Friday, July 31, 2009

Breaking Down the IEP: State- and District-wide Assessments

The IDEA requires that the written IEP document include:

"a statement of any individual appropriate accommodations that are necessary to measure the academic achievement and functional performance of the child on State and districtwide assessments...; and if the IEP team determines that the child shall take alternative assessment on a particular State or districtwide assessment of student achievement, a statement of why (AA) the child cannot participate in the regular assessment; and (BB) the particular alternative assessment selected is appropriate for the child."
20 U.S.C. section 1414(d)(1)(A)(VI)

What are state and district-wide assessments?

A lot can be written and discussed about the topic of state-wide and district-wide assessments, especially in regards to "high stakes testing." Because this blog post is focused on what is required content in the IEP related to such assessments, only a brief overview is provided: State-wide assessments are standardized measures utilized by school districts throughout the state to determine a child's academic achievement within a particular grade level. These assessments are determined by state law or the state department of education, and are utilized to measure a school's performance. Some states mandate specific tests that are used as part of the determination of whether a child moves from grade to grade, or whether a student earns a diploma. Because performance on these tests has such an impact, these tests are referred to as "high-stakes testing." District-wide assessments are standardized measures utilized within a local education agency / school district, as determined by district policy. These measures may be given at the end of the year, or periodically throughout the year. Sometimes, they are directly tied to the curriculum a school district is using. Periodic or yearly district-wide assessments are used for a variety of reasons, such as determining a child's progress, determining which students require intervention within the general education program, etc.

What individually appropriate accommodations are necessary and how should they be documented?

The IEP document must include individually appropriate accommodations based on the particular student's unique needs that are necessary on district-wide or state-wide testing. Accommodations should be those which the child needs in order to have an equal opportunity to participate in the assessment, and so that the assessment measures the child's academic achievement with minimal impact by that child's disability. If, for example, a child is extremely distracted in a large group setting, a separate testing area may be necessary.

The IEP document should be specific about these accommodations, avoiding generic language that is not easily interpretted by anyone reviewing and implementing the accommodations. It should specifically spell out what accommodations are needed and how those accommodations will be provided / implemented.

Will accommodations affect how the tests are normed or graded?

Another issue that could be discussed in length, but will only be discussed for purposes of this post briefly, is the issue of how accommodations affect the norming or grading of an assessment measure. This is a question that parents should ask during an IEP team's discussion of accommodations. Accommodations that seriously change what is actually being measured are actually modifications, and these may mean that the test is not "normed" or even that it is not reported for purposes of the school district's accountability reporting. If you want to see what your child knows as compared to same-grade peers, normed assessments may give you a good indication, assuming that appropriate accommodations have been given to give your child a fair chance. In any event, this is a discussion that impacts the parents ability to fully participate and understand what accommodations are appropriate, and so this discussion should be held when the IEP team is determining what to document about accommodations.

What are alternative assessments and how are they to be documented in the IEP?

Alternative assessments are related to the provision of alternative curriculum standards that are modified, rather than based upon grade level curriculum standards. If a child is recieving alternative curriculum rather than general education curriculum with modifications, accommodations and supports, then the IEP team may determine that the child should participate in alternative assessment measures, rather than the standardized district-wide or state-wide testing. Again, this is an issue that can and should be discussed in length elsewhere. For purposes of this blog, it is important for IEP participants to understand what should and must be documented with regards to this issue.

The IEP document must include a statement of why the student cannot participate in the regular district-wide or state-wide assessment. This statement should be specific to the child and based on the individual child's unique needs, rather than a generic statement. A statement, for example, that "because of Child's autism, the statewide testing is not appropriate," is not a clear statement of why the child cannot participate. This statement would seem to indicate that no child with autism could participate, which is certainly not the case for any disability. Therefore, the statement should include specific information regarding that particular child, and why the child cannot participate. Specific information will be useful down the line because as the child's needs change and he/she makes progress, it will be easier to reevaluate whether the regular standardized measure is now appropriate.

The IEP document also must specify what particular alternative assessment was selected and why that particular alternative assessment is appropriate for that specific student. Again, this statement should be based on the child's individual needs, rather than generic language about an assessment measure. It is interesting to consider that the IDEA requires such a statement, given that most districts utilize one alternative assessment measure that is used for all students who cannot participate in regular testing. The language of the required content in regards to alternative assessments implies that the IEP team is to make an individualized determination and to document a clear explanation of how that determination was based on the child's individual needs.

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