Special Education

Policy 01- 02
The State Alternate Assessment for Students with Severe Disabilities

Introduction
Training for Teachers on the Alternate Assessment
Why We Need an Alternate Assessment for Students with Severe Disabilities
How the Alternate Assessment Was Developed
Determining if a Student Should Take Part in the Alternate Assessment
Process Criteria
Participation Criteria
Alternate Performance Indicators and a Scoring Rubric
Questions and Answers

The State Education Department
The University of the State of New York
Albany, NY 12234

E-mail Special Ed
Date:
January 2005
To:
District Superintendents
Presidents of Boards of Education
Superintendents of Schools
Superintendents of Special Act School Districts
Assistant Superintendents of Curriculum and Instruction
Organizations, Parents & Individuals Concerned with Special Education
Superintendents of State-Operated and State-Supported Schools
Executive Directors of Approved Private Schools 
Principals of Public Schools
Directors of Special Education
Chairpersons of Committees on Special Education 
Directors of Pupil Personnel Services
Commissioner's Advisory Panel for Special Education Services
Impartial Hearing Officers
Community Dispute Resolution Centers
SETRC Project Directors and Training Specialists
State and Local Teacher Associations
New York City Board of Education
Independent Living Centers
Colleges with Special Education and General Education Teacher Training
Staff, Curriculum and Development Network
Regional School Support Centers
Schools Operated by Other State Agencies
Charter Schools
From:
Lawrence C. Gloeckler
Subject:
The State Alternate Assessment for Students with Severe Disabilities

The State alternate assessment for students with severe disabilities is an opportunity for families and educators to ensure that skill acquisition and competencies needed for positive adult outcomes are regularly assessed. It provides these students with the opportunity to demonstrate their mastery of skills and attainment of knowledge relative to the New York State learning standards. The New York State Alternate Assessment (NYSAA) will yield results which will allow for adjustments in curriculum and instruction that will lead to enhanced skill development and independence for these students. The alternate assessment is predicated on adequate standards-based instruction. On the State level, student progress toward meeting the learning standards will be measured against alternate performance indicators using assessment tasks and a scoring rubric in the areas of English/language arts, Mathematics, Science and Technology, Social Studies, Health, Physical Education, and Consumer Science, and Career Development and Occupational Studies.

This memorandum provides guidance to Committees on Special Education (CSEs) on how to determine whether a student should participate in the alternate assessment and includes process and participation criteria to assist them in making these decisions. Students with disabilities may not be exempted from participation in assessments. Section 200.4 of the Regulations of the Commissioner of Education requires that the CSE indicate on the IEP if a student will not participate in each regular State or local assessment, why the assessment is not appropriate for the student and how the student will be assessed. This memorandum also informs teachers of how to register for training for the State alternate assessment.

Families of students with severe disabilities have a great investment in ensuring that their children are prepared to live and work as independently as possible. This commitment and support is an integral part of the Individualized Education Program (IEP) planning process for these students. Students with severe disabilities who meet the criteria for participation in the NYSAA are working toward an IEP diploma. In the past, the value of the IEP diploma may have been diminished because the expectations for these students may have been too low. Section 100.9 of the Regulations of the Commissioner requires that the IEP diploma only be awarded to a student with a disability upon a finding that such student has achieved the educational goals based on the appropriate level of the learning standards. Parents, working with all other members of the CSE, will look to the NYSAA as a tool to insure that high expectations are set for their children and that the students are making progress in meeting the alternate performance indicators that are aligned with the learning standards. As expectations and student progress rise, so will the value of the IEP diploma the student receives.

Training for Teachers on the Alternate Assessment

Each Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) and large city school district has identified personnel to serve as trainers for the NYSAA. These individuals will travel to Albany on May 1 and 2, 2001 to receive training on the NYSAA and will be expected to train teachers locally in the alternate assessment.

