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Assessing Students With Learning Disabilities Under No Child Left Behind

Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), all children, including those with learning difficulties, are required to participate in yearly state examinations (LD). Parents must grasp the NCLB standards as well as the critical choices that must be made as part of their child’s educational program.

NCLB aims to increase academic attainment for all kids and eliminate the achievement gap between diverse subgroups of students, including those with disabilities, by imposing additional standards, tests, accountability, and parental participation mandates.

Candace Cortiella, a parent advocate and special education specialist, answers issues about the involvement of kids with disabilities in NCLB tests in this article.

Q: What are the No Child Left Behind assessment requirements?
A: Under NCLB, each state is required to assess every public school student’s progress in reading and arithmetic in grades 3 through 8, as well as at least once in years 10 through 12. Students must take scientific assessments at least once in elementary, middle, and high school. These examinations must be consistent with the academic content and achievement requirements established by the state.

Q: Are the academic content and success criteria used in these examinations consistent across states?
A: No. States were obliged to design or accept content standards in mathematics and reading/language arts under the previous version of this federal education legislation, while NCLB compelled the creation of scientific standards. Academic content requirements in states must be “tough,” with the same expectations for all learners.

Accomplishment standards must be associated with subject standards and include at least three levels of achievement: two levels of high competence (proficient and advanced) and a third level of achievement (basic) to indicate progress made by lower-achieving pupils.

The US Department of Education does not examine or approve the academic content and achievement criteria of states. As a result, academic content and success criteria may and do differ from one state to the next.

Q: Do the requirements for student participation in each state are the same?
A: Yes. Every year, every state must assess all students in the previously described grades. These exam results are used to evaluate if schools, school districts, and states are making “adequate annual progress” (AYP) toward achieving “proficient” or higher levels of success in reading, math, and science for all children by 2014.

If and when the state permits it, students may also be requested to engage in tests in other subject areas such as history, geography, and writing skills. However, NCLB only mandates exams in reading/language arts, math, and science.

Q: Do the NCLB tests include student “stakes” such as advancement to the next grade level or attainment of a standard diploma?
A: No. States may include student “stakes” into their standards and evaluation systems. Some states require students to complete one or more high school examinations in order to get a diploma. Some states require pupils to reach specified levels on exams in order to advance to the next grade level. However, NCLB does not mandate student “stakes.” While NCLB mandates that all children be examined, the emphasis of such examinations is on group rather than individual measurements. These group metrics are used to assess the overall performance of schools, school districts, and states. Furthermore, NCLB places a particular emphasis on the performance of student subgroups who have historically had low academic accomplishment, such as minority kids, students with limited English proficiency, and students with disabilities.

Q: How is NCLB testing for students with learning difficulties handled?
A: All disabled kids, including those with learning difficulties, must be assessed. Students with learning disabilities who receive services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), also known as “special education” services, can be assessed in one of four ways. The Individualized Education Program (IEP) team, which includes parents, decides which evaluation option will be utilized.

The following alternatives exist for testing kids with disabilities: The IEP team may not exclude a student from participation in the NCLB exams.

What exactly are assessment accommodations?
A: Accommodations are modifications to testing materials or processes that guarantee that an assessment focuses on the student’s knowledge and skills rather than the student’s impairments. Accommodations are classified into the following categories:

Assessment accommodations should be decided on the basis of individual student traits and needs, not labels (such as category of disability). Students’ accommodations on state examinations should be equivalent to those commonly offered during classroom assessments.

While the IEP team is responsible for determining acceptable and required modifications, it is crucial to remember that certain adjustments may invalidate a test. For example, reading a test to a student may render a reading test invalid. Some states have established whether certain accommodations are “standard” or “nonstandard,” and they may urge IEP teams to only use accommodations that the state has determined would not invalidate the results of a certain exam or component of a test.

Parents should ensure that they thoroughly grasp the ramifications of any accommodations proposed for their youngster and are aware of any and all state rules pertaining to assessment accommodations for children with disabilities. The website of each state’s department of education is a useful location to seek for such information.

Visit and choose your state to find resources in your state, including the website of your state department of education.

