What questions should Ms. Flores and Mr. Ericson ask the general and special education teachers?

Page 13: Alternate Assessments

As you learned earlier, states and local districts must develop guidelines for the participation of students with disabilities who cannot take part in state and district assessments in alternate assessments and report the performance of these students along with those of their non-disabled peers. State education agencies have a variety of policies concerning what alternate assessments are permitted and which students should be assessed.

Why Are Alternate Assessments Used? 

Every student’s performance and progress should be accounted for, and alternate assessments offer a means of assessing the learning of students who cannot participate in the general assessments.

Who Uses Alternate Assessments? 

In general, federal and state administrators agree that only students with the more significant cognitive disabilities should take an alternate assessment, about 1–2% of all students. These students usually have a different curriculum that is more life-skill oriented. You will need to check with your local district special education administrator and/or your state department of education to determine which alternate assessments are being used.

Examples of Alternate Assessments 

The Iowa Department of Education has developed an alternate assessment for use with students with disabilities. This alternate assessment primarily applies to student work that is gathered by teachers, such as:

  • Student reading records
  • Math samples
  • Student projects or products
  • Notes from parents, teachers, specialists, and classmates
  • Teacher data, including charts and graphs
  • Other tests, which are referred to as performance events 

Margaret J. McLaughlin, PhD
Professor, Department of Special Education
University of Maryland, College Park

Listen now as Margaret McLaughlin reports on the effectiveness of recent standards-based reform efforts, particularly their effectiveness in helping students with disabilities to achieve greater academic success (time: 1:25).

View Transcript 


Determine the percentage of students with disabilities in your state that participated in alternate assessments last year.

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