What We Know and Need to Know about Alternate Assessment

By Browder, Dianne M.; Spooner, Fred et al. | Exceptional Children, Fall 2003 | Go to article overview

What We Know and Need to Know about Alternate Assessment


Browder, Dianne M., Spooner, Fred, Algozzine, Robert, Ahlgrim-Delzell, Lynn, Flowers, Claudia, Karvonen, Meagan, Exceptional Children


An important way states have been implementing school reform in recent years is through the use of large-scale state and district assessments for student and school accountability. These assessments are used to determine if students have met state or district standards. The federal legislation No Child Left Behind (NCLB, 2002) placed increased emphasis on educational accountability by requiring statewide assessment systems covering all public schools and students. These systems must be based on challenging standards in reading/language arts, mathematics, and science (science by 2007), annual testing for all students in Grades 3-8, and annual statewide progress objectives ensuring that all groups of students reach proficiency within 12 years. Assessment results and progress objectives must be reported by poverty, race, ethnicity, disability, and limited English proficiency to ensure that no group is left behind. Previous legislation, (i.e., Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 1997) required that states provide alternate assessments for students with disabilities who are not able to participate in large-scale state and district assessments. To obtain data needed for No Child Left Behind, alternate assessments need to include the domains of language arts/reading, math, and by 2007, science.

When IDEA 1997 required the use of alternate assessments, only one state, Kentucky, had widespread implementation of this process. By July 2000, states had to implement alternate assessments. Although the Kentucky experience (Kleinert, Kearns, & Kennedy, 1997) and experts (Ysseldyke & Olsen, 1999) offered guidance for creating alternate assessments, this was still a complex challenge for most states. The result was considerable variability in how states interpreted this requirement both in how they assessed (Thompson & Thurlow, 2001) and what they assessed (Browder, Ahlgrim-Delzell, et al., in press). Since 1997, the literature on alternate assessment has grown offering both expert opinions and some data-based studies on this process. This article provides a review of this literature to identify what we know and need to know about alternate assessment. Although alternate assessment is not limited to students with significant cognitive disabilities, this review gives special emphasis to the implications for this population given the likelihood that these students will most likely be the very small percentage for whom states and districts will use alternate achievement standards as allowed by No Child Left Behind.

To identify appropriate literature, we searched electronic resources available through the university library search system called NC Live (North Carolina Libraries for Virtual Education). This system offers a variety of search engines for fields such as business, children, education, psychology, social science, legal, literary, medical, and health. For our search, we used Info Trac via Gale, Masterfile Premier via EBSCOhost, ERIC via EBSCOhost, PSYCINFO via Silver Platter, and Academic Search Elite via EBSCOhost. We also contacted professionals conducting research in alternate assessment and asked for early summaries of their data-based research. Our criteria for inclusion were that an article had to have at least one measure directly related to alternate assessment, that it used a quantitative or qualitative research design or provided program evaluation data, and that it was published or in press for a peer-reviewed journal, or that it was part of the knowledge base developed by the National Center on Educational Outcomes prior to December 2002. The application of these criteria yielded 19 data-based studies on alternate assessment, which are summarized in Table 1; in addition, we reviewed numerous articles, books, and technical reports that presented additional perspectives on alternate assessment (see Table 1). An overview of our organizing themes is presented in Figure 1.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

In the mid-1990s, personnel at the National Center on Educational Outcomes drew attention to the fact that large numbers of students with disabilities were excluded from state assessment and accountability systems (see Erickson, Thurlow, & Thor, 1995; Erickson, Thurlow, Thor, & Seyfarth, 1996). …

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