NCEO Synthesis Report 31

Status of the States in the Development of Alternate Assessments

by Sandra Thompson, Ron Erickson, Martha Thurlow, James Ysseldyke, and Stacy Callender

Published by the National Center on Educational Outcomes

April 1999

This document has been archived by NCEO because some of the information it contains is out of date.

Any or all portions of this document may be reproduced and distributed without prior permission, provided the source is cited as:

Thompson, S. J., Erickson, R., Thurlow, M. L., Ysseldyke, J. E., Callender, S. (1999). Status of the states in the development of alternate assessments (Synthesis Report No. 31). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, National Center on Educational Outcomes. Retrieved [today's date], from the World Wide Web:

Executive Summary

The phrase "alternate assessment" appears in the recently reauthorized Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which calls for states to have alternate assessments in place by July 1, 2000. Alternate assessments are for students with disabilities who cannot participate, even with accommodations, in state or district-wide assessment programs.

States need up-to-date information on what other states are doing in the development of their alternate assessments. In order to meet this need, the National Center on Educational Outcomes (NCEO) developed an on-line survey to assess the status of states in the development of alternate assessments. One year after the survey’s initial design, responses have been received from 37 states and three other educational entities that receive U.S. funding for special education services. The on-line survey was designed so that anyone could view any state’s responses or the responses of all states to a single question. Respondents were invited to update their survey responses at any time.

In the survey, states were asked about a variety of developmental features of their alternate assessments. Following is a summary of the number of states addressing each feature.

The information in this report summarizes the status of the states in the development of alternate assessments as of January, 1999. In January, a new, revised version of the survey was put on-line. The new format is designed to be even more efficient and useful for states as they work toward the implementation of alternate assessments.


Appreciation is extended to each person who has taken the time to complete and update survey responses. The commitment of each of the respondents to gathering and sharing this information is an important key to increasing the value of every student’s contribution to our educational system.

Although the survey information on alternate assessments originally was intended to serve only as a continuously updating on-line source of information, the heavy demand for summary, point-in-time information has been great. This document is a response to that demand. We appreciate the respondents’ willingness to allow to appear in print what might be "out-of-date" information when in the reader’s hands. Interested readers are encouarged to visit the Web site at, and select to view current information on alternate assessments in the states.


The United States is deep in the throes of accountability in education, and at least part of the information used to demonstrate accountability comes from assessments (Education Commission of the States, 1998). Accountability for student performance is a driving force behind today’s district and state assessments. Designed to produce information that the public can understand, the goal of these assessments is to help states move forward in their quest for continual educational improvement (Bond, Roeber, & Connealy, 1997).

The public wants to know the extent to which education is producing results as expected, and whether there are improvements in results over time. The consequences of accountability systems can be significant, both for educators and for students. In addition to being reported publicly, assessment results sometimes determine whether schools will be accredited, receive financial rewards, or be reconstituted with new staff and administrators (Education Commission of the States, 1998). Students who are excluded from educational accountability systems may not be considered when decisions are made about how to improve programs (McDonnell, McLaughlin, & Morison, 1997).

A major challenge in education is to demonstrate accountability for all students. National and state education legislation (e.g., Goals 2000, Improving America’s Schools Act, and the reauthorized Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) include language specifying that accountability applies to all students, and that states and school districts are to report on the performance and progress of all students. "All" includes students with disabilities and students with limited English proficiency. Thurlow, Elliott, and Ysseldyke (1998) offer several reasons why all students should be included in education accountability systems. Specifically, they state that inclusion of students with disabilities:

About 85% of students with disabilities have relatively mild or moderate disabilities and can take state and national large scale assessments, either with or without accommodations like large print, testing in a separate setting, or extended time (Ysseldyke, Thurlow, McGrew, & Shriner, 1994; Ysseldyke, Thurlow, McGrew, & Vanderwood, 1994). Yet there is a group of students with disabilities for whom current tests are inappropriate, who, therefore, are excluded from district, state and national assessments. These are typically students with significant disabilities and support needs. If policy and program decisions are to reflect the needs of all students, states must aggregate data on the educational progress and accomplishments of all students, including students with disabilities. These students can be assessed through a practice that has become known as "alternate assessment."

The phrase "alternate assessment" appears in the recently reauthorized Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (see Appendix A), which calls for states to have alternate assessments in place by July 1, 2000. Alternate assessments are for students with disabilities who cannot participate, even with accommodations, in state or district-wide assessment programs. Alternate assessments provide a mechanism for all students to be included in the accountability system. The law does not specify the type or number of students to receive alternate assessments. However, many people believe that the percentage of these students is quite small, estimated to range from less than one-half of one percent to no more than two percent of the total student population.

Ysseldyke and Olsen (1997) suggest four assumptions that might be considered the foundation of alternate assessments:

  1. Alternate assessments focus on authentic skills and on assessing experiences in community and other real life environments.

  2. Alternate assessments should measure integrated skills across curricular domains.

  3. Alternate assessments should use continuous documentation methods.

  4. Alternate assessments should include, as critical criteria, the extent to which the system provides needed supports and adaptations and trains students to use them.

Gathering data on the performance of students with disabilities through alternate assessments requires rethinking of traditional assessment methods. An alternate assessment is neither a traditional large-scale assessment nor an individualized assessment. Alternate assessments are a hybrid—a common assessment that can be administered to students who have a unique array of educational goals and experiences, and who differ greatly in their ability to respond to stimuli, solve problems, and provide responses (Ysseldyke & Olsen, 1997).

State education agencies have been vigorously seeking ideas from their sister agencies in other states as they approach the development of alternate assessments. The need for information and ideas in this area is a critical need that the National Center on Educational Outcomes (NCEO) responded to through the development of an on-line survey.


In the fall of 1997, NCEO began to assess the status of states in the development of alternate assessments. States wanted up-to-date information on what other states were doing in the development of their alternate assessments.

