Our Kids Count is flummoxed by information regarding “alternate assessments” included in the new ESEA Flexibility materials released Sept. 23, 2011, by the US Dept. of Education (ED). The flexibility seeks to provide States with the ability to get a waiver for ten provisions of ESEA (currently known as No Child Left Behind) and their associated regulatory, administrative, and reporting requirements (presumably because Congress has failed to produce an update to ESEA).

However, ED has also taken the liberty of redefining the requirement regarding “alternate assessments” for students with disabilities in its Flexibility package.

Current ESEA requires all States to have assessment systems that include:

(2) Alternate assessments. (i) The State’s academic assessment system must provide for one or more alternate assessments for a child with a disability as defined under section 602(3) of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) whom the child’s IEP team determines cannot participate in all or part of the State assessments under paragraph (a)(1) of this section, even with appropriate accommodations. 34 C.F.R. § 200.6(a)(2)

The ED ESEA Flexibility definition of “High-Quality Assessment” includes this requirement:

provides for alternate assessments based on grade-level academic achievement standards or alternate assessments based on alternate academic achievement standards for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities, consistent with 34 C.F.R. § 200.6(a)(2)

So, the ED ESEA Flexibility appears to substantially change what States must do regarding alternate assessments for students with disabilities — making the requirement into an explicit choice between an alternate assessment on grade-level achievement standards (AA-GLAS) and an alternate assessment on alternate achievement standards (AA-AAS) …two alternate assessments that are very different, according to ED. What’s the difference? The following explanation of AA-GLAS and AA-AAS is from: Alternate Achievement Standards for Students With the Most Significant Cognitive Disabilities, Non-Regulatory Guidance, U.S. Dept. of Education, August 2005, at page 16:

Q: What are alternate assessments based on grade-level achievement standards, and how are scores from these assessments incorporated into the accountability system?

A: An alternate assessment based on grade-level achievement standards must address the same content and hold students to the same expectations as does the regular test. As part of the standards and assessment peer review process under Title I, a State must document that its results from an alternate assessment based on grade-level achievement standards are comparable in meaning to its results from the regular assessment for the same grade level.  Further, alternate assessments need to meet the general Title I requirements for assessments. For AYP calculations, results from an alternate assessment based on grade-level achievement standards should be treated in the same manner as results from the regular assessment. The 1.0 percent cap does not apply to those results.

Q: What are alternate assessments based on alternate achievement standards?

A: An alternate assessment based on alternate achievement standards may cover a narrower range of content (e.g., cover fewer objectives under each content standard) and reflect a different set of expectations in the areas of reading/language arts, mathematics, and science than do regular assessments or alternate assessments based on grade-level achievement standards.  The questions on an alternate assessment might be simpler than those on a regular assessment or the expectations for how well students know particular content standards may be less complex but still challenging for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities. If a State chooses to use such assessments, it must establish alternate achievement standards through a documented standards-setting process; the assessments based on alternate achievement standards must yield separate results for reading/language arts, mathematics, and (beginning in the 2007-08 school year) science. Proficient and advanced scores in reading/language arts and mathematics from an alternate assessment based on alternate achievement standards may be used in AYP decisions in the same manner as any other scores, subject to the 1.0 percent cap at the LEA and State levels.

According to a report prepared for ED’s National Center for Special Education Research,  State Profiles on Alternate Assessments Based on Alternate Achievement Standards, A Report From the National Study on Alternate Assessments, every state except one had an AA-AAS in place in the 2006-2007 school year. Given that, ED’s Flexibility provision regarding alternate assessments would appear to essentially preclude the development of an AA-GLAS, just the type of assessment many students with disabilities need!

(To be clear, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) has required all States to have alternate assessments for students with disabilities who can not participate in the general assessment since 1997.)

More on ED’s new ESEA Flexibility:

NPR report :: Ed Week Special Education Blog