Laws & Guidance GENERAL
Key Policy Letters Signed by the Education Secretary or Deputy Secretary
December 14, 2005
Archived Information

December 14, 2005

Dear Colleague:

Earlier this year, I announced a new policy designed to help states better ensure the achievement of students with disabilities. That policy allows states to develop modified achievement standards and use assessments aligned with those modified standards for a group of students with disabilities who can make progress toward, but may not reach, grade-level achievement standards in the same time frame as other students. We have provided details on this policy through a notice of proposed rulemaking, which is being published in the Federal Register this week. In advance of the official notice in the Federal Register, we are including an unofficial version of the notice in today's materials. I invite you to comment on this proposed regulation.

Along with this proposed regulation, the Department has compiled a set of technical assistance materials. I am pleased to deliver these materials to you today.

  • The final regulation and non-regulatory guidance regarding alternate achievement standards for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities.
  • Guidance for the 2005-06 school year regarding Adequate Yearly Progress. This "Dear Colleague" letter provides guidance to states about steps they can take related to accountability for students with disabilities while this proposed rule is moving through the rulemaking process.
  • A "Frequently Asked Questions" document that explains how the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) work together to help ensure the achievement of students with disabilities. I encourage you to use this document to answer questions and provide information on this topic.
  • Two papers written by experts in large-scale assessments and issues related to the education of students with disabilities. These papers, which were commissioned by the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS), address topics related to individualized education program (IEP) team decision-making and professional development for educators. OSERS anticipates making additional papers available over the next several months, covering such issues as approaches to assessing students with disabilities and ensuring the quality of such assessments.

I hope these materials are useful to you as you continue to strengthen accountability and assessments for all students.

We also have a number of efforts under way to fund the improvement of assessments, assist teachers with instruction, and support research on the assessment of students with disabilities who are held to alternate and modified achievement standards, and we will continue to provide additional resources in the future. This support includes discretionary awards to states, the development and dissemination of technical assistance materials, funding for technical assistance centers, and research and model demonstration projects. I want to take the opportunity to provide a progress report on these projects and let you know how you can receive information about these resources.

Awards to States

The Department administers several discretionary grant programs through which states can receive support for their efforts to implement better assessment practices for students with disabilities.

OSERS will soon award grants to states to plan for the development, enhancement, or redesign of state assessment systems to address the needs of children with disabilities. Following these awards, OSERS will announce a Notice of Proposed Priority to award funds to states to develop modified achievement standards as part of their state assessment systems. This notice will offer states the opportunity to comment on the specific priorities OSERS plans to use in determining how to award an estimated $9 million in special education assessment funds in 2006.

The Office of Elementary and Secondary Education (OESE) provides Enhanced Assessment Grants for projects to improve the quality of assessment instruments used by states for measuring the achievement of all students. These discretionary grants are another resource that will be available on a competitive basis as states develop assessments based on modified academic achievement standards. The Department will publish an announcement of the next Enhanced Assessment Grants competition early in 2006. For more information, go to

States can also use the funds received through the NCLB State Assessment Grants program to develop assessments based on modified achievement standards. Over the last four years, states have received more than $1.5 billion and will receive an estimated $412 million for Fiscal Year (FY) 2006.

Technical Assistance Materials and Centers

On Oct. 1, the Department awarded the National Center on Educational Outcomes (NCEO) $1 million (for each of five years) to assist states in their efforts to include students with disabilities in their assessment and accountability systems. NCEO will accomplish this mission through activities in the following areas: (1) research on the participation and performance of students with disabilities in state and national assessments and other education reform efforts; (2) dissemination of products and technical assistance to facilitate the use of research-based information; and (3) collaboration and leadership to build on the expertise of others and to enhance capacity for research and technical assistance. For more information, go to

On Sept. 30, OESE and OSERS jointly funded three Comprehensive Centers that will assist states to implement NCLB, with an additional focus on disability-related issues. These centers are responsible for providing, in each of the content areas described below, in-depth knowledge, expertise, and analyses to regional technical assistance providers and states. Individual Web sites for each center will be available in early 2006. The centers each received $1 million in funding from OSERS and $1 million from OESE for FY 2005. For more information go to These centers will provide guidance in the following content areas:

  • High Schools: This center was awarded to the American Institutes for Research in Washington, D.C.
  • Teacher Quality: This center was awarded to Learning Point Associates in Naperville, Ill.
  • Instruction: This center was awarded to RMC Research Corporation in Portsmouth, N.H.

