In April 2007, the United States Department of Education (ED) revised regulations under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) to create additional flexibility for states in facilitating the appropriate measurement of the achievement of certain students with disabilities. These revisions allowed states to develop alternate assessments based on modified academic achievement standards (AA-MAS). According to the ED's Modified Academic Achievement Standards: Non-Regulatory Guidance (2007), AA-MAS "are intended ... for a limited group of students whose disability has prevented them from attaining grade-level proficiency" (p. 20). The ED has capped the number of students who may demonstrate proficiency via AA-MAS at 2% of a state's or school district's tested student population at a specific grade level (Bolt & Roach, 2008).
AA-MAS are intended to measure the same grade-level content as states' general large-scale assessments, but may include less difficult items or items that include modifications (e.g., visual cues, fewer answer choices, key terms bolded) intended to make these tests more accessible. These new tests will be referenced to modified achievement standards developed by each state. A modified academic achievement standard is
an expectation of performance that is challenging ... but may be less difficult than a grade-level academic achievement standard. Modified academic achievement standards must be aligned with a State's academic content standards for the grade in which a student is enrolled. (Bolt & Roach, 2008, p. 14)
It is important to note that modified academic achievement standards are intended to be more challenging than states' alternate academic achievement standards, which may feature content that is simplified in form and narrower in scope than the general grade-level standards. It is also important to understand that a modification to an item that all eligible students take is different than an accommodation for an individual student. Both an accommodation to the testing procedures or response mode and a modification to an item are intended to enhance access for students, but accommodations are customized to an individual student's needs, whereas modifications are made to the actual "anatomy" of items. Modifications that enhance accessibility are not based on the individual needs of a particular student, but rather the group of students with disabilities and persistent academic difficulties. Thus, item modifications are more structural in nature and controlled by test developers. Conversely, accommodations are procedural in nature and controlled by individualized education program (IEP) teams.
In its Modified Academic Achievement Standards: Non-Regulatory Guidance document (2007), the ED indicated that states "may modify an existing assessment or develop a new assessment" for use as an AA-MAS (p. 24). The document provides examples of AA-MAS development strategies, including "modifying the same items that appear on the grade-level assessment by simplifying the language of the item or eliminating a 'distractor' in multiple-choice items" (p. 25). There has been considerable concern and debate over the use of the terms modify and/or modification in describing the changes made to items for use on an AA-MAS. Over the past 2 decades, research and policy documents describing testing accommodations typically have described modifications as changes to testing procedures that undermine the construct measured and lead to less valid inferences about student performance. However, the most recent version of Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing (Standards for Testing; American Educational Research Association, American Psychological Association, & National Council on Measurement in Education [AERA, APA, & NCME], 1999) is less restrictive in its definition of modifications, describing them as "changes made in the content, format, and/or administration procedures of a test in order to accommodate test takers who are unable to take the unmodified test under standard test conditions" (p. …