In recognition of the amount of work involved in surveying all states and the time-sensitive data needed, we decided to explore the development of an on-line survey. We began with a preliminary scan of states to assess the feasibility and desirability of an on-line survey. The results of this scan were positive, with all but one state assessment director having access to the Internet. A draft of the survey was designed and edited by assessment and special education officials from several states, primarily through gatherings of the Assessing Special Education Students (ASES) State Collaborative on Assessment and Student Standards (SCASS), a group jointly sponsored by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCCSSO), NCEO, and the National Association of State Directors of Special Education (NASDSE). Important feedback was also received from a Regional Resource Center teleconference workgroup on alternate assessments. The completed survey was produced on the World Wide Web and linked to NCEO’s Web site. It was ready for use in January of 1998. A letter was sent via e-mail to state directors of special education to identify the contact person for the survey. Selected respondents were then contacted by e-mail, given a password, and invited to complete the survey on-line.

Although the original intent of the survey was to provide a continuously changing record of the status of states in developing alternate assessments, there was a frequently expressed need for a printed record of the status of alternate assessments at specific points in time. This report represents the first of these point-in-time reports.

The information in this report summarizes the status of the states in the development of alternate assessments as of January, 1999. In January, a new, revised version of the survey was put on-line. The new format is designed to be even more efficient and useful for states as they work toward the implementation of alternate assessments. A description of the new version is found in the discussion section of this report.


Survey Respondents

 State department personnel who are assigned the task of facilitating the development of alternate assessments completed the on-line survey. Respondents included both special education and assessment personnel. As this report was written, one year after the survey’s initial design, responses had been received from 37 states and three other educational entities that receive U.S. funding for special education services (Mariana Islands, Washington DC, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs). The respondents’ names can be found on the surveys, along with their e-mail addresses, so that they can be contacted directly for further information. Although survey questions could only be answered when a password given to each assigned respondent was used, the on-line survey was designed so that anyone could view any state’s responses, or the responses of all states to a single question. Respondents were invited to update their survey responses at any time. Viewership of this site consists primarily of state educational agency staff, staff of the Regional and Federal Resource Centers, and federal officials within the Office of Special Education Programs at the U.S. Department of Education.

Survey responses included in this report were sent to respondents to check for accuracy. Changes were made as a result of this process and are included in the final publication of this report.



The information reported here was compiled from the Alternate Assessment on-line survey in January, 1999. This date is important to note, since states are continually working on their alternate assessments and updating the information in the survey. All 50 states, plus Washington DC, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the Mariana Islands, were invited to complete the survey. A print copy of the entire survey is in Appendix B.


Developmental Features

In the survey, states were asked about a variety of developmental features of their alternate assessments, such as the alternate assessment content standards, establishment of eligibility guidelines, and so on. The overall responses on these features are summarized in Figure 1. Each of the features is described in more detail here.

Figure 1. States' Response on Developmental Features of their Alternate Assessments

States' Response on Developmental Features of their Alternate Assessments


Identification of the Curricular or Content Standards for Alternate Assessments

State and district personnel need to decide whether there will be more than one set of standards, how broad those standards will be, and the extent to which some students will work toward separate standards. How these decisions relate to the type of diploma earned must be determined as well.

NCEO has suggested that alternate assessments should be designed to assess achievement toward pre-determined standards. The alternate assessment should represent high standards, just as the general assessment should, and target the goals of instruction. Students who are working toward general education goals (with or without accommodations) should be in the general assessment system, and their instruction and support services should be directed toward helping them achieve those standards.

Forty-nine states now have curricular or content standards for all students (AFT, 1998). Of these, 32 states reported by January, 1999, that they are working on identifying the curricular or content standards for which an alternate assessment will be developed. These states were:

Alabama Kansas New Jersey
Arkansas Kentucky New Mexico
California Louisiana New York
Colorado Maine North Carolina
Connecticut Maryland Ohio
Delaware Massachusetts Oregon
Florida Michigan Pennsylvania
Georgia Mississippi Tennessee
Idaho Missouri Utah
Indiana Montana Virginia
Nebraska West Virginia  

The specific comments made by the 32 states as of January 1, 1999 are shown in Table 1. A quick perusal of the comments reveals that most states described a developmental process in which task forces or groups of stakeholders were convened to consider and gain consensus on the standards to be addressed by the alternate assessment.

The survey also asked respondents to describe the types of standards on which states plan to base their alternate assessment (see Figure 2). Three states, Indiana, Maine, and New York, reported that the standards for their alternate assessment are the same as those applied to general education. Indiana, however, acknowledges that its alternate assessment system will also include objectives in broader domains within home, work, school and community environments. Colorado reported that its standards for the alternate assessment will include those applied to general education with some additions. Colorado’s non-academic standards will derive from a combination of workplace competencies (developed by the School-to Work Project and applicable to all students) and essential learning (developed by the Special Populations Task Force and necessary for students in special populations) and are described as access skills.

Sixteen states (Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia, Mariana Islands, and Washington D.C.) reported that their alternate assessment will use a subset of the standards applied to general education. In addition to using a subset of general education standards, several of these states are also adding standards in the areas of social skills, communication, independent functioning, and career development. Finally, six states (California, Georgia, Idaho, Michigan, Virginia, and Wyoming) reported that the standards on which their alternate assessments will be based are different from those applied to general education.


