-of-level testing means assessing students enrolled at a specific grade level with tests designed for students enrolled at lower grade levels. By definition, an out-of-level assessment does not meet the requirements of an alternate assessment based on modified academic achievement standards because it does not measure grade-level content standards for the grade in which a student is enrolled. (See Part D of the Guidance)
5. What are IEP goals based on grade-level academic content standards?
IEP goals based on grade-level academic content standards are goals that address the skills specified in the academic content standards for the grade in which an eligible student is enrolled. Incorporating State standards in IEP goals is not a new idea. Many educators have been working toward incorporating State content standards in IEP goals since enactment of the 1997 reauthorization of the IDEA, which first required that the IEPs of students with disabilities support their involvement and progress in the general curriculum. Some States already require standards-based IEP goals and have developed extensive training materials and professional development opportunities for staff to learn how to write IEP goals that are tied to State academic content standards. (See Question E-1 of the Guidance.)
6. Why are IEP goals based on grade-level academic content standards required for students who are assessed based on modified academic achievement standards?
The primary reason for requiring IEP goals based on grade-level academic content standards is to ensure that students who participate in an alternate assessment based on modified academic achievement standards receive instruction in grade-level content so that they can make progress towards meeting grade-level proficiency. The requirement focuses the IEP Team and the student on grade-level content and the student's achievement level relative to those academic content standards, as well as the educational supports and services that the student needs to reach those standards. McLaughlin, Nolet, Rhim, and Henderson (1999) reported that special education teachers indicated that, when IEPs were aligned with State academic content standards, students with disabilities had improved exposure to subject matter and received focused instruction to meet challenging goals. In addition, they noted that collaboration between special and general education teachers was greater when they worked with a student whose IEP goals were aligned with State academic content standards. (See Question E-2 of the Guidance.)
7. What safeguards are in the regulations to ensure that a student assessed based on modified academic achievement standards has access to grade-level content?
The regulations on modified academic achievement standards include a number of safeguards to ensure that a student with disabilities who is assessed based on modified academic achievement standards has access to grade-level content so that the student has the opportunity, over time, to reach grade-level academic achievement standards. The safeguards for the student that are included in the regulations include the following:
- Modified academic achievement standards must be aligned with a State's academic content standards and a student must be assessed on the content standards for the grade in which the student is enrolled (§200.1(e)(1)(i)).
- A student's IEP must include goals that are based on the academic content standards for the grade in which the student is enrolled and be designed to monitor the student's progress in achieving the standards-based goals (§200.1(e)(2)(iii) and (f)(2)(ii)).
- A State must establish and monitor implementation of clear and appropriate guidelines for an IEP Team to apply in developing and implementing the IEP of a student who is assessed based on modified academic achievement standards (§200.1(f)(2)(ii)).
- A State must ensure that a student who is assessed based on modified academic achievement standards has access to curriculum, including instruction, for the grade in which the student is enrolled (§200.1(f)(2)(iii)).
- A State must ensure that a student who takes an alternate assessment based on modified academic achievement standards is not precluded from attempting to complete the requirements, as defined by the State, for a regular diploma (§200.1(f)(2)(iv)). (See Question F-4 of the Guidance.)
8. How may assessment scores based on modified academic achievement standards be included in AYP determinations?
Under the final regulations, States and local educational agencies (LEAs) may include in AYP determinations the proficient and advanced scores from alternate assessments based on modified academic achievement standards, subject to a cap at the district and State levels based on the total number of students assessed. The experience of many States and the best available research indicate that 2.0 percent of all students assessed, or approximately 20 percent of students with disabilities, is a reasonable and sufficient cap. (See Section G of the Guidance.)
9. How is the 2.0 percent cap calculated?
The 2.0 percent cap is based on the number of students enrolled in the tested grades for which there is an alternate assessment based on modified academic achievement standards. This means that, if a State provides an alternate assessment based on modified academic achievement standards in only three grades, the 2.0 percent calculation is based on the number of students in those three grades. The number of students in a tested grade is based on enrollment at the time of testing, including students who are publicly placed in a private school to receive special education services.
The following table, included in the final regulations, summarizes the policy. (See Questions G-3 and G-7 of the Guidance for an explanation of when it may be appropriate for States and LEAs to exceed the caps.)
|Alternate academic achievement standards—1% Cap
|Modified academic achievement standards—2% Cap
|Alternate and modified academic achievement standards – 3%
|Only if State is below 1% cap, but cannot exceed 3%.
|Only if granted an exception by the SEA.
|Only if LEA is below 1% cap, but cannot exceed 3%.
|Only if granted an exception to the 1% cap by the SEA, and only by the amount of the exception
10. Will States still be able to set a different group size for students with disabilities?
No. Under the final regulations, regardless of whether a State chooses to develop modified academic achievement standards, it may no longer establish different group sizes for separate subgroups or the "all student" group (§200.7(a)(2)(ii)), beginning in the 2007-08 school year. Because of ongoing concerns about how accurately State assessments measure the achievement of a very heterogeneous subgroup of students (many of whom were assessed with a range of accommodations to the regular assessment), some States requested permission to use a larger group size for their students with disabilities and limited English proficient (LEP) subgroups. In support of their requests, States argued that a larger group size for these subgroups of students would take into consideration the challenges of measuring their achievement.
With the implementation of these final regulations on modified academic achievement standards, the Title I regulations on alternate academic achievement standards (68 FR 68698, Dec. 9, 2003), and the Title I regulations on assessment and accountability for recently arrived and former LEP students (71 FR 54187, Sept. 13, 2006), we believe that States now have sufficient flexibility to measure the achievement of students with disabilities and LEP students appropriately and, therefore, no longer need a different group size for these subgroups. In addition, all States now test in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school as opposed to just once per grade span, thereby decreasing the sampling error associated with smaller tested populations. With these additional test scores to include in AYP determinations, the argument for a larger group size for these two subgroups is no longer statistically justified. Setting a different subgroup size also may lead to unintended consequences, such as manipulating the number of students with disabilities in a particular school to ensure that the school will not be held accountable for those students.
11. Is there any additional flexibility for States in calculating AYP?
The final regulations in §200.20(f)(2) provide additional flexibility in calculating AYP for the students with disabilities subgroup. Under the final regulations, a State may include, for a period of up to two years, the scores of students who were previously identified with a disability under the IDEA, but who no longer receive special education services. A State, however, would not be able to include the scores of former students with disabilities as part of the students with disabilities subgroup in reporting any other information (e.g., participation rates) under Title I.
12. Are the new IDEA regulations consistent with these regulations?
Yes. The final regulations add language to the IDEA regulations that includes the option to develop modified academic achievement standards and to further align the IDEA with the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. For example, the regulations require that State (or, in the case of a districtwide assessment, district) guidelines for IEP Teams identify for the IEP Teams any accommodations that would result in an invalid score and instruct IEP Teams to select only accommodations that do not invalidate a student's score. Under Title I, a student must receive a valid score on an assessment in order to be considered a participant. Another change to the IDEA regulations ensures that public reports on participation of students with disabilities under the IDEA include only students who were provided accommodations that did not result in an invalid score, further conforming the requirements of Title I and the IDEA.