The Learning Standards and Alternate Performance Indicators for Students with Severe Disabilities
Final Version

The University of the State of New York
The State Education Department
Office of Vocational and Educational Services for Individuals with Disabilities

Regents of The University

Carl T. Hayden, Chancellor, A.B., J.D. Elmira
Louise P. Matteoni, Vice Chancellor, B.A., M.A., Ph.D. Bayside
Jorge L. Batista, B.A., J.D. Bronx
J. Edward Meyer, B.A., LL.B. Chappaqua
R. Carlos Carballada, Chancellor Emeritus, B.S. Rochester
Adelaide L. Sanford, B.A., M.A., P.D. Hollis
Diane O’Neill McGivern, B.S.N., M.A., Ph.D. . Staten Island
Saul B. Cohen, B.A., M.A., Ph.D. New Rochelle
James C. Dawson, A.A., B.A., M.S., Ph.D. Peru
Robert M. Bennett, B.A., M.S. Tonawanda
Robert M. Johnson, B.S., J.D. Lloyd Harbor
Peter M. Pryor, B.A., LL.B., J.D., LL.D. Albany
Anthony S. Bottar, B.A., J.D. Syracuse
Merryl H. Tisch, B.A., M.A. New York
Harold O. Levy, B.S., M.A. (Oxon.), J.D. New York
Ena L. Farley, B.A., M.A., Ph.D. Brockport

President of The University and Commissioner of Education
Richard P. Mills

Chief Operating Officer
Richard H. Cate

Deputy Commissioner for Vocational and Educational Services for Individuals with Disabilities
Lawrence C. Gloeckler

Manager, Special Education Policy and Quality Assurance
Rita D. Levay

Coordinator, Special Education Policy
Lawrence T. Waite

Associate, Special Education Policy
Candace H. Shyer

The State Education Department does not discriminate on the basis of age, color, religion, creed, disability, marital status, veteran status, national origin, race, genetic predisposition or carrier status, or sexual orientation in its educational programs, services and activities. Portions of this publication can be made available in a variety of formats, including braille, large print or audio tape, upon request. Inquiries concerning this policy of nondiscrimination should be directed to the Department’s Office for Diversity, Ethics, and Access, Room 152, Education Building, Albany, NY 12234.


The Advisory Committee for the Standards and Students with Severe Disabilities

Name Affiliation
Dave Abeling Williamson Central School District
Pat Berry Center for Developmental Disabilities
Ellen Burns Early Childhood Direction Center of the Capital Region
Dana Chapman New York State School for the Deaf
Susan Constantino United Cerebral Palsy Associations of New York State, Inc.
Philip Cronlund New York State School for the Deaf
Denise Fegueroa Troy Resource Center for Independent Living
Jim Fogarty Eastern Suffolk #2 BOCES
Barbara A. Frisenda Seaford Union Free School District
Robert Guarino New York Institute for Special Education
Sue Lehr Parent
John McKay Southern Westchester BOCES
Elizabeth Merrill Oneida/Herkimer/Madison BOCES
Harold Mowl Rochester School for the Deaf
Holly Nann Parent
Nancy Needle Board of Education of New York City
Martin Nelson Levittown Public Schools
Bruce Nesbit Gateway Youth and Family Services
Cheryl Saidel Jamesville DeWitt Schools
Richard Schonfeld Hillside Children's Center
Phyllis Schwartz Suffolk BOCES
Robert Seibold New York State School for the Blind
Jane F. Suddalby Liverpool Central Schools
Bob Tobias Board of Education of New York City
Maria Cruz Torres Buffalo City SETRC Training Specialist
Ed Wilkens Northeastern Regional Resource Center
New York State Education Department Staff
Bob Brennan Colleen Canorro Connie Centrello
Roseanne DeFabio Pat Geary Mike Hacker
Virginia Hammer Roger Hyndman Jo Ann Larson
Jacqueline Marino Barbara Nussbaum Mary Pillsworth
Anne Schiano Anthony Schilling Candace Shyer
Lawrence Waite


This document represents a two-year effort to establish alternate performance indicators, key ideas and sample tasks for students with severe disabilities which are linked to the Learning Standards established for all students. On July 17, 1997, the Board of Regents endorsed these alternate performance indicators which were disseminated to constituents. Based on responses received from the public meetings and from individuals across the State, this document was refined.

This document is not a curriculum in and of itself but rather a framework for development of a curriculum. It articulates the learning standards established for all students in New York State and alternate performance indicators, key ideas and sample tasks for students with severe disabilities.



