Doubts raised about test for severely disabled

Doubts raised about test for severely disabled

(Calif.) Amid much uncertainty, some of the state’s most severely disabled students begin field testing an alternate academic performance assessment aligned to the Common Core this spring.  

A subset of students with disabilities who have significant cognitive impairments will pilot the new test in a handful of local education agencies on April 15 with a testing window that will extend through June 10, California Department of Education officials announced last week.

Although officials say the assessment is ready, there are features of the testing procedures that will be unavailable and issues regarding content that remain ambiguous.

Only the computerized version of the test will be offered with neither a braille nor pencil and paper edition available. Also questionable is the subject matter and level of difficulty in relation to the specific population taking the alternative exam.

CDE has been told by the state board that all assessment instruments must be aligned to the Common Core State Standards. As part of that task, the department developed the Core Content Connectors, defined by the state as “content targets linked to the CCSS… less complex than the CCSS, focusing on the main academic content in each subject and grade.” 

How congruent the core connectors are to classroom instruction or achievement levels remain open questions since this is the first attempt to assess student mastery.

The limitations and ambiguities caused a member of the state’s Advisory Commission on Special Education to wonder aloud how the data acquired through the trial could contribute to further refinements of the test before it is used in earnest next year.

A CDE staffer replied that it would help in judging the subject matter and rigor that should be included in the future. The process is an exercise in “successive approximation,” she quipped.

Even the moniker, California Alternate Assessment, is in doubt.

Under STAR (Standardized Testing and Reporting), the alternate test for pupils with pronounced cognitive deficits was referred to as the California Alternate Performance Assessment. With the adoption of the Common Core and the new testing system –– the alternative version assumed the name of Alternate Performance Assessments for California, a title that is still retained on the CDE website.

But when staff presented the plan for the field test to the commission they used the term California Alternate Assessment. CDE staffers expressed dissatisfaction with this name and indicated that they were open to other suggestions.

The new test, whatever it is eventually named, will require one-to-one administration by examiners with an estimated time commitment of 45-to 90 minutes per session. Participating grade levels will be 3 through 8 and 11, to be tested in English/language arts and mathematics.

Federal regulations require that all students in each state take the same test to determine achievement levels with the exception of a very small portion of the population – no more than 1 percent – with severe cognitive disabilities. These students are allowed to take an alternate exam.

This allowance means that California must be ready to administer a version of the test used for the general population that has been adapted for that very small group of students.

Initially, as reported in Cabinet Report last August, the state was counting on participating with the National Center and State Collaborative alternate assessment field trial. That plan was nixed by NCSC because the size of California’s sample population was too large for the specifications of the federal contract. As a result CDE took responsibility for designing its own alternate assessment.

A two-hour webcast to train the examiners will take place on March 11. That training will be archived on the CDE website for those who wish to tune in at another time.