Table 1. States Identifying the Curricular or Content Standards for which an Alternate Assessment will be Developed

State Comments
Alabama We will be working with our RRC.
Arkansas On-going planning meetings; considering general education standards.
California We convened a workgroup with representatives from state and local agencies, general education and regular education, service providers, parents, and assessment experts.
Colorado Fall 1996: The Colorado Department of Education (CDE) collected and distributed information on alternate assessments from NCEO, RRCs and other states. We took names of people in Colorado who are interested in helping develop alternate assessments. Spring 1997: Three task forces were formed to address issues relating to standards and special education. The Expanded Standards Task Force began to meet, involving 25 representatives from districts across the state, including general and special education teachers and building and district administrators, parents, and state department staff. The Expanded Standards Task Force began to develop the standards to form the basis for alternate assessments. June 1997-present: Expanded Standards Task Force held bi-monthly meetings and developed key components of Colorado’s Reading, Writing and Math standards and condensed Colorado’s prior work on Essential Learning and Workplace Competencies to form the Access Skills.
Connecticut Internal committee comprised of Department personnel from assessment unit and special education unit.
Delaware The Design Group has recommended that the alternate assessment be aligned with the Delaware content standards. Work has begun on bridging some of those standards
Florida A set of special standards exists for use until 2000-2001. A revised set of special standards for use in obtaining a special diploma is currently being reviewed by teachers, parents, and school personnel for adoption by the State Board of Education. Adoption is planned for summer, 1998 so that transition from old standards to new standards can occur during the 98-99 and 99-00 school years. Concurrently, an alternate assessment system has been developed, field tested, and continues to be refined. The alternate assessment system will be aligned with the newly adopted standards during the 98-99 and 99-00 school years.
Georgia Looking at type of diploma to make decisions for who needs alternate assessments, but not necessarily setting curricula guidelines or benchmarks.
Idaho Idaho does not have state standards established at this time. The Alternate Assessment Task Force has written draft standards and benchmarks for the areas we will be assessing.
Indiana Review of State Proficiencies in academic areas. Linkage of proficiencies to essential skills for all participation levels (participatory to full independence)
Kansas Reviewing general education curricular standards, benchmarks, and indicators to determine those appropriate for alternate assessment.
Kentucky The Kentucky Education Reform Act (KERA) of 1990 mandated a comprehensive performance-based assessment and accountability system based on key academic expectations identified for all students, and a no-exemption rule. The Kentucky DOE formed the Disabilities and Diversity Subcommittee on Assessment and Accountability to determine the extent to which students with severe disabilities could participate in the assessment system, and how that participation would be documented and measured. The Subcommittee recommended that a state-level steering committee, comprised of numerous stakeholders, develop an alternate assessment tool for students with severe and profound disabilities. The steering committee was to design an assessment that would exemplify the 54 academic expectations to the maximum extent possible. The committee considered the specific applications, overall educational importance, and underlying critical function for each expectation for students with severe disabilities. The prioritized expectations identified created a subset of 28.
Louisiana Focus Group and Involvement with CCSSO.
Maine The Maine Learning Results standards are for ALL students. These are on the web at Maine’s state standards are mandated through the Legislature.
Maryland We utilize both regular content standards and additional specific standards chosen by an expert panel and reviewed for content validity. Our advisory committee has been meeting on an annual basis to review procedures and results as well as to make necessary adjustments as appropriate. Most recently the state is in the process of reviewing the general education standards and we will review implications for the alternate assessment in content, procedures and reporting.
Massachusetts Currently in development on 10th grade assessment to be used as one required measure to obtain high school diploma. "Bridge" documents detailing the learning standards being assessed in relation to the content areas are also in development. Those bridge documents will be a first step in identifying what standards are necessary to develop an alternative assessment that can be used to determine what student knows and is able to do vis a vis the high stakes of high school graduation.
Michigan Michigan is currently in phase one of a three-phase process to design alternate assessments. Phase one involves 15 districts that will be aligning their curriculum (whatever they are using) with AUEN (Addressing unique Educational Needs) performance indicators (level 1 and 2 only).
Mississippi A Task Force has been approved by the State Board of Education, and this group will address alternate assessment issues.
Missouri Special educators from local districts and the state department of education will review and identify the Show Me Standards that will be assessed in the Alternate Assessment.
Montana OPI/SpEd has been working in concert with the OPI School Improvement group as it develops standards. "Preliminary" would best describe the current status.
Nebraska Involvement in Frameworks and Content area standards. Forming an ad hoc committee to frame guidelines for developing and implementing Alternate Assessment.
New Jersey A committee of stakeholders has identified a subset of NJ's Core Curriculum Content Standards and developed new cumulative progress indicators that are appropriate for students with severe disabilities. These are undergoing final review presently.
New Mexico The state developed Career Readiness Standards that were approved by the Board in 1998. These standards are based on work place behaviors (technological literacy, leadership and interpersonal skills, entrepreneurship, ethical workplace behaviors, and technical problem solving. Additional standards may be needed for some students that are aligned with these standards.
New York Content standards with alternate performance indicators have been developed, publicly reviewed and approved by the NYS Board of Regents.
North Carolina The Planning Team for Alternate Assessment for Students with Disabilities is in process of developing standards. The Planning Team has met several times. Thus far the content standards (we are calling them domains) that have been identified are communication, domestic, career/vocational, community, and self-determination, with sub-domains in each. Competencies have been identified under some sub-domains. Fourteen local education agencies have volunteered to pilot the alternate assessment.
Ohio Cross-departmental discussion regarding state model curricula. Interagency discussions on assessment of severely handicapped children and youth.
Oregon We began discussions. There are two concerns. The existing content and performance standards adopted by the State Board in 1996 are very specific to high academic standards. Our current discussion revolves around two distinct issues: 1) extending the range of performances assessed to include more students performing well above and below the standard and 2) designing a separate set of content and performance standards for students with more severe and profound disabilities. Among the discussions regarding students performing above and below the standard is an option of "out-of-level" and "off-grade" assessment. During the 1997-98 school year this option has not been made available. The existing testing system needs to be modified. Adjustments that are being considered are: screening tests to determine level for individual students, test development for alternate versions of the 3rd, 5th, 8th, and 10th grade assessments, calibrating raters when scoring common performance assessments, and reporting scores. Oregon plans to participate in efforts with the regional resource centers around these topics.
Pennsylvania PA has established an alternate assessment work group to address alternate assessment and issues related to this IDEA requirement. This group was represented by Bureau of Special Education personnel, Bureau Division of Evaluation personnel, Regional Instructional Support Center personnel, and Special Education Advisory Panel designees. The first work group met on May 19, 1998. Members of the work group will attend the NCEO Alternate Assessment Training in Colorado Springs, June 11-13, 1998. Following the NCEO conference the work group will meet on June 23, 1998, to outline a recommended plan regarding Alternate Assessment in PA.
Tennessee July, 1998--developed extensions and adaptations of TN's Curriculum and Content Standards
Utah Current state core curriculum and Life Skills adopted by State Board of Ed for all students.
Virginia Preliminary discussion of performance indicators for students who will participate in alternate assessment has been held.
West Virgnia Worked with a stakeholder group and the MSRRC to develop "West Virginia's Alternate Assessment Framework: Linking Instructional Goals and Objectives with Adaptive Skills". This document links the general goals and objectives for all students to the 10 adaptive skill areas in the AAMR definition for Mental impairment.


