For more than a decade, educators have administered alternate assessments of alternate academic achievement standards (AA-AASs) to students with significant disabilities who cannot meaningfully participate in their states' general achievement tests. As a result of federal legislation, starting with the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act of 1997 (IDEA) and reiterated in the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) and the Individuals With Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA 2004), every state has an AA-AAS and must ensure its technical soundness.
The technical soundness of AA-AASs, however, remains an area of concern. Basic questions about the constructs measured and their relationship to other measures of achievement remain largely unsubstantiated by rigorous research and validation studies. The paucity of published studies or documentary evidence for validity in states' AA-AAS technical manuals supports this assertion. The National Study of Alternate Assessments (NSAA) report (SRI International, 2009) provides a comprehensive descriptive summary of key attributes of AA-AASs and resulting accountability data for each state. The NSAA indicates that directors of AA-AASs in 41% of the states and one territory reported conducting a formal study to document that test and item scores are related to internal or external variables as intended. The NSAA also reported that in 59% of the states, a formal study had documented measurement of the construct relevance of their test. The information, however, is not widely available.
According to the U.S. Department of Education's nonregulatory document Alternate Academic Achievement Standards for Students With the Most Significant Cognitive Disabilities (U.S. Department of Education, 2005), "An alternate assessment must he aligned with the state's content standards, must yield results separately in both reading/language arts and mathematics, and must be designed and implemented in a manner that supports use of the results as an indicator of AYP." (adequate yearly progress; U.S. Department of Education, 2005, p. 15).
The AA-AASs are an important component of each state's assessment system and must meet the federal regulations outlined in Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (1965). The AA-AASs must also meet standards of high technical quality--reliability, validity, accessibility, objectivity, and consistency--expected of other educational tests (i.e., Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing, American Educational Research Association [AERA], American Psychological Association [APA], and National Council on Measurement in Education [NCME], 1999).
In addition, AA-AASs must have the following:
* An explicit structure.
* Guidelines for determining which students may participate.
* Clearly defined scoring criteria and procedures.
* A report format that communicates student performances in terms of academic achievement standards.
If the AA-AASs meet the required standards for technical quality and use, then educators can report the results of AA-AASs for up to 1% of the total student population for AYP purposes, in January 2009, the U.S. Department of Education published the Standards and Assessment Peer Review Guidance: Information and Examples for Meeting Requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. This document extends the Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing (AERA et al., 1999) and provides even more specific guidance concerning validity evidence for AA-AASs. For example, the Technical Quality subsection [4.1] of the Peer Review Guidance document specifically asks the following:
(b) Has the State ascertained that the assessments, including alternate assessments, are measuring the knowledge and skills described in its academic content standards and not knowledge, skills, or other characteristics that are not specified in the academic content standards or grade level expectations? …