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Assessing Students With Learning Disabilities Under No Child Left Behind

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By Candace Cortiella, The Advocacy Institute

Q: What is an alternate assessment based on grade level academic content standards?

A: In some states, students can be assessed on how well they are achieving the state's content standards for their grade level in a different manner than the traditional pencil and paper assessment. Examples of alternate assessments include teacher observations, samples of student work that demonstrate mastery of the content standards assessed by the statewide assessment, and standardized performance tasks.

Q: What is an alternate assessment based on alternate academic content standards?

A: An alternate achievement standard is an expectation of performance that differs in complexity from a grade-level achievement standard. The availability of this type of assessment has been established for a very small percentage of students with disabilities who cannot participate in the state's assessment program even with accommodations.

The NCLB federal regulations regarding alternate assessments based on alternate standards specify that such an assessment option is intended for students "whose cognitive impairments may prevent them from attaining grade-level achievement standards, even with the very best instruction." Those regulations also set a limit on the number of proficient and advanced scores on this type of assessment that can be used to calculate a school district's "adequate yearly progress." That limitation is designed to restrict this assessment option to a very small group of students with significant cognitive disabilities.

Q: Some states use "out-of-level" tests to assess students with disabilities. Which assessment option does such testing fall under?

A: Out-of-level testing typically means that a student who is in one grade is assessed using a level of a test developed for students in a lower grade. Terms such as "off-grade-level," "instructional-level," or "functional-level" are also used to describe this assessment practice. According to guidance issued by the U.S. Department of Education: "out-of-level testing is very often associated with lower expectations for special education students, tracking such students into lower-level curriculum with limited opportunities. Out-of-level testing may also limit student opportunities for moving to the next grade or graduating with a diploma."

Under NCLB regulations, student assessment using an "out-of-level" test is considered the same as an alternate assessment based on alternate standards and is subject to the limitations set for this option.

Candace Cortiella's work as Director of the nonprofit The Advocacy Institute focuses on improving the lives of people with learning disabilities, through public policy and other initiatives. The mother of a young adult with learning disabilities, she lives in the Washington, D.C., area.

Comments from readers

"I teach 5th grade math. Are there any studies that show the effectiveness of inclusion when a student is unable to do math, even with accomodations? In other words, when the accomodations do not work, how long should the student remain in the classroom? I have a student who gets lots of accomodations, but is still not succeeding. I have a special education teacher in my room, and we work very well together. However, we both feel that this student's needs are not being met. At what point is the student removed to a small group instruction classroom? "
"my son is 10 years old. He started kindergarten at barely age 5. 4 months into the school year during a teachers conference we were told by his teacher that he had a suspected learning disability, this teacher went on to tell my husband and me that not all kids are college material. Then started the speech therapy services and each year we have had to hear how are child has a learning disability but no proof. Teachers have asked and wondered outloud why he was receiving these special ed services but would in the end stand alongside the principle and speech pathologist. Two years ago they tested his I.Q. he passed at their disbelief We were told how he does so well at tests. This year they have requested to test his I.Q. again now i am not a well educated woman, but I do believe your I.Q. doesn't get lower as you get older. This request was made by his math teacher his grade in math is a b+ His reading,writing and social studies teacher says he doesn't receive any extra help ! the other students do not get and she doesn't get why he's being focused in on. My husband and myself have never seen what this school percieves as a learning disability yet feel are hands are tied,we feel by are sons use of an IEP the school has not helped but in an essense harmed him emotionally and mentally. My sons grades as of Friday Jan. 22nd were as followed B in Language Arts, B in Math, B in Social Studies, B in English, C in Science. all A's in P.E., Music, and Computers. My question is if my child doesn't score at a certain level on certain tests does this affect the schools ratings? And if so if he is placed in special education does that help impact the schools ratings somehow to help make the ratings better cause no matter how we go about it we can't get them to take him out of speech they want to give more special education services when many around us including many of his past and present teachers have questioned it. Every year we wait for the ball to drop ! and are extremely tired of feeling so alone. We want what is b! est and do not feel the school is doing what is best. Thank You for your time. sincerly, scared and confused mom"
"help my son is 18 and has tbi he is being kicked out of school he is in a behaver school because of his tbi if there is someone that can help with this please email me i will try anything "