Figure 2. Status of Alternate Assessment Standards

Status of Alternate Assessment Standards

Identification or Creation of Assessment Instruments or Approaches

There are four basic types of assessment approaches being considered by states in the development of their alternate assessments: observation, interviews or surveys, analysis of existing data, and tests. Information about each of these approaches can be found in Ysseldyke and Olsen (1997). Twenty-nine states responded that they are currently seeking to identify or create a particular assessment instrument for use within their state as the official alternate assessment. Specific activities within these states are described in Table 2. These states were:

Alabama Idaho New Jersey
Alaska Indiana New York
Arkansas Kansas North Carolina
BIA Kentucky Ohio
California Maine Oregon
Colorado Maryland Pennsylvania
Connecticut Michigan Tennessee
Delaware Mississippi Utah
Georgia Missouri Vermont
Nebraska Virginia  


Respondents were also asked what types of assessment approaches they have chosen or were considering for their alternate assessment. In the area of observation, 25 states chose or are considering a measure of direct observation by teachers or others, and 17 states chose or are considering video or audio-taping student performance. Twenty-one states are considering using a written survey completed by a teacher, parent, employer, or others, and 14 states chose or are considering face-to-face interviews. Analysis of existing data is the third approach. In this area, two states considered using reviews of progress toward goals, and 23 states chose or are considering using data from eligibility or other assessments. Finally, in the area of testing, 19 states are considering using commercially available adaptive behavior scales, and 13 states chose or are considering using state or locally constructed adaptive behavioral scales. Four states selected or are considering the use of performance assessments, 16 states chose or are considering alternative versions of the regular state assessment, and 24 states chose or are considering the use of student portfolios. A summary of these responses is in Figure 3.


 Table 2. States Identifying or Creating a Particular Assessment Instrument

State Comments
Working through our RRC.
We're looking at either a behavior rating system or one based on the IEP
This is currently underway-SCASS membership and State-level Alternate Assessment Task Force.
Reviewing "PASS". Downward extension of portfolio systems proposed for general education agency-wide use.
Our workgroup has identified an assessment procedure that is based on the identified common functional domains. We have produced an instrument to classify IEP goals into functional domains and rate progress/mastery in meeting the goal and level of independence in meeting the goal, using a four point scale.
Spring 1997: The self-determination Task Force began to develop a template for the instruction and assessment of one of the access skills. They met regularly and are now ready to develop assessment strategies. April 1998: Task Force representatives presented expanded standards work to the Standards and Assessment Development and Implementation Council. This is the body who will make recommendations to the State Board of Education. June 1998: The three task forces held a three day working conference to determine measurement possibilities. Sept. 1998: Began a pilot project to test assessment tools and process.
Internal committee comprised of Department personnel from assessment unit and special education unit.
The design group has recommended the use of portfolio assessment and is currently identifying the components of that portfolio.
We have a committee on alternate assessments and are developing a protocol for a portfolio type assessment. Committee is an ongoing process; we meet about once a month.
We feel our alternate assessments should mirror our present general ed. tests: ITBS, TAP, direct writing, and direct math. We have created a performance assessment targeting communication skills and functional math/vocational skills. It will be rated on a scale of 1-5, which mirrors our direct writing and direct math tests. This will be given at grades 4, 8, & 11.
Review of materials from NCEO and various states. Evaluation of AUEN, PASS-D, COACH, Adaptive Behavior Scales, Kentucky Portfolio Assessment, etc.
Considering developing our own alternate assessment. The Center for Educational Testing and Evaluation at the University of Kansas is the contractor for the general and alternate assessment. They are working with us on the design of the alternate assessment.





The advisory committee recommended a portfolio assessment to evidence the 28 academic expectations within the context of "best practice" programming. While sharing content standards with all students in Kentucky, a different set of performance standards were developed for the Alternate Portfolio Assessment.

We have an advisory committee - Learning System Assessment Team (LSAT) that is guiding the process. It is unlikely we will have a separate instrument but it will be part of a comprehensive Local Assessment System that will also include our state Assessment (MEA).

The Independence Mastery Assessment Program (IMAP) is parallel to the state general school accountability program in time of assessment, frequency, reporting, approach (authentic performance events), and public reporting of results. IMAP has three major components: student portfolio, authentic events and parent survey. The program evaluation includes scoring for all three components, student performance and support. Results should assist the school in improving their program for students and allow the state to be accountable for all students. IMAP is a teacher and parent developed system and values the input from all individuals concerned with the student's progress. It includes reporting student supports provided as well as student performance.
In phase two, measurement protocols will be designed around the assessment instrument (functional based, criteria reference).
In preliminary planning stage
A prototype for an alternate assessment will be shared at 9 regional meetings with parents, local district administrators and teachers attending and providing reactions and input to the state level group. We are currently field-testing a portfolio.
We will most likely not create a single instrument but develop a process for districts to address the issues of alternative assessment.
New Jersey
A request for proposal is in development to fund a contractor to build the alternate assessment.
New York
Public input has been collected. An external advisory committee has made suggestions. The next step: disseminate a Request for Proposals to solicit an agency or organization to run the project.
North Carolina
The Planning Team is charged with the development of the instrument. LEA and SEA personnel are on the Planning Team. A second goal is the identification of assessment(s) to be used (alternative and alternate).
Exploration of feasibility of modifying statewide assessments for severely handicapped children and youth. Exploration of current state practices in assessment of student progress through model curriculum. Assessment of progress in curriculum permits flexible format that may be compatible with our assessment needs under IDEA.
Discussion is underway.


