The challenging task of writing final federal regulations for the so-called 2 percent assessments for students with disabilities could be finished by the beginning of next year, according to a Department of Education official.
However, it may be one or even two school years before all states are ready to offer their students such tests, which will measure grade-level content with less depth and breadth than general assessments, said Susan L. Rigney, an education specialist at department’s the office of standards, assessment, and accountability.
Ms. Rigney commented at the recent Education Department office of special education programs’ leadership conference in Washington. During the three-day session late last month, close to 700 special education administrators and others involved in the field got a thorough grounding on the recently released final regulations for the 2004 reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
But the conference also included updates on some projects that are still under way, including the final rules for the 2 percent assessments. The assessments are commonly described that way because up to 2 percent of all students—about 20 percent of students with disabilities—may take the modified tests and still be counted as proficient under the standard for adequate yearly progress mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act.
The federal law requires students in grades 3-8 to be tested yearly in reading and mathematics, and such testing once during high school, and requires the public release of test scores for various student subgroups, including students with disabilities. Schools face a range of sanctions if they fail to show sufficient progress by their students, including those in each subgroup.
The Education Department already allows up to 1 percent of all students—equaling about 10 percent of students with disabilities—to take alternate assessments and be counted as proficient for purposes of AYP. But those tests, which are less complex and comprehensive than the general tests, are intended for students with severe cognitive impairments.
In contrast, the 2 percent tests are intended for a different group of students, with different capabilities. When Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings announced that flexibility in April 2005 and released draft regulations in December 2005, she explained that the 2 percent tests would be part of a “sophisticated” approach for assessing students who can make grade-level progress, but not at the same speed as their peers.
But that has proved to be a difficult group of students to define. Ms. Rigney indicated that the teams of local educators and parents that create each student’s individualized education program would be key in determining whether the modified assessment is right for a particular student.
“One of the really hard parts is wrapping your arms around what does this look like from start to finish,” Ms. Rigney told the gathered educators, referring to the 2 percent tests. “So there are some challenges here we’re trying to anticipate.”
Three states—Kansas, Louisiana, and North Carolina—have already crafted their own versions of modified assessments, even without direct federal guidance. Though the Education Department has not given the tests in those states an official stamp of approval, federal officials are allowing them to count, for now, for calculating AYP.
Each of the three states administered their 2 percent tests for the first time in the 2005-06 school year. The tests they produced—and the positive and negative aspects they described after administering them once—offer a glimpse of what other states may face when the federal regulations are released.
In Kansas, the Kansas Assessment of Multiple Measures, or KAMM, was administered this past spring. It took the place of the non-grade-level tests that the state had administered previously to students with disabilities.
The first administration included only the multiple-choice portion of the test. The exam will eventually offer different ways for students to answer questions, including through one-on-one interaction with a teacher, said Jeanette Souther, an education program consultant in the state’s department of student support services, a part of the state’s department of education.
Multiple-choice questions on the KAMM offer fewer choices than on Kansas’ regular assessments. Reading passages are shorter, there are fewer to read, and there are fewer questions overall.
The feedback from schools has been positive so far, Ms. Souther said. “The conversation has been positive, and [teachers] think that these tests will drive instruction for these students,” she said.
The North Carolina test is known as the NCEXTEND2, and was devised after federal education officials made it clear that testing students out of their grade levels would no longer meet federal standards, said Louis M. Fabrizio, the director of accountability services for the state.
“That was one thing that was made very loud and clear to us,” he said.
Like the Kansas tests, the North Carolina assessment offers fewer choices for students in its multiple-choice sections. The vocabulary used in the test questions has also been made simpler, Mr. Fabrizio said.
The response from teachers has been mixed, Mr. Fabrizio said. For years, teachers were able to measure students based on tests easier than the new NCEXTEND2, he said.
“The feedback we’ve gotten is that these tests were just too hard for their kids,” he said.
That’s the paradox of trying to meld the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which requires individualized instruction of students, with the mandates of the 4½-year-old No Child Left Behind law, which requires that as many students as possible be tested on grade-level content.
“There’s a little bit of a disconnect there,” Mr. Fabrizio said.
In Louisiana, state policymakers had been asking for such a modified assessment, said Scott M. Norton, the director of standards, assessment, and accountability for the state.
“The comforting thing was when we opened up the draft [federal] regulations and took a look, it looked very much like the tests we were planning,” Mr. Norton said.
The Louisiana Educational Assessment Program Alternate Assessment Level 2, known within the state as LAA 2, draws from the same pool of test questions that are given to the general student population, but the questions are simplified. For instance, in some cases, reading-comprehension questions were based on shorter passages than in the general assessments.
Mr. Norton estimated that well under 2 percent of all students tested took the LAA 2, partly because the tests are new, and partly because so many Louisiana school districts are still coping with Hurricane Katrina-related problems.
“It’s been a fascinating and a tough journey for us,” Mr. Norton said. “We had to figure out how we could be the same”—by measuring grade-level standards—“but also different. That’s a real struggle, and I think we’re still working with that.”
A version of this article appeared in the September 13, 2006 edition of Education Week as Regulations on ‘2 Percent’ Testing Awaited