The mission of the New York State Education Department is to raise the knowledge, skills and opportunities of all the people in New York by providing leadership for a system that yields the best educated people in the world. This has been accomplished in part by establishing a common set of learning standards for all students. The Board of Regents believes that special education must be increasingly focused on improving the performance of students with disabilities, including students with severe disabilities. These students must have access to high quality educational programs that enable them to achieve the learning standards established for all students. This same theme is a major focus of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Amendments of 1997.

Currently, the educational achievements of students with disabilities fall far short of those of their nondisabled peers. Because many more school-age students receiving special education services are capable of completing the course work and State testing requirements for a diploma, the Department is striving to increase the number of students with disabilities who meet the learning standards at high levels of achievement and who exit secondary education with a high school diploma. However, not all students with disabilities will be able to obtain a high school diploma. Some students with disabilities will obtain an individualized education program (IEP) diploma based on achieving the educational goals specified in their current IEP. These educational goals are set by the Committee on Special Education (CSE) and must be linked to the Learning Standards and to appropriate performance indicators. Appropriate performance indicators for some of these students may be on the elementary or intermediate level. However, there is a small percentage of students within this group of students, students with severe disabilities, for whom even the elementary level of performance indicators are not appropriate. These students require alternate performance indicators appropriate to their abilities and needs.

In New York State approximately 11.1% (362,202) of all students are classified as students with disabilities. Of all students with disabilities, only two to three percent (fewer than 11,000) are students with severe disabilities. It is for these students that alternate performance indicators linked to the Learning Standards approved for all students have been designed. Students with severe disabilities have limited cognitive abilities combined with behavioral and/or physical limitations and require highly specialized education, social, psychological, and medical services in order to maximize their full potential for useful and meaningful participation in society and for self-fulfillment. Students with severe disabilities may experience severe speech, language, and/or perceptual-cognitive impairments, and evidence challenging behaviors that interfere with learning and socialization opportunities. These students may also have extremely fragile physiological conditions and may require personal care, physical/verbal supports and/or prompts and assistive technology devices.

Advisory Group on Standards for Students with Severe Disabilities

An advisory group was established by the Department to examine the Learning Standards relative to students with severe disabilities. This advisory group included parents, representatives of public and private schools, Boards of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES), the Commissioner’s Advisory Panel for Special Education Services, Independent Living Centers, Early Childhood Direction Centers, Special Education Training and Resource Centers (SETRCs) and Department staff.

The advisory group concluded that all students, including students with severe disabilities, must be given the opportunity to achieve the Learning Standards, but that not all Standards are appropriate for all students with severe disabilities. For example, a CSE may recommend at an annual review meeting that a particular Learning Standard in Mathematics, Science and Technology (MS&T) is not appropriate for that student to be working on during that next school year. The CSE may recommend MS&T Learning Standard 3 concerning applying mathematics in real-world settings as appropriate for the student with a severe disability and may not recommend the MS&T Learning Standard 1 regarding the use of mathematical analysis, scientific inquiry and engineering design as appropriate for that student. In addition, a CSE may recommend that a student with a disability be exempted from the second language requirement. Therefore, the student would not have goals associated with the Learning Standards for Languages Other Than English on his/her IEP.

The advisory group also agreed that the key ideas, performance indicators and sample tasks do not necessarily reflect appropriate and/or functional expectations for all students with severe disabilities. The performance indicators on elementary, intermediate and commencement levels as written in the Standards documents are not sufficiently rudimentary for students with severe disabilities. The Committee on Special Education, with parental input, has a critical role in determining appropriate goals and objectives linked to the standards to ensure standards-based instruction for a student with a severe disability.

The Advisory Group's recommendation parallels recommendations from the National Center on Education Outcomes (NCEO). NCEO is funded by the U.S. Department of Education to work with national policy-making groups and state departments of education on outcomes for students with disabilities. NCEO recommends that one set of standards be identified for all students. "What is important for some students to know is important for all students to know. The content standards of the skills and knowledge required for a trained and informed work force are useful for students at all ability levels." However, NCEO acknowledges that performance standards, which represent levels of student proficiency on content standards, will vary depending upon student abilities and interests.

The Standards

The Standards, as defined by the New York State Curriculum and Assessment Council, are "the knowledge, skills and understandings that individuals can and do habitually demonstrate over time as a consequence of instruction and experience." The Standards for students with severe disabilities are the same standards that have been approved by the Board of Regents for all students.

