Alternate Assessment: Making Sure All Student Progress Is Measured

BY PATRICIA WRIGHT, PHD, MPH

Educators use assessment to ensure their instruction is effective and that students are learning. With No Child Left Behind, high stakes testing became more prominent in public education. High stakes testing has primarily assessed math and literacy for students moving through the K-12 experience and attempting to achieve a high school diploma. For students with significant cognitive disabilities, this type of high stakes testing would not be appropriate. However, all students are capable of learning and all students deserve to be assessed. For students with significant cognitive disabilities, a maximum of 1% of the total school population, an Alternate Assessment must be made available.

The Alternate Assessment is described in federal law and is a mechanism to ensure that students with significant disabilities are included in educational accountability. The Alternate Assessment should measure student progress and be designed to align with college and career readiness standards that all students are working towards. These standards may be modified for students with significant cognitive disabilities but the assumption is that they, like all students enrolled in school, should be working towards a high-quality life. The Alternate Assessment design and delivery is a decision made by each state. States choose a variety of methods for assessment including portfolio, teacher observation, checklists, ongoing measurement of learning and traditional computer-based tools. The goal is to gain an authentic assessment of the unique learning progress of each student.

Children with disabilities were afforded the right to attend school in the 70’s. Since then High-stakes testing has taken on an increasingly significant role in the education system. Although high-stakes testing is not without controversy, as long as students are being tested, we must ensure that ALL students are tested, including the 1% with the most significant cognitive disabilities.