Virginia Letter regarding Guidance on Alternate Assessments

July 28, 2004

Honorable Thomas M. Jackson, Jr.
Virginia Board of Education
P.O. Box 2120Richmond, Virginia 23218-2120

Dear Mr. Jackson:

This is in response to your June 10 request for 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 can be included in adequate yearly progress (AYP) decisions at the State and district levels. We appreciate your staff’s willingness to provide additional information to us and to discuss this request further with us. Based on all the information provided by Virginia, we are approving your request to use proficient and advanced scores from alternate assessments based on alternate achievement standards in AYP decisions subject to a cap of 1.13 percent for the 2003-2004 school year.

This approval is intended to support Virginia’s commitment to ensure that as many students with disabilities as possible are held to grade-level achievement standards and that the use of alternative achievement standards is limited to students with the most significant cognitive disabilities. We recognize that the Department’s December 9, 2003 regulation on this issue requires, for many States, changes in policy as well as practice. Or discussions with you indicate that Virginia is undertaking a number of changes (e.g., increased participation by students with disabilities in the State assessment system) to align its assessment system with No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and our implementing regulations and to integrate the requirements of our regulations into your own policies and practices.

We will soon begin the process of peer reviewing State standards and assessment systems to ensure that they meet the NCLB requirements that take effect at the end of the 2005-06 school year. This review will cover, among other issues, alternate assessments and alternate achievement standards. The peer review process will determine the extent to which State assessment systems (including alternate assessments) fulfill the NCLB requirements. In general, alternate assessments will be reviewed as part of the entire State assessment system and not separate from the regular assessments. The Department’s peer review guidance provides more detail about these issues and examples of evidence that would demonstrate the alignment and quality of such assessments. This guidance is available on our website at http://www.ed.gov

In particular, as you continue developing and improving your State assessment system, we want to highlight two important issues that became apparent to us during our review of your request. First, Virginia needs to ensure that Individualized Educational Program (IEP) teams understand that alternate assessments must be available for all students with disabilities who require them and that alternate assessments based on alternate achievement standards are appropriate only for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities. Moreover, as you work towards this goal, you must ensure that students with disabilities have access to the general curriculum.

Second, of the Virginia students taking an alternate assessment based on alternate achievement standards in the 2003-04 school year (1.13 percent of the population), the vast majority scored proficient or better. As you know, alternate assessments based on alternate achievement standards must reflect professional judgment of the highest learning standards possible for students who take these assessments. As you prepare for the peer review of your assessment system, you should take care to ensure that the alternate standards meet this requirement.

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. If Virginia wishes to request an exception in subsequent years, Virginia must demonstrate, at a minimum, that is has addressed the issues outlined in this letter. In addition, the Office of Special Education Programs is available to provide technical assistance to your State regarding related requirements of IDEA, including assessments; placement in the least restrictive environment; the provision of supplementary aids and services; and access to and progress in the general curriculum.

We encourage States to work with us throughout their assessment development process so that the peer reviews are successful and are a capstone in State efforts to develop assessments that will measure student achievement for all students in valid and reliable ways. Virginia has shown a commitment to raising standards for students with disabilities and to improving its assessment system. We wish you success in your efforts to ensure that all your students are held to high standards of student achievement.


Raymond Simon
Assistant Secretary for
Elementary and Secondary Education
Troy R. Justesen, Ed.D.
Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary
for Special Education and
Rehabilitative Services

Table of Contents Policy Letters to States

Virginia Letter regarding Guidance on Alternate Assessments