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Tackling Alternate Assessments

My colleague Catherine Gewertz blogged today that the U.S. Department of Education is giving $67 million to groups of states that will create Common Core assessments aimed at students who have severe cognitive disabilities.

Currently, states have "alternate assessments based on alternate achievement standards;" these are tests intended for the small group of students who cannot meet unmodified standards. The Education Department puts no limit on how many students can take the tests, but only 1 percent of all students—10 percent of all students with disabilities—can be counted as proficient for AYP purposes if they use those particular assessments.

The so-called "1 percent" tests haven't been easy for states to create, or for teachers to administer, as I wrote in this 2006 article. Optimists suggest that a group of states working together through this grant program may be able to pool their resources to create a valid and reliable way of testing this group of students, with its variety of needs. These new tests are scheduled to be in use by the 2014-15 school year.

The National Center for Educational Outcomes, based at the University of Minnesota, will be leading one of the state groups charged with creating new alternate assessments. In March, NCEO released a document (pdf) that lists 10 common misperceptions about this group of students commonly lumped together as "severely cognitively impaired." It's worth a read. Among the misperceptions listed: many students who would take the test function more like infants and toddlers than their actual age; most have life-threatening conditions or cannot communicate; or standardized testing for this group means that there's no time left for teaching important functional skills. All three of those statements are false, the NCEO contends.

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