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A Decision Framework for IEP Teams Related to Methods for Individual Student Participation in State Accountability Assessments

For students to be appropriately included in large-scale assessments, Individualized Education Program (IEP) teams need to be aware of what to do, and not to do, when making individualized assessment decisions. Because the assessment methods vary and must fit individual needs, decisions could be made using inappropriate criteria. However, with an appropriate sequence of decision guides, IEP teams can ask a set of questions to arrive at an appropriate recommendation for having a student with a disability participate in a statewide assessment.

Depending on the state system, an IEP team currently may have up to five possible methods of participation to consider:

  1. General assessment
  2. General assessment with accommodations
  3. Alternate assessment judged against grade-level achievement standards
  4. Assessment judged against modified achievement standards1
  5. Alternate assessment judged against alternate achievement standards

Each of the five methods must produce achievement scores that can be used in calculating Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), as required by the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). Each method is derived from federal regulations and policies (U.S. Department of Education, 2004). Currently, states can decide whether to use modified and/or alternate achievement standards in judging the performance of students with disabilities. The U.S. Department of Education has announced plans to publish a notice of proposed rulemaking on the use of modified achievement standards in December 2005.

All of the assessment methods are based on the same state content standards. In Methods 1–3, student performance is judged against grade-level achievement standards. These standards are designed to enable inferences about the breadth and depth of content proficiency for a respective grade level. Methods 1 and 2 (general assessments without and with accommodations) and Method 3 (alternate assessment judged against grade-level standards) allow for comparable inferences to be made about proficiency, given the changes that have been made. Methods 4 and 5 judge student performance against modified or alternate achievement standards, respectively. The modified and alternate achievement standards infer that accommodations and extensive supports have been used—particularly those involving assistive technologies, prompting, or scaffolding—and/or that the grade-level content has been changed in breadth, depth, and/or complexity. Again, the use of modified achievement standards is clarified in the Department's notice of proposed rulemaking.

Alternate achievement standards are designed to enable very stipulated inferences about grade-level expectations that have been extensively prioritized and narrowed. Alternate achievement standards also assume that student performance is contingent on having the supports used in the assessment.

The requirement that all students participate in these assessments may raise multiple issues for IEP teams to address. However, this paper focuses only on issues most closely related to the participation methods. The paper discusses the learning and behavioral characteristics of students likely to be appropriate for each testing method. IEP teams also should consider whether the participation method has consequences for meeting graduation requirements. Because graduation requirements differ by state, this paper does not address implications of the various participation methods on graduation. State-level testing guidelines should specify the impact of each method on meeting graduation requirements. We begin with the premise that all students, with or without disabilities, should participate in the general assessment without accommodations unless the IEP team determines otherwise.

1See the U.S. Department of Education's interim policy on modified achievement standards at http://www.ed.gov/policy/elsec/guid/raising/disab-options.html (retrieved October 20, 2005).