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.