The Alternate Assessment work group has submitted a recommended plan for development of an assessment instrument to the Special Education Bureau Chief.

Portfolio Assessment Model with rubric scoring developed.

Alternate Assessment Workgroup meets monthly to look at options.
Initiated discussions of pro/cons of work done in a few other states
Preliminary discussion of creating an instrument to measure performance standards has been held.


Establishment of Eligibility Guidelines

The expectations that educators and parents hold for students with disabilities vary. Therefore, it is critical that clear guidelines be established to decide who participates in the alternate assessment. Thirty-four states responded that they were establishing eligibility guidelines that will assist local educational agencies in determining which students should take alternate assessments (see Table 3). These states were:

Alabama Iowa New Mexico
Arkansas Kansas New York
California Kentucky North Carolina
CNMI (Mariana Islands) Louisiana Ohio
Colorado Maine Pennsylvania
Connecticut Maryland Tennessee
Delaware Massachusetts Utah
Florida Michigan Vermont
Georgia Mississippi Virginia
Idaho Missouri Washington
Indiana Nebraska West Virginia
New Jersey    


Figure 3. States' Assessment Approaches

figure3.gif (192672 bytes)


Table 3. States Establishing Eligibility Criteria

State Comments
Alabama Task Force on Alternate Assessment will decide.
November 1998.
Eligibility guidelines were established by the workgroup that developed the standards and assessment instrument. We have produced a guideline document.
Guidelines have been researched; waiting for committee to OK the policy and forms to be printed.
1993: Colorado passed legislation instituting standards and assessments. The statute required that state and district assessment results are disaggregated and reported by separate disability category, among other variables. Winter 1996: The Standards and Assessment Development and Implementation Council recommended a reporting policy to the State Board of Education. The policy requires 100% of students in each district to be used as the denominator in calculating the percent of students who perform at the state assessment’s four proficiency levels. The SADI Council also recommended that participation decisions be made during the IEP process, rather than by applying categorical or numerical criteria determined at the state level. Spring 1997: Colorado Student Assessment Program participation guidelines were published with general descriptions of students for whom the assessment may be inappropriate, "a very small number of students with IEPs" who are "working on individualized standards rather than on the district-adopted standards." June 1998: Task Force designed a field test of the process to be implemented in Sept. 1998.
Internal committee comprised of Department personnel from assessment unit and special education unit.
Draft eligibility guidelines have been established. They have been disseminated to all districts and other interested groups for comment.
A policy paper was published and released to school districts in July, 1997 titled "Accountability for Students with Disabilities in State and District Assessment Programs".
Part of the ongoing assessment committee to make recommendations to the state. Discussion is centering on the diploma type or curricula the student is following.
Students with disabilities will qualify to take the alternate assessment when it has been determined and documented on the student's IEP that the student meets the state criteria for taking the alternate assessment. This includes all of the following descriptors: 1. The student's demonstrated cognitive ability and adaptive behavior prevents completion of the general academic curriculum even with program modifications AND 2. The student's course of study is primarily functional and living skill oriented AND 3. The student is unable to acquire, maintain, generalize skills and demonstrate performance of those skills without intensive, frequent, and individualized instruction. Students are NOT to be included in the alternate assessment based solely on the fact that: They have an IEP, or They are academically behind due to excessive absences or lack of instruction, or They are unable to complete the general academic curriculum because of social, cultural, or economic differences.
Discussion with stakeholders regarding who should be included in alternate assessment activities. No specific guidelines established at this point.
A stakeholder committee consisting of parents, regular and special education teachers, administrators, higher education personnel and area education agency consultants have produced a rough draft of alternate assessment eligibility guidelines. These guidelines are not state policy, but can be used by Area Education Agencies as they go about developing their policies.

The alternate assessment advisory committee has been working on eligibility criteria. A draft of these criteria has been sent to the field in the form of a survey. The focus continues to be on students with very significant disabilities who require intensive individualized instruction in multiple settings to achieve their learning goals.
The Alternate Portfolio was designed specifically for those students for whom the regular assessment program is not a meaningful measure of learning. Students whose limitations in cognitive functioning prevent the completion of the regular program of studies (even with program modifications and adaptations), and who require extensive instruction in multiple, community-referenced settings to insure skill acquisition, maintenance, and generalization to real life contexts, are eligible. IEP teams are required to review an eligibility checklist, which requires each qualifying statement to be answered "yes" before assessing the student using the Alternate Portfolio. For those students in question, the checklist is reviewed each year to insure the student's proper assessment placement. In the past six years, approximately 6% of Kentucky's student population is assessed yearly through the Alternate Portfolio Assessment. Testing is done at the marker years of 4th, 8th, and last year of school for all students.


Focus Group and CCSSO.

We have a draft accommodations document in process. This was developed by a stakeholders’ group.