It is expected that local training of teachers will be conducted on a regional basis starting with a satellite tele-conference in the fall and continues with a follow-up satellite tele-conference training during the 2001-02 school year. The satellite tele-conference training is for teachers who work with students who have severe disabilities, ages 9-10, 13-14, and 16 -17. Teachers will begin collecting student work for the NYSAA datafolio beginning in October. Follow-up training for using the scoring rubric will be held in the winter of 2002.

Local teachers who work with students with severe disabilities at the ages mentioned above and who will be assessing these students on the NYSAA will need to contact their BOCES or large city school district to register for local training by May 30, 2001. This includes all teachers of these students located at school districts, BOCES, State-operated and State-supported schools, approved private schools, Special Act School Districts, charter schools, and schools operated by other State agencies. Further information on follow-up training and scoring will be shared at the training. 

Why We Need an Alternate Assessment for Students with Severe Disabilities

Students with severe disabilities have limited cognitive abilities combined with behavioral and/or physical limitations and require highly specialized education and 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.

To ensure that students with severe disabilities are accounted for in the statewide assessment program, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that each state develop and implement an alternate assessment for students who can not take the regular assessment, even with accommodations. The alternate assessment allows students with even the most significant disabilities to demonstrate their mastery of skills and attainment of knowledge relative to the New York State learning standards. Assessment tasks reflect "real world" performance skills embedded within standards-based instructional activities, to assist with planning for long-term adult outcomes. The New York State Alternate Assessment (NYSAA) parallels the general state tests by assessing the full range of outcomes and abilities in selected learning standards desired of all students. Evidence of student performance will be gathered by providing unique and individualized performance opportunities that show students’ abilities, their processes of learning and their achievements. These performances will be evaluated using an assessment that addresses critical aspects of learning for students with severe disabilities. It integrates curriculum content and instructional strategies. This allows parents/caregivers, teachers and others to gain an understanding of what the student can do and his/her progress towards reaching the standards. The NYSAA can be used at the local level to assist CSEs in making appropriate recommendations, designing programs and planning for a student’s transition from one program to another.

Federal law also requires that the State report to the public, with the same frequency and in the same detail as it reports on the assessment of nondisabled students, the number of students with disabilities participating in regular State assessments and alternate assessment and the performance of those students on the regular and alternate assessments. These reports must include aggregated data on the performance of students with disabilities with all other children and disaggregated data on the performance of students with disabilities. Therefore, data from the alternate assessment will be reported in School Report Cards and in the Annual Performance Report of Educational and Vocational Services and Results for Individuals with Disabilities.

How the Alternate Assessment Was Developed

The State Education Department established an advisory group in 1995 to examine the learning standards relative to students with severe disabilities. The advisory group felt that special education must be increasingly focused on improving the performance of all students with disabilities, including students with severe disabilities, and that these students must have access to high quality educational programs that enable them to achieve the learning standards established for all students. The learning standards are the knowledge, skills and understandings that students can and do habitually demonstrate over time as a consequence of instruction and experience. This same theme is a major focus of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Amendments of 1997.

Performance indicators that describe the required expectations for students on the elementary, intermediate and commencement levels are not basic enough for students with severe disabilities. Therefore, the advisory group developed key ideas, alternate performance indicators and sample tasks based on the learning standards to reflect appropriate and/or functional expectations for students with severe disabilities. The alternate performance indicators bring the learning standards to the appropriate cognitive level for these students. The standards and alternate performance indicators assist school personnel and families in understanding what students with severe disabilities need to know to attain the highest level of performance. (Further information may be found in The Learning Standards and Alternate Performance Indicators for Students with Severe Disabilities at http://web.nysed.gov/vesid/pubpage.html.)

In 1999, the New York State Education Department (NYSED) began development of an alternate assessment by collaborating with a statewide task force of educators, researchers, parents, and advocates along with the State’s alternate assessment testing contractor team of Measured Progress, formally known as Advanced Systems in Measurement & Evaluation, and the Inclusive Large Scale Standards and Assessment (ILSSA) group from the University of Kentucky. This work included developing guiding principles, process and participation criteria, guidelines for creating assessment tasks to measure progress on the alternate performance indicators and a scoring rubric. Additionally, a parent/caretaker survey was developed to collect information on the student’s progress with targeted skills in generalizing the activities to home and community and a demographic cover sheet to collect data on the students participating in the field testing of the alternate assessment.

