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Including Students with Disabilities in Large-Scale Assessment:
Executive Summary

The Technical Work Group
on
Including Students With Disabilities in Large-Scale Assessment

April 2006

Prepared by
Behavioral Research and Teaching, University of Oregon
and
American Institutes for Research, Washington, D.C.

Introduction

Both the No Child Left BehindAct (NCLB) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) require states to provide students with disabilities access to the general education curriculum and to hold schools accountable for the academic achievement of all students. This executive summary highlights the core findings and recommendations of Including Students With Disabilities in Large-scale Assessment (Technical Work Group, 2006), a set of papers commissioned by the Office of Special Education Programs of the U.S. Department of Education. These papers are written for educators who are responsible for administering large-scale assessment and accountability systems and address several topics related to the inclusion of students with disabilities in large-scale assessments. The first paper, titled "Validating Assessments for Students with Disabilities," discusses different types of assessment approaches that can be used to validly assess students with disabilities. The second paper, titled "Reliability Issues and Evidence," focuses on the reliability of assessments and the evidence needed to establish reliability. The third paper, titled "Validity Evidence," focuses on documenting assessment validity evidence. The fourth paper, titled "Standards and Assessment Approaches for Students with Disabilities Using a Validity Argument," illustrates the validation process using actual state standards and assessments. The fifth paper, titled "A Decision Framework for IEP Teams Related to Methods for Individual Student Participation in State Accountability Assessments," describes a systematic framework for IEP teams to determine the most suitable way for students with disabilities to participate in the annual statewide assessments. The final paper, titled "Professional Development on Assessment Systems," discusses the need for on-going professional development for educators.

There are four assessment options available for the participation of students with disabilities in large-scale assessments that are used to judge academic achievement in schools and districts: test accommodations, alternate assessments, and modified and alternate achievement standards1. The papers identify the critical elements of an assessment system that requires careful stewardship to maintain validity when students with disabilities are fully included in the system. These papers (1) present a model for statewide assessment systems that encompass the four options, and (2) provide criteria for states to use in ascertaining the technical quality of their state assessment systems.

States differ in the content standards they have adopted and the assessments they use to measure proficiency. Therefore each state must approach student participation in a manner that is consistent with its standards and assessments. For students with disabilities who cannot participate meaningfully in general education assessments, states must provide both appropriate accommodations and alternate assessments as part of the statewide approach to assessment. The IEP team must determine how a student with a disability can meaningfully participate in the statewide assessment (e.g., whether the student needs testing accommodations or should take an alternate assessment). The outcome from this participation can be used to meet NCLB’s accountability requirement, that states report annually the academic achievement of all students in their schools and districts. This entire accountability process is based on grade-level academic content standards, assessments aligned to the standards, and performance judged against academic achievement standards (either those developed for the general education assessment or those developed as part of the alternate assessment). Adequate yearly progress (AYP) is then based on these assessment results.

Regulations published in the Federal Register (Dec. 9, 2003) announced options for evaluating proficiency of students with the most significant cognitive disabilities based on alternate achievement standards, where proficient scores can be used in determining AYP (subject to a one percent cap). On Dec. 15, 2005, the U.S. Department of Education published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) in the Federal Register that would allow 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 timeframe as other students2. Regardless of which achievement standards are used to evaluate performance (modified or alternate), they must be aligned with a state’s grade-level content standards.

Testing Methods Used in Statewide Assessments

Methods of Assessing Academic Achievement

States currently can use any of four testing methods to measure the achievement of students with disabilities for the purpose of determining whether they and their schools and local education agencies (LEAs) have made AYP. Three of the four testing methods — regular assessment, regular assessment with accommodations, and alternate assessment judged against grade-level achievement standards — entail judging achievement test scores against the grade-level achievement standards in place for all students. The other testing method — alternate assessment judged against alternate achievement standards — allows states to judge performance against different achievement standards. In addition, a recently proposed rule by the U.S. Department of Education allowing states to develop modified achievement standards would provide a fifth testing method to assess the academic achievement of students with disabilities. Both of these latter two methods are optional; states are not required to develop either modified or alternate achievement standards. Regardless of the testing method, however, all achievement standards must be either aligned with or linked to (in the case of alternate achievement standards) the grade-level content standards that are in place for all students. Therefore, adaptations to the regular large-scale assessment must be carefully planned and be appropriate for students with disabilities, with a rationale provided for any changes that could alter the interpretations of proficiency of grade-level content. This entire process of adaptation becomes part of the validation framework of a statewide assessment system.