Students not pursuing the Maryland Learning Outcomes are eligible to participate in IMAP. The decision to participate is made by the IEP Team and considers the student's severely cognitively developmental delay, over a period of time that has prevented the student even with modifications, and adaptations from completing the general course of study. By secondary school age the student is anticipated pursuing a Maryland High School Certificate.
If students cannot participate without or with accommodations on on-demand testing, then Team is required to develop alternative assessment and enter info in the IEP.
Michigan OSES will use only its two lowest levels of our AUEN material, which pretty much establishes who will take the test. We are waiting for a couple other states in the Midwest who are working on a decision tree to help IEP members determine when the statewide vs. AA should be taken.
Mississippi In preliminary planning at this time
We have written guidelines that are almost final... and have been developing a train the trainer training for IEP teams to make decisions.
Nebraska Just beginning the process.
New Jersey
A draft of criteria for participation has been developed and is under final review along with our Core Curriculum Content Standards for Students with Severe Disabilities.
New Mexico
An IEP technical assistance document is being updated to include issues related to determining participation in assessment.
New York
Guidelines and checklists have been finalized to help Committees on Special Education (IEP teams) determine which performance indicators are appropriate and who is a student with a severe disability requiring alternate performance indicators and an alternate assessment.
North Carolina
The eligibility statement has been written and will be considered by the State Board of Education. The statement has not been submitted for approval to date.
Advisory panel discussed application of certain ground rules. Does the test provide a meaningful measure? Will student score below chance level? If yes, decide for alternate assessment. Is the student engaged in instruction in content assessed on current statewide assessments? If no, select alternate assessment.
The Alternate Assessment work group submitted a recommendation regarding development of eligibility guidelines.

Eligibility standards for Alternate Assessment developed, with guidelines for decision-making in the IEP Instructional Manual
Utah Have determined eligibility will be based on curriculum in which student is receiving instruction and progress through that curriculum. Core vs. functional curriculum.
Vermont Initiated discussions.
Preliminary discussions have included the issue of targeting students for alternate assessment.
State Accommodations committee has developed guidelines for inclusion and accommodations on state level assessment (criterion referenced assessment-based on Washington Standards). First mandated assessment was Spring 1998 although accommodations were piloted in 1997.
West Virginia Eligibility criteria have been established and disseminated to LEAs.


Establishment of Proficiency Levels

How should alternate assessments be scored? There are 18 states working on the establishment of proficiency levels (i.e., performance standards) for their alternate assessments. The progress of these states is summarized in Table 4. These states were:

Arkansas Indiana Mississippi
California Kentucky Nebraska
Colorado Maine New York
Florida Maryland North Carolina
Georgia Michigan Tennessee
Idaho Missouri Utah


Table 4 shows that many of the states that have established proficiency levels are matching them to those established for their regular statewide assessments. As with other features of alternate assessments, however, many states are still in preliminary planning stages in this area.


 Table 4. States Establishing Proficiency Levels for Alternate Assessments

State Comments
Arkansas Performance levels set during pilot process, 98-99.
The assessment instrument includes proficiency levels that were based on the experience of service providers and pilot testing with IEPs. The guidelines document describes the proficiency levels.
This work is just beginning. The task forces have discussed a generalizable rubric describing four proficiency levels of performance.
The model alternate assessment system that we have developed (Performance Assessment System for Students with Disabilities) is written in three manuals to address the needs of students at mild, moderate, and severe levels. Each level is based on a set of exit standards (or expectations) with student performance rating scales provided at benchmark levels (grades 1-3, 4-5, 6-8, and 9-12 at the mild level and ages 6-9,10-13, 14-17, and 18-21 at the moderate and severe levels.) Note that this assessment system is provided to school districts as a choice of alternate assessment. It is not required.
Georgia Committee is investigating and trying to figure this out, no real information yet.
A scoring guide and rubrics have been designed to describe characteristics of a student's performance based on a scale of 1-5, "Advanced, Proficient, Satisfactory, Developing, Minimal".
We are in the process of identifying essential skills and behavioral objectives in each of the selected assessment domains (following recommended procedures from NCEO documents). We are using the participation levels (participatory to full independence) to establish a hierarchy of skills within each domain. We are also using the New York alternate assessment model to link State proficiencies with outcome behaviors in each of the broad curricular areas (language arts, math, science and social studies).



Within the performance levels of novice, apprentice, proficient, and distinguished, six performance standards were developed based on best practice, to specifically encourage school systems to implement well-researched strategies for effective facilitation of student learning. The standards include student performance of targeted skills, natural supports, interactions with non-disabled peers, instruction in multiple settings, inclusive contexts, and evidence of the 28 academic expectations that all students in Kentucky are working toward.
Maine Products are in draft form. We will have global Perfomance standards.
Proficiency levels have been drafted that correspond to the five proficiency levels utilized in MSPAP.
The performance indicators are based upon our Outcome documents that were designed and refined over a seven-year period (with a cast of thousands!). We have not established any particular level of program or student achievement yet.
Missouri Finalizing proficiency levels for field test in Spring, 1999.
Mississippi In preliminary planning.
Performance standards as a part of the alternative assessment will be one of the major components for the ad hoc committee's work.
New York Alternate performance indicators have been finalized.
North Carolina Proficiency levels have been discussed. No decision to date.
Tennessee Performance standards established with scoring and ranking from Novice to Advanced.
Core curriculum has been complete for several years; Life Skills have benchmarks but not specific standards. These will be developed within the next year.


Determination of Reporting Procedures

Ultimately, an alternate assessment has little value unless the results are integrated into the general accountability system. Little experience exists on which to base recommendations, but there are different perspectives about how this could be done. One view is that the results from the alternate assessment should be aggregated and reported separately from those of the general assessment. Another view is that the results from the alternate assessment could be aggregated and combined with the results from the general assessment system, and then reported. One of the advantages of aggregating the results from the alternate assessment separately is that the results could be used in analyzing and improving special education services. A disadvantage of this approach is that it continues to separate students with disabilities from the majority of students, and makes it easier to be absolved of responsibility for these students. Twenty-one states reported that they are working on determining how scores from an alternate assessment should be aggregated or reported along with scores from other special education and general education students (see Table 5). These states were:

Alabama Idaho Nebraska
Alaska Kansas New Jersey
Arkansas Kentucky New Mexico
California Louisiana North Carolina
Delaware Maryland Pennsylvania
Florida Michigan Tennessee
Georgia Missouri Virginia


