SCHOOL LEADER SERIES
Understanding the Consequences of Assessment Participation Decisions for Students with Disabilities
School leaders recognize that assessment participation decisions have short- and long-term consequences for students with disabilities. Most students with disabilities take the general assessment with or without accommodations. A few students with the most significant cognitive disabilities who meet the state’s participation criteria take the alternate assessment based on alternate academic achievement standards (AA-AAAS).
Assessment participation decisions should not be made lightly. For example, if a student is assigned to the general assessment without provision of needed accessibility features and accommodations, the student may struggle to interact with the test, and the results will not show what the student knows and can do. Likewise, if a student is inappropriately assigned to the AA-AAAS, which has different expectations for performance, the student may not receive appropriately rigorous instruction. It is imperative that students with the most significant cognitive disabilities who meet the state’s definition for participation in an AA-AAAS take that assessment. It is equally important that students who do not meet the state’s definition take the general assessment, with the provision of accessibility features and accommodations as appropriate.
It is important to recognize both short-term and long-term consequences when making assessment participation decisions. Short-term consequences include those that are fairly immediate for the student, including the nature of instruction and possibly decisions about classroom placement. Long-term consequences include those that are in the future, including whether the student has gained the knowledge and skills for high school graduation and for some post-secondary training and employment opportunities.
What can school leaders do to ensure IEP teams understand the short-term and long-term consequences of participation decisions for students with disabilities?
School leaders can provide professional development opportunities for IEP team members and encourage discussions about possible short-term and long-term consequences. They also can:
What can school leaders do to ensure appropriate assessment participation decisions are made and implemented, thereby reducing negative short- or long-term consequences?
Ensure that IEP teams have access to state participation guidelines and any decision-making tools provided by the state.
Provide professional development opportunities to help IEP teams understand how to use state participation guidelines and tools and equip them to confidently make participation decisions.
Request parent or guardian sign-off on a statement that they understand the short-term and long-term consequences of a decision about their child’s assessment participation.
Provide professional development training to all staff on how to provide accessibility features and accommodations for both instruction and assessment, so that students with disabilities are able to show what they know and can do.
Ensure that all educators, including both general education and special education teachers, receive professional development training on how to use grade-level content standards to instruct all students.
Monitor assessment participation and placement decisions and revisit those decisions when needed.
Talking Points for School Leaders
School leaders should customize these talking points to meet their specific school contexts.
The information in this resource reflects the Professional Standards for Educational Leaders 2015 (Standards #2, 3, 8) and Promoting Principal Leadership for the Success of Students with Disabilities.
CCSSO’s Assessment, Standards, and Education for Students with Disabilities (ASES) and School Leadership Development and Supports (SLDS) state collaboratives made important contributions to this document.
Hinkle, A. R., Lazarus, S. S., Hall, S., Warren, S., Thurlow, M. L., & Liu, K. K. (2021). Understanding the consequences of assessment participation decisions for students with disabilities (School Leaders Series #2). Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) & National Center on Educational Outcomes (NCEO).
The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) is a nonpartisan, nationwide, nonprofit organization of public officials who head departments of elementary and secondary education in the states, the District of Columbia, the Department of Defense Education Activity, Bureau of Indian Education, and five U.S. extra-state jurisdictions. CCSSO provides leadership, advocacy, and technical assistance on major educational issues. The Council seeks member consensus on major educational issues and expresses their views to civic and professional organizations, federal agencies, Congress, and the public.
The National Center on Educational Outcomes (NCEO) is supported through a Cooperative Agreement (#H326G160001) with the Research to Practice Division, Office of Special Education Programs, U.S. Department of Education. The Center is affiliated with the Institute on Community Integration at the College of Education and Human Development, University of Minnesota. The contents of this report were partially developed under the Cooperative Agreement from the U.S. Department of Education, but does not necessarily represent the policy or opinions of the U.S. Department of Education or Offices within it. Readers should not assume endorsement by the federal government. Project Officer: David Egnor