However, alternate performance indicators on a basic functional level of age 5 were developed to reflect appropriate educational outcomes for students with severe disabilities. Teachers will need to task analyze the alternate performance indicators and sample tasks to bring them to the cognitive level of a specific student with a severe disability. In addition to these alternate performance indicators, sample tasks associated with each of the alternate performance indicators were developed. Sample tasks clarify expectations for students with severe disabilities and provide guidance for special educators in implementing these alternate performance indicators. Sample tasks are intended to provide some examples of tasks that support attainment of the performance standards and are suggested ways students can demonstrate progress toward achieving the Standards. This draft document has been reviewed by the School Administrators Association of New York State, Boards of Cooperative Educational Services, public and private schools, educational administrators from the Office of Mental Health, District Superintendents Subcommittee on Special Education, Association of Special Education Administrators, Council of Administrators of Special Education, the Commissioner’s Advisory Panel for Special Education Services, State Rehabilitation Advisory Council, State Independent Living Council, Special Education Training and Resource Centers (SETRCs) and Transition Site Coordinators.

The standards and performance indicators which follow will assist school personnel and families in understanding what students with severe disabilities need to know to attain the highest level of performance. IEPs linked to the standards provide the framework for IEP development across the years and across the curriculum, provide consistency when students move from school to school or school district to school district, strengthen system-wide use of standards-based instruction and assessment and promote inclusive special education services and collaboration among special and general educators. It is important for instruction to take place in school, community, home and work settings for students with severe disabilities.

The intent of the IDEA transition requirements for students who are age 14 or older is to provide individualized instruction and experiences to prepare all students for successful adult life opportunities in the community. The CSE must assure that the secondary educational program will incrementally prepare every student with a disability to live, learn and work upon exiting school. The provision of instruction and experiences, for example—participation in a work experience with a job coach, must be integral components of the student’s secondary educational program. The alternate performance indicators, especially those for Career Development and Occupational Studies, provide the means to assess how individuals with severe disabilities demonstrate knowledge, skills, and understandings as a consequence of their instruction and experience. Accomplishment of Alternate Performance Indicators by these students will help to ensure successful transitions to adult experiences.

Committees on Special Education will need to decide when and which alternate performance indicators apply to a student with a severe disability and whether a student with a severe disability requires an alternate assessment. Criteria to assist a Committee on Special Education are included in Attachments A and B. These general parameters provide a starting point for CSE discussions about a student with a severe disability to determine whether the Learning Standards are appropriate and articulate clear and challenging expectations for the student when developing his/her individualized education program. In all instances, CSEs should make determinations based on individual student abilities and needs.

Assessing Students with Severe Disabilities

The Standards embedded in the seven standards documents are the basis for New York's new assessment system. Revisions to the statewide assessment program are being made to address accountability for student progress which is integral to improving performance. A Committee on Special Education must make decisions about a student’s participation in local and State examinations or in an alternate assessment based on the individual needs of and evaluative information concerning the student.

Students with severe disabilities have traditionally been exempted from the statewide assessment program. In order to link student performance with individualized education programs and high educational standards, an alternate assessment system must be designed and implemented for these students. The IDEA Amendments of 1997 require states to implement an alternate assessment system by the year 2000. The Department will engage the best thinkers in the field to develop an alternate assessment system based on the performance indicators included in this report.

Alternate assessment formats are necessary to allow students with even the most significant disabilities to demonstrate their mastery of skills and attainment of knowledge. Assessment tasks reflect "real world" integrated performance skills to assist with planning for long-term adult outcomes. The demands posed by these assessments include the full range of outcomes and abilities desired of students and create multiple strands of evidence showing students' abilities, their processes of learning and their achievements. An alternate assessment captures a student’s growth or change over time and integrates curriculum content and instructional strategies. Such integration allows parents/caregivers, teachers and others to gain a rich understanding of what the student can do and his/her progress in reaching the standards and can be used at the local level to assist Committees on Special Education in making appropriate recommendations, designing programs and planning for a student's transition from one program to another.


The IDEA requires states to report data on the number of students with disabilities participating in regular and alternate assessments. Information on the numbers of students with disabilities who are participating in the standardized statewide assessment system, as well as the number of students with severe disabilities participating in an alternate assessment system, will be collected and shared by the State Education Department so that local constituents are aware of the extent that alternate assessment procedures are used in their district.

Next Steps:

The New York State Education Department will engage in the following activities endorsed by the Board of Regents:

Spring 1998

Conduct regional training for constituents on the alternate performance indicators for students with severe disabilities.

March 1998 to March 2000

Develop and pilot an alternate assessment system to measure the progress of students with severe disabilities in meeting the standards and alternate performance indicators.

March-June 2000

Provide information and training on an alternate assessment system.

July 2000

Implement a statewide alternate assessment system as required by IDEA.

June 2001

Collect data and report on the number and performance of students with severe disabilities participating in an alternate assessment.

Alternate Performance Indicators

Key ideas are identified by numbers (1).

Performance indicators are identified by bullets ( ).

Sample tasks are identified by triangles (n ).