Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Alternate Assessments: Lessons Learned and Roads to Be Taken

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Alternate Assessments: Lessons Learned and Roads to Be Taken

Article excerpt

With the passage of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Amendments of 1997 (IDEA '97), all states will have to ensure that students with disabilities are fully included in state and local district educational assessments. Specifically, IDEA requires that "children with disabilities be included in general State and district-wide assessment programs, with appropriate accommodations, where necessary" [612(a)(17)(A)] and "as appropriate, the State or local educational agency: (i) develops guidelines for the participation of children with disabilities in alternate assessments for those children who cannot participate in State and district-wide assessment programs; and (ii) develops and, beginning not later than July 1, 2000, conducts those alternate assessments" [612(a)(17)(A)(iii)].

As of July 1, 2000, states must also report the numbers and performance of children participating in the alternate assessment [612(a) (17) (B) (ii-iii)]; ensure that individualized education program (IEP) teams individually address how students will participate in large-scale assessments (either via the general assessment, including the possible use of accommodations, or through an alternate assessment [614(d)(1)(A)(v)]); and consider the performance of all students with disabilities, including those students participating in the alternate assessment, in the State Improvement Plan performance goals and indicators [612(a)(16)(D)].

There is little to guide the work of the states in this complex process. Articles describing the content, standards, and instructional impact of a statewide alternate assessment (Kleinert, Kearns, & Kennedy, 1997; Kleinert, Kennedy, & Kearns, 1999) are available, and several guideline papers (Kearns, Kleinert, Clayton, Burdge, & Williams, 1998; Ysseldyke & Olsen, 1999; Ysseldyke, Olsen, & Thurlow, 1997) have been published. What is lacking is a descriptive analysis of the approaches taken thus far, and what can be learned from what has been done.

As states develop alternate assessments, fundamental conceptual and methodological issues arise. Key concerns to be addressed include (Haigh, Thurlow, Kearns & Kleinert, 1998; National Center on Educational Outcomes, 1997; Olsen et al., 1998):

* Why assess (background, context, and foundations)?

* Who to assess (eligibility)?

* What and how to assess (outcomes, standards, goals)?

* When to assess (multiple versus single measures)?

* How to represent and report performance (scoring criteria and procedures)?

* How to use scores (data management)?

* How to continuously improve the process?

Two states have put alternate assessment programs into practice (Elliott, Ysseldyke, Thurlow, & Erickson, 1998). In both states, the alternate assessment is one component of a comprehensive educational assessment and accountability system that addresses the learning of all students. As a result of the landmark Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990 (Kentucky School Laws, 1990), most students with disabilities in Kentucky participate in the regular assessment system, which has included individual writing portfolios; on-demand, open-ended performance tasks in math, social studies, reading, science, practical living, and arts and humanities; as well as more traditional achievement test items. Approximately 0.5% of all students in the state, those students whose cognitive disabilities prevent the completion of the regular course of studies, participate in the alternate system, the Alternate Portfolio. In response to the 1989 Governor's Commission on School Performance recommendations, the Maryland State Board of Education initiated comprehensive reforms to hold schools in that state accountable for high quality education and measurable results for all students. To date, the state's alternate assessment, Independence Mastery Assessment Program (IMAP), includes less than 1,500 students in a school population of approximately 840,000. …

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