Minnesota Letter Regarding Guidance on Alternate Assessments
October 26, 2005
Commissioner of Education
Minnesota Department of Education
1500 Highway 36 West
Roseville, MN 55113-4266
Dear Commissioner Seagren:
This is in response to your July 21, 2005 letter to Deputy Secretary Raymond Simon requesting a one-year exception to the 1.0 percent cap on the number of proficient and advanced scores from alternate assessments based on alternate achievement standards that may be included in adequate yearly progress (AYP) decisions. We apologize for the delay in responding to your request in writing. You have requested a cap of 2 percent. Because the purpose of your request is to enable students who do not have the most significant cognitive disabilities to be considered proficient when they are assessed based on alternate achievement standards, we must disapprove your request.
Minnesota has been administering two sets of alternate assessments to certain students with disabilities: a developmental assessment and a functional assessment. According to your letter and conversations with staff from the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, these assessments were developed to include components for severely cognitively disabled students as well as for some students with disabilities for whom alternate achievement standards were not appropriate, but who also have significant difficulty meeting grade-level achievement standards. Minnesota’s current data do not differentiate between the two assessments. Therefore, Minnesota is not able to demonstrate that the students that would be included under the proposed 2 percent cap are only those with the most significant cognitive disabilities. The December 9, 2003 Title I regulations apply exclusively to students with the most significant cognitive disabilities. The regulations do not permit the proficient and advanced scores of students who do not have the most significant cognitive disabilities to be included as part of the 1.0 percent cap, and cannot serve as the basis of an exception request.
You have outlined a vision for a new alternate assessment system, and we commend you for your efforts to improve expectations for students with disabilities and to provide them with full access to the general curriculum. We recognize that the assessment of students who do not have the most significant cognitive disabilities but who also are having difficulty meeting grade-level achievement standards poses a challenge for many States. That is why the Secretary has announced her intention to propose a new regulation that would permit states to assess a small group of students with disabilities based on modified achievement standards. It seems as if most of the students described in your letter as the basis for the exception request are students for whom modified achievement standards may be appropriate. Until the regulation on modified achievement standards is final, however, it is not appropriate simply to increase the number of proficient and advanced scores based on alternate achievement standards that may be included in AYP calculations.
We understand from your July 21, 2005, letter that you intend to develop a new alternate assessment based on grade-level achievement standards for students who do not have the most significant cognitive disabilities. We provide the following as guidance to help ensure that your new assessment will meet the law’s requirements. With respect to alternate assessments aligned to grade-level achievement standards, a State should be prepared to submit evidence that those alternate assessments meet the same technical requirements as the State’s regular assessments aligned to grade-level achievement standards. Specifically, the State should be prepared to demonstrate the following for its alternate assessments based on grade-level achievement standards:
- These alternate assessments are aligned with the State’s content and grade-level achievement standards;
- These alternate assessments are comparable to regular assessments in terms of content coverage, difficulty, and quality; and
- These alternate assessment results can be aggregated with regular assessment results.
The Department’s peer review guidance provides more detail about these issues and provides examples of evidence that would demonstrate the alignment and quality of such assessments. (The guidance can be found at http://www.ed.govhttps://www2.ed.gov/policy/elsec/guid/saaprguidance.doc.) We urge you to consider this guidance as you develop any new alternate assessments to ensure that these assessments will meet the requirements of the law. The Office of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Office of Special Education Programs will continue working with you to ensure the successful implementation of the regulations. We understand that your assessment system was peer reviewed in September 2005. You will be receiving feedback based on that review in the near future.
If you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact our staff. We look forward to working with you to ensure that all students with disabilities in Minnesota are able to attain high standards.
Assistant Secretary for
Elementary and Secondary Education
|Troy R. Justesen, Ed.D.
Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary
for Special Education and