2001 Conference Proceedings

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LEARNING STANDARDS / ALTERNATE ASSESSMENT AND ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY

Patricia Wright, M.A.
AbleNet, Inc.

Mary Sagstetter, M.A. Ed.
AbleNet, Inc.

In 1997 the Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) required that each students’ Individualized Education Plan (IEP) address the issue of "meeting the child's needs that result from the child's disability to enable the child to be involved in and progress in the general curriculum." A recent requirement of the IDEA requires States to "develop guidelines for the participation of children with disabilities in alternate assessments for those children who cannot participate in state and district wide assessment programs beginning no later that July, 2000." Typically students with severe disabilities have not been participants in district and state-wide testing and participation in the general education curriculum has been on a child-by-child basis through the IEP process. These legal requirements speak to the growing trend of including children with disabilities in to their neighborhood schools (Neary & Halvorson, 1996). With the requirements of students participating in the general education curriculum and in state and district-wide assessment programs, the educational system is raising the expectations for achievement and integration for special education students.

Concurrent with these changes in special education there has been a school reform movement in general education to promote Standards-Based education (Roeber, Bond & Braksamp, 1997). These Standards are broad and encourage educators to develop teaching strategies and provide instruction that will result in students developing the skills necessary to be meaningful participants in society upon graduation. The expected outcome is that the goals identified in the Standards will directly correlate with the skills needed for success outside of the educational setting. Through achievement of the Standards students graduating from high school will have obtained the skills to be meaningful participants in society. The wording of IDEA regarding General Curriculum is now synonymous with Educational Standards.

Changes in the special education legislation and in the move of general education towards Standards are requiring changes in special education service delivery. A perceived goal of the changes in IDEA is to encourage states and districts to move in the direction of inclusive education and Standards-Based I.E.P.’s. Participation in Standards-Based education can be seen as a natural extension of the current movement to include student’s with disabilities in to the general education setting.

There is no distinction in IDEA regarding the level of disability; neither for participation in the general education curriculum nor the participation in state and district wide assessments. The possibility exists that large numbers of excluded students could participate in state an national assessments especially if provided with accommodations (Ysseldyke, Thurlow, McGrew & Shriner, 1994). Modifying standardized tests for students with less significant disabilities has been studied (Tindal, et. al, 1998). Modifications for students with severe disabilities are still an area in need of exploration. Historically students with the most significant disabilities have been excluded from the requirement of participation in standardized assessment. IEP teams could make a decision that a student was not "appropriate" for the standardized assessment and the process ended at this point. Incorporating assistive technology may improve the likelihood for participation. Many students with severe disabilities require alternative access to curriculum and assessments. The use of assistive technology is one way in which many students with disabilities gain access to both curriculum and assessment.

The new requirements of IDEA require that each state develop a policy to how these students will be assessed. A common set of assumptions is emerging in the area of alternate assessment. Ysseldyke and Olson (1999) determined that alternate assessments:

The assumption is that all students regardless of the level of disability, given modifications, will have access to the general curriculum and the assessment process. As the assessment is built around the Standards it is vital that students with disabilities have access to the Standards-Based curriculum.

Inclusion in the general curriculum, or Standards, requires accommodations and modifications to be made to the curriculum (Stainback & Staniback, 1992)). There has been extensive research in strategies and methodologies used to modify curriculum for students with severe disabilities (Ford, Davern & Schnorr, 1992). Schnorr (1997), determined that having similar or shared tasks was an important component for students with significant disabilities to be able to move from enrollment to membership in the general education setting. As curriculum development moves towards a Standards-Based system, curriculum modification strategies will need to developed in this new model to insure students with disabilities are participating in similar tasks in the general education curriculum to the greatest extent possible. The use of assistive technology is one way to gain access to the Standards. For example, one of the Learning Standards in the state New York is that students will read, write, listen and speak for information and understanding. For a student with a severe disability they may have access to a switch-adapted tape-recorder and a book on tape. The expectation would still be that they "read" the book for information and understanding.

States are addressing the school reform of Standards through the combination of written Educational Standards and statewide testing to measure achievement towards those Standards. For students with severe disabilities alternate Standards and alternate assessments are being developed. Two examples of this strategy are New York and Minnesota. The state of New York developed Learning Standards from which to build curriculum and assess learning towards those Standards with the Regent’s Examination in Reading, Math and Writing. Students must pass the Regent’s Examination to qualify for a high school diploma. New York then developed specific Standards for students with severe disabilities that correlate with the traditional standards. The state of Minnesota developed Basic Standards that incorporate a state-wide test for Reading, Writing and Math in grades three and five. These Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments are intended to measure how well schools are teaching the "High" Standards. The High Standards are educational goals that educators and learners are to strive towards. In high school students in Minnesota begin taking the statewide Basic Standard tests in reading math and written comprehension. Students must pass these three examinations in order to receive a diploma. The Basic Standard is considered a "safety-net" which insures that no student graduates without learning the basic skills needed to live and work in today’s society (Minnesota Department of Children, Families and Learning, 1998). These strategies are being developed to insure that states are addressing the legislation concerning participation of students with disabilities in the general education curriculum and in state and district-wide assessments.

This presentation will focus specifically on the needs regarding Standards and Alternate Assessment for students with the most severe physical and cognitive disabilities. How are districts adapting the Standards that have been developed for students with the most significant disabilities? How are the guidelines for the alternate assessment incorporating students with significant disabilities? How can assistive technology be incorporated in to instruction to insure students with significant disabilities the greatest degree of success?

Ford, A., Davern, L., & Schnorr, (1992). Inclusive education: "Making sense" of the curriculum. In S. Staniback and W. Stainback (Eds). Curriculum considerations in inclusive classrooms: Facilitrating learning for all students. Baltimore: Paul H. Brooks.

Minnesota Department of Children, Families and Learning, (1998). Introduction to Minnesota Graduation Standards. [ On-line] . Available: http://cfl.state.mn.us/GRAD/Intro 1.htm.

Neary, T. & Halvorsen, A. (1996). SARRC Reports, emerging issues and trends in education: What is "Inclusion?" South Atlantic Regional Resource Center.

Roeber, E., Bond, L.. & Braskamp, D (1997). Annual survey of state student assessment programs. Washington DC: Council of Chief State School Officers.

Schnorr, R. (1997). From Enrollment to Membership: "Belonging in Middle and High School Classes.". The Journal of the Association with Severe Handicaps, 22(1)-15.

Stainback, S. & Stainback, W. (1992) Curriculum Considerations in Inclusive Classrooms: Facilitating Learning for All Students. Paul H. Brooks Publishing Company.

Tindal, G., Heath, B., Hollenbeck, K., Almond, P., and Harness, M. (1998). Accommodating Students with Disabilities on Large-Scale Tests: An Experimental Study. Exceptional Children, Vol. 64, No. 4, pp.439-450.

Ysseldyke, J.E., Thurlow, M.L., McGrew, K.S. & Shriner, J.G. (1994). Recommendations for making decisions about the participation of students with disabilities in statewide assessment programs: A report on a working conference to develop guidelines for statewide assessments and students with disabilities (Synthesis Report 15). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, National Center on Educational Outcomes.

Ysseldyke, J. & Olsen, K. (1999). Putting Alternate Assessments Into Practice: What to measure and possible sources of data. Exceptional Children, Vol 65, No. 2, pp 175-185.


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