National Alternate Assessment Center (NAAC). OSERS is investing $5 million in a national research center focusing on alternate assessments for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities. This center, which originated in 2004, is located at the University of Kentucky; it will receive $1 million a year through December 2009. Details about this project may be found at, as well as links to specific products NAAC has developed for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities, including recent papers and presentations.

National Center on Student Progress Monitoring. Since 2003, OSERS has funded this center to provide technical assistance to states and districts about progress monitoring practices proven to work in different academic content areas for students in kindergarten through fifth grade. The center, which will receive $4 million over a five-year period, is at the American Institutes for Research in Washington, D.C. More information about the center and its products can be found at

Research and Model Demonstration Projects

Study on alternate assessments for students with disabilities. In September, the Department's Institute of Education Sciences (IES) awarded a four-year, $4.4 million contract to SRI International to conduct a national study of alternate assessments used to permit some students with disabilities to participate in state and local testing programs. Required by the 2004 reauthorization of the IDEA, the study will examine: criteria states use to determine eligibility for alternate assessments and the number and type of children who take them; the validity and reliability of alternate assessment instruments and procedures; the alignment of alternate assessments and alternate achievement standards with state academic content standards in reading, mathematics, and science; and the use and effectiveness of alternate assessments in appropriately measuring student progress specific to individualized instructional need. IES anticipates that initial findings from this work will be made available in 2007.

Study in assessments and accountability. IES will fund a special education research competition to support work in research on assessments used for accountability purposes. Applications for this research competition (available funding is $400,000 per year for up to five years) were due Nov. 10, 2005, and IES will announce the awards in 2006. This program will address questions related to how assessments, other measures of progress, achievement standards, and accountability provisions should be designed to capture and represent growth in high-priority skills among children with disabilities.

Model demonstration projects on technology and standards-based reform. In September, OSERS funded two projects to develop, implement, and evaluate models for using technology to enhance standards-based reform and assessments for students with disabilities. Each project will receive $200,000 a year for three years to conduct this work. Both projects will begin in January 2006.

  • The first demonstration project, housed at the University of Oregon, will develop a computerized system to help state education departments organize the measurement of state standards into a cohesive framework for decision-making. For initial information about the Behavioral Research and Teaching program at the University of Oregon and its previous projects, visit
  • The second project, headquartered at CAST, Inc. in Wakefield, Mass., will create and evaluate a curriculum-based measurement system embedded in a computer-supported reading comprehension environment to increase access to the general curriculum for students with visual and sensory disabilities, as well as learning disabilities. For initial information about CAST and its previous projects, visit

Model demonstration projects on progress monitoring. In September, OSERS awarded funds to three centers for model demonstration projects related to progress monitoring. These centers, each funded at $400,000 a year for three years, will incorporate scientifically based research into the development of these model demonstration projects. Each project will begin in January 2006.

  • The center at Lehigh University will develop a multi-tiered progress-monitoring model for students in preschool through grade 4.
  • The center at the University of Minnesota will focus on school readiness skills and classwide monitoring systems for all students age 3 through grade 4. More information about this center's previous work may be found at
  • The center at the University of Oregon will focus on a districtwide curriculum-based measurement system with Head Start, an early childhood resource program, and a school district. More information about this center's previous work may be found at

We at the Department of Education are pleased to be able to provide those in the field—where education takes place—with these many resources, and we are grateful for all you do on behalf of the children of our great country.

  Margaret Spellings

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Last Modified: 03/21/2008