The following general principles have guided the development of the alternate assessment:

  • All students must have access to the general education curriculum.
  • All children can learn given opportunity, appropriate instruction and time.
  • New York State must have a system of accountability for student performance that includes all students.
  • All children have the right to relevant instruction based on high expectations.
  • More effective learning for all students results from alignment of standards, assessments, curriculum and instruction.
  • Standards, assessment, curricula and instruction must enhance post-secondary opportunities and independence.
  • Student performance data must guide policy.
  • Student performance must guide instruction.
  • The alternate assessment must measure and communicate individual growth and performance.
  • Participation in the alternate assessment must be based on individual abilities and needs relative to clearly defined criteria.
  • Students participating in the alternate assessment will be assessed at the same chronological age as the population participating in other large-scale assessments.
  • The alternate assessment must be an authentic measure of student progress toward the New York State learning standards.
  • The alternate assessment requires broad stakeholder commitment and involvement throughout development, implementation, evaluation and refinement.
  • The alternate assessment measurement and reporting must be defensible in terms of feasibility, validity and comparability.
  • The alternate assessment is designed for a very few students with disabilities.

In March - May 2000, over 100 teachers from public and approved private schools, Boards of Cooperative Educational Services and State-operated and State-supported schools field-tested the participation criteria, alternate assessment and scoring rubrics. In June, these teachers gathered in Albany to score work from over 200 students with severe disabilities, ages 9-10, 13-14 and 16-17. Based on their comments and assessment of student work, the assessment materials were revised and prepared for training teachers statewide.

Determining if a Student Should Take Part in the Alternate Assessment

Process and participation criteria that are based on the general guiding principles assist Committees on Special Education (CSEs) in determining whether a student will take part in the alternate assessment. Alternate assessments must measure a student's progress toward the general education curriculum standards. Only students with severe disabilities will participate in the State’s alternate assessment based on the process and participation criteria outlined below.

The regular State assessments for 2000-2001 are given in grades 4 and 8 and in high school. The New York State Alternate Assessment will be administered to students with severe disabilities whose chronological ages are within these grades.

Process Criteria

The CSE, including parents/guardians, determines on an individual basis and documents on the student’s IEP whether the student will participate with or without testing accommodations in each:

    1. State regular assessment or
    2. State alternate assessment.

The CSE reviews and makes a recommendation across all settings and in all relevant areas based on current and historical student qualitative and quantitative documentation, including progress and adaptive behavior.

The CSE ensures that decisions regarding participation in the state assessment are not based on:

    1. Category of disability,
    2. Excessive or extended absences,
    3. Language differences, or
    4. Cultural or environmental factors.

The CSE ensures that the student has an individualized system of communication in order to demonstrate present levels of performance that address the student’s needs regarding disability, culture and native language.

Tests and other assessment procedures are conducted according to the requirements of section 200.4(b)(6) of the Commissioner’s Regulations and section 300.532 of the Code of Federal Regulations.

Participation Criteria

The criteria that the CSE must use to determine a student’s participation are:

  1. The student participating in the alternate assessment has:
    • a severe cognitive disability, and
    • significant deficits in
      1. communication/language, and
      2. adaptive behavior.
        AND
  2. The student requires a highly specialized educational program that facilitates the acquisition, application and transfer of skills across natural environments (home, school community and/or workplace).
    AND
  3. The student requires educational support systems, such as:
    • assistive technology,
    • personal care services,
    • health/medical services, or
    • behavioral intervention.