Table 5. States Determining How Scores from Alternate Assessments Should be Reported

State Comments
Task Force on Alternate Assessment will address this issue. State Superintendent will make decision to recommend to the State Board.
Alaska Attended SCASS meetings.
Arkansas No work done yet.
Data from the initial alternate assessment will be analyzed to determine its statistical soundness and appropriate reporting procedures. A data collection form, used to evaluate IEP goals has been developed.
The Design Group has recommended that scores be aggregated with other special education and general education students. Because of the size of our state the numbers of some of our low incidence populations, this discussion continues.
We have given this much thought and right now we think that it will not be statistically sound to aggregate scores of students taking alternate assessment because there is no one alternate assessment that could be given to all students exempted from regular state and district assessment. It is our feeling that exempted students vary tremendously in the setting they learn in, the level of assistance they might need to complete an assessment activity, the type of modification or accommodation needed to complete an assessment activity, etc. that an aggregation would not provide valuable nor sound information from which to make judgements about student need. We are leaning toward the use of portfolios that demonstrate students’ capabilities on specified standards (from the newly revised standards) that will link into our special diploma option. Student performance and progress would become a critical component and consideration in writing the quality IEP that we are striving for in Florida. If assessment activities can be standardized to our satisfaction in field testing over the next two years, we may be able to aggregate some type of progress indicator for students taking alternate assessment.
A committee is trying to figure out how to score a portfolio, how to aggregate that data and how we can make these scores comparable with standardized scores or any other assessments.
Because the alternate performance assessment is scored in the same numerical way as the regular performance assessment, the scores are easily able to be both aggregated and disaggregated.
This task will be completed by the Center for Education Testing and Evaluation at the University of Kansas. We will work closely with them. For the 1998-99 school year the schools will receive the two sets of scores. 1. The scores of all students (including gifted, disability and LEP) and 2. The scores of general education with SPED (disability) and LEP pulled out.
Scores are aggregated with those of reg. ed. and are included in the accountability index. Based upon a rating of the six performance levels, a final holistic score of novice, apprentice, proficient, or distinguished is assigned to the student's portfolio, to be included in both the school- and local district-level accountability indices. Because the Alternate Portfolio has the equivalent impact in accountability index calculations of a student who participates in the general KIRIS assessments, a score of "proficient" from the Alternate Portfolio has the same impact as a student who scores "proficient" in reading, mathematics, science, social studies, writing, arts and humanities, and practical living/vocational living.
Louisiana Focus Group and CCSSO.
IMAP score results are reported in the same manner and frequency as MSPAP scores. Schools are reported at the satisfactory and excellent levels. IMAP score inclusion would be easily folded into the regular school report. We are currently reviewing specifics of inclusion; space and low numbers, which may identify particular students, are a concern.
We have an example of what kind of report can be generated using the AUEN material (its from Florida who is using the material). We have not determined how to incorporate this with general education scores nor have we completed our reliability studies yet.
Missouri Developing a scoring system that can be aggregated if the board decides to do so.
Major issue for the ad hoc committee's consideration in view of the fact that no statewide reporting requirements for current assessment practices are in place.
New Jersey This issue is currently being discussed within the Department of Education.
New Mexico Will be a function of the task force established in Fall, 1998.
North Carolina Under discussion. No decision to date.
Reporting of alternate assessment scoring is included in the alternate assessment work group's recommendations. Pending the review and decisions of that meeting this component may be included as part of a three-year phase in plan or determined by Department policy.
Tennessee Scoring designed to align with reporting standards of the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program assessments. Therefore, scores can be aggregated or disaggregated with the total school population.
Virginia Language was included in revised Standards for Accrediting Schools.


Inclusion of Alternate Assessment Participants in "High Stakes" Systems

A test is high stakes if the results have perceived or real consequences for students, staff, or schools. Increasingly, states and local boards of education are using test scores to evaluate schools’ progress, make policy decisions, and allocate resources. Stakes become high when test results trigger important consequences for students or the school system, and also when educators, students, or the public perceive that significant consequences accompany test results. Thirteen states responded that they are working on determining how scores from students taking an alternate assessment should be included in "high stakes" systems. The specific responses of these states are provided in Table 6. The states were:

Alabama Kentucky New Jersey
California Maine New Mexico
Connecticut Maryland North Carolina
Delaware Michigan Pennsulvania


Table 6. States Determining How Scores from Alternate Assessments Shouldbe Included in High Stakes Systems

State Comments
Graduation standards have been raised to 11th grade level and a 4x4 curriculum put into place. It has not been determined how the alternate assessment will fit into this process.
California's accountability system and potential high stakes assessments are now pending in legislation. How alternate assessment will fit in remains to be determined.
Connecticut We consider the Connecticut testing programs to have moderately high stakes in the following ways. There are financial implications in that test results are one component in the distribution of state funds to local districts. In addition, the state tests are used to determine those districts in need of improvement as required under Title 1. State Department of Education partnerships with the urban districts are also based in part on state test results. The test is also moderately high stakes for students in that test results frequently determine placement and remediation efforts. At grade 10, students are awarded a Certificate of Mastery in those subjects in which mastery is achieved.
The Design Group has recommended that the alternate assessment be included in the current accountability system being developed for all students in Delaware


Idaho does not have a high stakes system for either general education not special education. However, if high stakes were adopted, it is anticipated that it would also include special education since alternate assessment test scores will be included.
Kentucky In Kentucky's performance-based assessment and accountability system, school monetary rewards and sanctions are determined, not by baseline data, but by the amount of improvement from baseline to curent-year data. The scores for students in the Alternate Portfolio Assessment are embedded in their school's accountability index using a formula which makes the score difficult to determine, thus protecting the student's right to confidentiality. Scores are tracked to the student's neighborhood school (i.e., the school they would attend if they did not have a disability) to promote ownership of that student's educational program
Maine No high stakes at this point, but accountability system in development.
Maryland IMAP would be used in the school reports.
Results from performance will be reported in the SIP (as required in IDEA'97). No other 'high stakes' system has been discussed at this time.
New Jersey This issue is currently being discussed within the Department of Education.
New Mexico
Student scores are not to be exempted from the high stakes testing. This is cross-checked through the listings of the students from each school who have been exempted from testing.
North Carolina Being discussed. No decision to date.
At this time, PA does not include a "high stakes" accountability system. It is projected that with the pending passage and implementation of 22 PA Code Chapter 4, there will be an incentive program established for districts demonstrating increased academic performance. Should this system be established, the alternate assessment work group will make recommendations regarding this incentive program.