Q: What is an alternate assessment based on academic content standards at the grade level?
A: In certain places, children may be tested differently than the typical pencil and paper evaluation on how well they are meeting the state’s content requirements for their grade level. Teacher observations, samples of student work demonstrating mastery of the subject standards examined by the statewide examination, and standardized performance assignments are examples of other assessments.

Q: What is a different evaluation based on different academic content standards?
A: An alternative achievement standard is a performance requirement that is more sophisticated than a grade-level achievement standard. This sort of testing is available for a very small number of children with disabilities who, even with modifications, are unable to participate in the state’s assessment program.

According to the federal rules for alternative assessments based on alternate standards, such an assessment option is meant for kids “whose cognitive disabilities may prohibit them from meeting grade-level success criteria, even with the finest education.” These requirements also limit the amount of proficient and advanced test results that may be used to define a school district’s “sufficient annual progress.” This constraint is intended to limit this evaluation option to a restricted subset of kids with severe cognitive problems.

Q: Some states evaluate kids with impairments using “out-of-level” assessments. What assessment option does this kind of testing come under?
A: Out-of-level testing often refers to a kid in one grade being evaluated using a level of a test designed for pupils in a lower grade. This assessment method is often referred to as “off-grade-level,” “instructional-level,” or “functional-level.” “Out-of-level testing is very commonly connected with reduced expectations for special education children, tracking such individuals into lower-level curricula with restricted options,” according to U.S. Department of Education recommendations. Out-of-level testing may also limit students’ chances of progressing to the next grade level or graduating with a diploma.”

Under NCLB regulations, student assessment using a “out-of-level” test is treated the same as an alternate assessment based on alternate standards and is subject to the same limitations.

Q: What kinds of assessments should the majority of students with learning disabilities receive?
A: According to the IDEA, students with learning disabilities are those whose learning difficulties are not primarily the result of mental retardation, emotional disturbance, or environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage. Given the benefit of individualized instruction provided by trained special educators, the vast majority of students with LD should participate in the regular state assessment system either without accommodations or with accommodations consistent with those provided during regular instruction.

Alternate assessments based on grade-level content and achievement standards may be appropriate for a very small number of students with learning disabilities in certain circumstances and depending on state policies.

Given the restrictions on the use of alternate assessments based on alternate standards, as well as guidance from the US Department of Education, this assessment option should not be used to evaluate students with learning disabilities.

Q: What is critical for parents to understand when deciding on assessment options?
A: First, parents must understand that determining how their child will be assessed is a decision made by the IEP team, and that they are full partners in that process. This decision should be revisited each year and for each content area to be evaluated. There should be no blanket decisions based on disability or grade assignment.

The assessment options may vary depending on the content area being evaluated. Depending on the student’s unique characteristics, a student may require an accommodation on a reading/language arts assessment but not on a math assessment. Furthermore, the best assessment option may change from year to year depending on the student’s changing needs.

According to one state study of IEP team accommodation decision-making practices, assessment accommodations were frequently “bundled” for groups of students in order to “cover all bases for as many students as possible.” While seemingly well-intended, such practices are not in the best interests of students.

Second, parents must understand the implications of their child’s participation in the various assessment options and be informed of any potential consequences. For example, if a state will not allow a student to graduate with a regular diploma if he or she takes an alternate assessment based on alternate standards, including “out-of-level” assessments, a parent should be informed.

Q: Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (commonly referred to as “Section 504”) covers some students with LD and associated conditions such as Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. What assessment options are available to these students?
A: Students covered by Section 504 are entitled to any reasonable accommodation in order to participate in NCLB assessments. The accommodations required to measure the student’s academic achievement should be determined by the student’s placement team. Assessment accommodations, like those for students covered by the IDEA, should be based on individual student need and not be limited to any predetermined list of accommodations developed at the district or state level.

Q: Will the findings of the tests be made public?
Individual test results will not be released to the public. The results of a child’s testing are only given to the parents and the school. NCLB mandates that test results be made public in the form of “report cards” that reflect overall student accomplishment as well as student performance by different subgroups. Students with impairments are one of these groupings. Schools, however, specify a minimum size for these subgroups to ensure that the findings do not disclose personal information about a specific kid. Section 504 pupils’ performance is not recorded as part of the subgroup for students with disabilities. All Rights Reserved. 2008 GreatSchools Inc. Schwab Learning, originally an initiative of the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation, founded the site.


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