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U.S. Dept. of Ed. Proposes Ending Testing Under Modified Standards

From guest blogger Christina Samuels:

This school year would be the last one where states could test students under modified academic achievement standards and have those tests count toward No Child Left Behind accountability rules, according to proposed rules published today in the Federal Register. The department is soliciting comments on the proposed change through Oct. 7.

The alternate assessments are sometimes shorthanded as "2 percent tests," instead of their official name, "alternate assessments based on modified academic achievement standards." Regulations currently allow 2 percent of all students, or about 20 percent of students with disabilities, to take such assessments and be counted as proficient under the No Child Left Behind Act.

(A separate regulation allows 1 percent of all students--about 10 percent of students with disabilities--to be tested on "alternate achievement standards." Those tests, which are intended for students with severe cognitive disabilities, are not a part of this proposal.)

The 2 percent tests, when they were introduced in 2005, were intended to provide a route to proficiency for students who, even with the best instruction, could not meet grade-level standards. Disability advocates have criticized the option as a way to get around teaching students with disabilities to the same academic standards as their typically developing peers. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in 2011 that he was committed to doing away with alternate assessments.

In the Register notice, the Education Department notes that such tests were already on the way out, so this new proposal would just be speeding up that process. Each of the 41 states and the District of Columbia had to agree to phase out the use of alternate assessments by the 2014-15 school year anyway, as part of receiving ESEA flexibility waivers.

Only three states, California, North Dakota, and Texas, have the tests in place but have not been granted an ESEA waiver, and Texas' waiver is pending, according to the notice. Also, such tests are expected to not be necessary once states implement common-core assessments. The states could eventually end up saving money by getting rid of the alternate assessments, the department contends.

"We have to expect the very best from our students and tell the truth about student performance, to prepare them for college and careers," said Duncan in a statement. The alternate assessments "prevents these students from reaching their full potential, and prevents our country from benefitting from that potential."

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