Academic journal article Exceptional Children

The Impact of Teacher Training on State Alternate Assessment Scores

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

The Impact of Teacher Training on State Alternate Assessment Scores

Article excerpt

In the past, students with severe disabilities were often exempted from the large-scale assessments that have been a key component of school reform. Since the passage of the 1997 Amendments of the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), inclusion of all students with disabilities in accountability systems has been mandatory. Students who are unable to participate in large-scale assessments with accommodations must be given an alternate assessment. No Child Left Behind (NCLB, 2002) required states to report progress on state standards in reading and math, and in science by 2007, and allowed for alternate assessments to be used for students unable to participate in state testing in these areas.

One of the potential benefits of alternate assessment is that the process may be used to improve educational programs (Browder, Spooner, Algozzine et al., 2003). Kleinert and Thurlow (2001) advocated that "teachers must learn to use alternate assessment not only to document what the student has learned but also to enhance and extend that learning" (p. 14). In contrast, few researchers have focused on the relationship between the student's educational program and alternate assessment outcomes. In their review of the research on alternate assessment, Browder, Spooner, Algozzine et al. (2003) found only two studies that considered the relationship between program quality and outcome scores and both were based on the Kentucky alternate assessment. In the first study, Kleinert, Kearns, and Kennedy (1997) found a correlation between alternate assessment scores and best practice indicators from the Kentucky Systems Change Project, but only a moderate correlation with individualized education program (IEP) quality. In the second investigation, Kampfer, Horvath, Kleinert, and Kearns (2001) found a relationship between instructional variables and alternate assessment scores. Specifically, involving students in the portfolio evaluation and embedding the alternate assessment in ongoing instruction were correlated with students' scores. Teachers' perceived benefit of the portfolio for the student also was correlated with students' scores. Although these studies suggest that the quality of both educational programs and alternate assessment scores are linked, no studies to date have determined if there is a causal relationship between training teachers and student scores.

The need to focus on how to improve alternate assessment scores is especially relevant given the provision for using alternate achievement standards in reporting outcomes for NCLB. A recent amendment to Title I regulations allows states to use alternate achievement standards for students with the most significant disabilities (Title I--Improving the Academic Achievement of the Disadvantaged, 2003). This provision becomes especially important in high stakes accountability systems.

Both Kentucky and North Carolina have "high stakes" accountability systems in that consequences occur for schools that do or do not meet state set criteria for student performance. For example, in North Carolina, when a school meets its target, teachers receive cash bonuses; but a school that misses the target receives a state assistance team who provides direction in curriculum and instruction. The performance of individual schools is also publicized in the media. Both North Carolina and Kentucky have allowed for alternate assessment scores to count as proficient if they meet the state's alternate achievement standards. In North Carolina, these alternate standards focus on portfolio documentation of mastery of five IEP objectives linked to state standards. Although alternate achievement standards make it possible for students with significant cognitive disabilities to show progress on state standards, they do not guarantee that students will do so. In fact, early experiences in North Carolina indicated that most students have not achieved proficiency on alternate assessments in the first years (North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, 2002). …

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