Alternate Performance Indicators and a Scoring Rubric

Students with severe disabilities need a variety of means to demonstrate performance. Their performance can be documented through direct assessments that yield products such as student written work/products, videotaping, audiotaping or observation of the student demonstrating a performance task. Multiple pieces of student "work" (3-5 pieces of evidence) are collected in an assessment datafolio that are scored with a rubric. Scoring rubrics are descriptive scoring schemes that are developed by teachers or other evaluators to guide the analysis of the products or processes of students’ efforts (Brookhart, 1999). Scoring rubrics have become a common method for evaluating a broad range of subjects and activities in both K-12 and college classrooms.

The NYSAA rubric is consistent with the scoring rubrics used in other State examinations. The scores in the rubric are based on a scale of 1 through 4. These levels evaluate the student’s performance toward meeting the standards and the supports needed (self-advocacy, settings where the skill was demonstrated and social interactions) to demonstrate mastery of the standards.

If you have any questions about this information, please contact the VESID Special Education Policy Unit at 518-473-2878 or your Regional Associate at one of the following VESID Special Education Quality Assurance Regional Offices:

Eastern Regional Office (518) 486-6366
Hudson Valley Regional Office (914) 245-0010
Long Island Regional Office (631) 884-8530
New York City Regional Office (718) 722-4544
Western Regional Office (716) 344-2112, ext. 420

If you would like to receive notification of our publications via e-mail, register at web.nysed.gov/vesid/register.htm.

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Questions and Answers

1. Why are students with disabilities included in the system of accountability?  

The State alternate assessment for students with severe disabilities is an opportunity for families and educators to ensure that skill acquisition and competencies needed for positive adult outcomes are regularly assessed. It provides these students with the opportunity to demonstrate their mastery of skills and attainment of knowledge relative to the New York State learning standards. The New York State Alternate Assessment (NYSAA) will yield results which will allow for adjustments in curriculum and instruction that will lead to enhanced skill development and independence for these students. Students with disabilities are included in the system of accountability because it is a requirement of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1997 (IDEA-97) and a number of other federal laws. IDEA requires that students with disabilities be included in general State and district-wide assessment programs with appropriate accommodations.

2. According to Section 200.4(d)(2)(vi) of the Regulations of the Commissioner of Education, the IEP must indicate how the student will be assessed if he or she is not participating in a particular state or local assessment (or part of an assessment). Since the NYSAA will not be implemented until the 2001-02 school year, what must schools do to meet this regulatory obligation for the 2000-01 school year? 

For the 2000-01 year, a school district must administer a local alternate assessment, if it is indicated on the student's IEP. This local assessment may be a locally developed test(s) or some other test(s) that measures a student's progress toward the general education curriculum standards.

3. How will the NYSAA improve the education of students with severe disabilities? 

High-quality assessment practices provide information upon which to base ongoing development of curriculum that is responsive to individual student needs. This assessment captures student performance and learning and evaluates progress toward meeting the alternate performance indicators that are aligned with the learning standards. This performance-based assessment promotes a vision of enhancing capacities and integrated life opportunities for students who experience severe disabilities. Positive results are expected from these students upon completion of schooling, including independent living, working, and community contributions.

4. Will all students with disabilities who are in ungraded special classes participate in the State’s alternate assessment? 

Not necessarily. A CSE must determine on an individual basis, if a student with a disability will participate in the NYSAA. Such students may be receiving special education services in various programs and settings.

5. What must be reported to the State Education Department about the alternate assessment for the 2000-01 school year? 

Committees on Special Education identify which students will participate in the alternate assessment. The number of students the Committees on Special Education has identified will be reported in 2000-01, not individual student scores. In the 2001-02 school year, the number of students with disabilities participating in the NYSAA and the performance of those students will be reported.

6. Will students with disabilities continue to be eligible for an individualized education program (IEP) diploma? 

Yes. Not all students with disabilities will pursue the requirements for a local high school diploma or a Regents diploma. Some students will be awarded an Individualized Education Program (IEP) diploma based on achieving the educational goals specified in their IEP. The CSE sets these educational goals.

c:
District Superintendents

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Last Updated: October 27, 2009