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Fact Sheet on Assessments for Students With Disabilities

No Child Left Behind

Schools Are Required to Include Students With Disabilities in Testing

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) prohibits schools from excluding students with disabilities from the educational accountability system. The Act requires states to implement statewide accountability systems covering all public schools and students. Most students with disabilities should participate in the same tests taken by their peers. However, some of these students should receive accommodations/modifications, as outlined in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), such as increased time or the use of assistive technology to ensure that their unique needs are taken into account as they participate with their peers in the assessment process. The statute requires states to use accommodations, modifications, and alternate assessments, as needed, to ensure that students with disabilities participate fully in NCLB testing.

Excluding students with disabilities from testing is a violation of IDEA. IDEA addresses the participation of children with disabilities in assessments with appropriate accommodations and modifications in administration, as necessary, or in alternate assessments if they cannot participate in state- and district-wide assessment programs.

Assessments and Standards Options for Students With Disabilities

Students may take state assessments based on state standards.

  • Students may take state assessments, based on state standards, with modifications/accommodations.
  • Students may take alternate assessments based on state standards.
  • Students may take alternate assessments based on alternate achievement standards.

1% Rule for Students with Disabilities

On December 9, 2003, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) released final regulations that established a 1% cap on the number of proficient and advanced scores of students with the most significant cognitive disabilities who take alternate assessments based on alternate achievement standards that may be counted in the calculation of adequate yearly progress (AYP). That is, states and school districts have the flexibility to count the "proficient" and "advanced" scores of students with the most significant cognitive disabilities who take alternate assessments based on alternate achievement standards-as long as the number of those proficient and advanced scores does not exceed 1% of all students in the grades tested (nationally about 9% of students with disabilities). Without this flexibility, those scores would have to be assessed against grade-level standards and would be considered "not proficient." A number of school districts across the country have reportedly failed to make AYP solely because of special education students.

Exemption to The 1% Rule

On March 2, 2004, ED released new policy guidance that outlines the means by which states can seek an exemption to the 1% cap on the number of proficient scores from alternate assessments that may be included in calculations for determining adequate AYP under NCLB.

To exceed the exemption cap, states must provide the following information:

  • an explanation of circumstances that result in more than 1% of all students statewide having the most significant cognitive disabilities and who are achieving a proficient score on alternate assessments based on alternate achievement standards;
  • data showing the incidence rate of students with the most significant cognitive disabilities;
  • an explanation of how the state has implemented alternate achievement standards.

Commonly Used Terms

Out of level assessment is a non-grade level instructional assessment-an assessment made at a grade level below the grade level that the student is assigned to.

Alternate assessment is an assessment designed for the small number of students with disabilities who are unable to participate in the regular state assessment, even with appropriate accommodations. An alternate assessment may include materials collected under several circumstances, such as

  • teacher observation of the student,
  • samples of student work produced during regular classroom instruction that demonstrate mastery of specific instructional strategies in place of performance on a computer-scored multiple-choice test covering the same content and skills,
  • standardized performance tasks produced in an "on-demand" setting, such as completion of an assigned task on test day.

To serve the purposes of assessment under Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, an alternate assessment must be 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. An alternate assessment may be scored against grade-level standards or, in the case of students with the most significant cognitive disabilities, against alternate achievement standards.

Alternate achievement standard is an expectation of performance that differs in complexity from a grade-level achievement standard. If a state chooses to create alternate achievement standards, the state is not limited to setting a single alternate achievement standard. If, however, the state chooses to define multiple alternate achievement standards, it must employ commonly accepted professional practices to define the standards; it must document the relationship among the alternate achievement standards as part of its coherent assessment plan; and it must include in the 1% cap proficient scores resulting from all assessments based on alternate achievement standards.

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