Two Types of Adaptations

Two types of adaptations to the statewide assessment can be used to create alternate assessments aligned with grade-level content standards: (1) modifying the types of supports used when the assessment is given or taken; and/or (2) limiting the breadth or depth of the assessment "content" (i.e., the standards, objectives, skills and tasks covered by the assessment). "Supports" refers to the types of materials, techniques, scaffolds, prompts, and assistive technologies used in the administration of the assessment. "Breadth" refers to the number of standards being addressed in the assessment; "depth" of standards refers to the number of objectives as well as the requisite skills and range of exemplary tasks considered appropriate for the standards and objectives. For some students with disabilities, the regular assessment is appropriate but accommodations need to be made in the manner in which the test is given or taken, in which case various supports are used as an accommodation (e.g., Braille, large print, reading math problems, separate settings, etc.). For some students, however, these adaptations are insufficient and an alternate assessment is needed, in which case there are three types of achievement standards that can be used to judge proficiency. If grade- level achievement standards are being used to judge proficiency, then the adaptations are only in the types of supports being provided, with no change in the breadth or depth of the assessment content. These adaptations are likely to exceed those allowed as accommodations and therefore performance needs to be part of an alternate assessment option as judged against grade-level achievement standards. Adaptations comprising alternate assessments based on alternate achievement standards and assessments based on modified achievement standards imply a reduction in the breadth and/or depth of the achievement standards being assessed.

Seven Principles for Developing Test Questions and Tasks

To guide states in developing these assessments, seven principles are presented for developing test questions and tasks that are based on grade-level content standards, whether they are assessments judged against modified or alternate achievement standards. These principles, explained in these papers in detail with descriptions and examples, are: (1) derive test content based on grade-level content that is grade specific; (2) parallel the breadth and depth of grade-level curricula; (3) include items and performance tasks that sample multiple levels of skill and knowledge complexity; (4) reflect a developmental progression of skills that provides a fair and appropriate representation of the content standard; (5) show progressive levels of achievement across grade levels; (6) reflect universal design and thereby reduce bias while ensuring student access to content; and (7) represent the student’s own work even when partial credit is given.

These principles ensure testing methods that are based on state grade-level academic content standards and preclude the development or administering of tests that are below grade level. The five testing methods and their defining characteristics are displayed in Table 1. Performance on the first three types of tests is judged against the same grade-level achievement standards adopted for all students. Performance on the last two types of tests is judged against different achievement standards. These latter two testing options are available only for students with disabilities designated as eligible for assessments based on modified or alternate achievement standards by IEP teams and only in those states that choose to establish modified and alternate achievement standards. The table also indicates the various "caps" on the use of proficient scores in AYP calculations.

Table 1

Type and Characteristics of Assessment Methods Based on U.S. Department of Education Policy for Inclusion of Students With Disabilities in Standards-based Assessment Used in Determining Adequate Yearly Progress (as of February 2006)

 

Assessment Methods Foundation for Content Assessed How Performance Is Evaluated Who Can Participate Caps on Using Proficient Scores for AYP
Tests Based on Grade -level Achievement Standards
1. Regular assessment based on grade-level achievement standards State’s academic grade-level content standards Grade-level achievement standards Open to all students, including any student with a disability None
2. Regular assessment with accommodations based on grade-level achievement standards State’s academic grade-level content standards Grade-level achievement standards Any student with a disability. Some states make this option available to other students as well. None
3. Alternate assessment based on grade-level achievement standards State’s academic grade-level content standards Grade-level achievement standards Any student with a disability. Some states make this option available to other students as well. None
Tests Based on other Achievement Standards
4. Assessment based on modified achievement standards* State’s academic grade-level content standards Modified achievement standards Student with a disability who can make progress toward, but may not reach, grade-level achievement standards in the same time- frame as other students and who may need changes in the breadth or depth of the assessment to appropriately reflect his or her proficiency † Proficient scores may be counted for AYP subject to a cap of 2.0 percent of all students assessed at the state and district levels; no limit on number who can participate in this option †
5. Alternate assessment based on alternate achievement standards ‡ State’s academic grade-level content standards Alternate achievement standards that promote access to the general curriculum based on professional judgment of high expectations Student with the most significant cognitive disabilities Proficient scores may be counted for AYP subject to a cap of 1.0 percent of all students assessed at the district or state level; no limit on number who can participate in this option

*Some states may choose not to use modified achievement standards.
† No final regulations had been established at the time this paper was released.
‡ Some states may choose not to use alternate achievement standards.


1 Achievement (also known as performance) standards describe "how good is good enough." According to the Standards and Assessments Peer Review Guidance ( U.S. Department of Education, 2004), ". . . [they] include at least two levels of achievement (proficient and advanced) that reflect mastery." Most states have three or more performance levels that represent "proficient," "below proficient," and "above proficient."

2 Retrieved from the World Wide Web on Feb. 8, 2006 at http://www.ed.gov/legislation/FedRegister/proprule/2005-4/121505a.html

 

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