This report clearly shows the great range in development of alternate assessments across the United States. As of January, 1999, the area that has received the most attention by states has been the identification of curricular or content standards for which an alternate assessment will be developed. Thirty-two states reported at least some progress in this area. Several of these states began the process of identifying standards by defining the purpose of their alternate assessment and identifying the common core of learning for the alternate assessment. The greatest number of states reported that their alternate assessment will use a subset of the standards applied to general education.

The development of eligibility guidelines that will assist local education agencies in making individual determinations about whether a student should take an alternate assessment is the next step states have taken. Thirty-four states have reported some progress in this area. Most of these guidelines were in draft form at the time information for this report was compiled.

The next area in which states are making progress is the identification of specific instruments and approaches for collecting alternate assessment data. Twenty-nine states have at least considered the approaches they will take. Of these, states are considering combinations of all four of the various approaches to assessment, including observation, interviews or surveys, analysis of existing data, and testing.

Fewer states have begun to tackle the establishment of proficiency levels for their alternate assessment. At the time these data were compiled, only 18 states had addressed this area, and of these, only six states had determined their proficiency levels. Once a scoring method has been determined, states are determining how scores from the alternate assessment should be reported along with scores from their general large-scale assessments. Twenty-one states reported that they were working on this issue. Thirteen states with "high stakes" assessments were working on determining how to include scores from students taking alternate assessments.

This report addresses the first steps taken by states in the development of alternate assessments for students unable to participate in general large-scale assessments, even with accommodations. As indicated in this report, progress continues to be made in all areas. We recommend that states look to these survey results to guide their own development process and activities.

There were several benefits to the on-line survey, including:

Up-to-the-minute survey results can be viewed on NCEO’s Web site, located at: The Web site can also be found by entering "National Center on Educational Outcomes" or "NCEO" on any common search engine. The new version of the survey is now on-line. Seven additional entities that receive U.S. funding for special education services are included in the new survey, including Guam, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Palau, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, and U.S. Virgin Islands. The new survey gives states and others the capability of graphing results for use in presentations to planning groups and other stakeholders. In addition, viewers can now choose a specific field of interest ranging from assessment standards and instruments to scoring, training, and implementation, and obtain a national look at who is doing what in a specific area. National trends and statistics for specific items can also be viewed simply by clicking on the survey. As a bonus, we have added the capability of searching for information using keywords. As with all surveys, the results are only as good as the information submitted. We are excited about having the capability of surveying states in this new format, and hope that it will become an effective and efficient way for states to submit and use information in the ongoing development of alternate assessments.


AFT. (1998). Making standards matter. Washington, DC: American Federation of Teachers.

Bond, L., Roeber, E., & Connealy, S. (1997). Trends in state student assessment programs. Washington, DC: Council of Chief State School Officers.

Education Commission of the States. (1998a). Accountability—State and community responsibility. Denver: ECS.

Education Commission of the States. (1998b). Designing and implementing standards-based accountability systems. Denver: ECS.

McDonnell, L. M., McLaughlin, M. J., & Morison, P. (1997). Educating one and all: Students with disabilities and standards-based reform. Washington, DC: National Research Council.

Thurlow, M. L., Elliott, J. L., & Ysseldyke, J. E. (1998). Testing students with disabilities: Practical strategies for complying with district and state requirements. Thousand Oaks: Corwin Press.

Ysseldyke, J. E., & Olsen, K. (1997). Putting alternate assessments into practice: What to measure and possible sources of data (Synthesis Report 28). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota: National Center on Educational Outcomes.

Ysseldyke, J. E., Olsen, K., & Thurlow, M. L. (1997). Issues and considerations in alternate assessments (Synthesis Report 27). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota: National Center on Educational Outcomes.

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 (Synthesis Report 15). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, National Center on Educational Outcomes.

Ysseldyke, J. E., Thurlow, M. L., McGrew, K. S., & Vanderwood, M. (1994). Making decisions about the inclusion of students with disabilities in large-scale assessments (Synthesis Report 13). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, National Center on Educational Outcomes.

 Appendix A

Alternate Assessment in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

A. IN GENERAL.—Children with disabilities are included in general State and district-wide assessment programs, with appropriate accommodations, where necessary. As appropriate, the State or local educational agency—

(i) develops guidelines for the participation of children with disabilities in alternate assessments for those children who cannot participate in State and districtwide assessment programs; and

(ii) develops and, beginning not later than July 1, 2000, conducts those alternate assessments.

B. REPORTS.—The State educational agency makes available to the public, and reports to the public with the same frequency and in the same detail as it reports on the assessment of nondisabled children, the following:

(i) The number of children with disabilities participating in regular assessments.

(ii) The number of those children participating in alternate assessments.

(iii)(I) The performance of those children on regular assessments (beginning not later than July 1, 1998) and on alternate assessments (not later than July 1, 2000), if doing so would be statistically sound and would not result in the disclosure of performance results identifiable to individual children.

(II) Data relating to the performance of children described under subclause (I) shall be disaggregated

(aa) for assessments conducted after July 1, 1998; and

(bb) for assessments conducted before July 1, 1998, if the State is required to disaggregate such data prior to July 1, 1998. [PL 105-17, Section 612 (a)(17)]