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National Center for Special Education Research


National Profile on Alternate Assessments Based on Alternate Achievement Standards:

NCSER 2009-3014
August 2009

B. Alternate Achievement Standards

The NCLB statute and regulations set forth certain requirements for academic achievement standards, and these requirements apply to alternate achievement standards, in addition to the requirements in the December 9, 2003, regulation on alternate achievement standards. For example, alternate achievement standards must have the three achievement levels required by NCLB, and "proficient" and "advanced" must represent high achievement while "basic" must represent achievement that is not yet proficient. These labels may vary from state to state, such as "mastering" or "exceeds standards" for the advanced labels, "independent" or "meets standards" for proficient, and "exploring" or "below the standard" for basic. A state may use more than three levels but must clearly indicate which level represents the proficiency expected of all students. The state's academic achievement standards and alternate achievement standards must include descriptors of the competencies associated with each level. The state must also determine which specific scores on its assessments distinguish one level from another (34 C.F.R. § § 200.1(c)).

Who was involved in creating the alternate achievement standards for students with significant cognitive disabilities for reading/language arts and mathematics? (B1)

This multiple-choice item asked who was involved in creating the alternate achievement standards for students with significant cognitive disabilities in reading/language arts and mathematics. The original data collection included separate items for reading/language arts and mathematics in different grade spans (3–8 and 10–12), but there was sufficient overlap in responses to allow for reporting in aggregate. If a type of participant was involved in developing standards for any of the academic areas or grades, it was counted as a positive response for the state. Multiple responses were possible and are presented graphically in figure B1 and for individual states in table B1 in appendix B, NSAA Data Tables.

  • State special education staff – Eighty-two percent of states (42 states) reported that state special education staff were involved in the development of the alternate achievement standards, reflecting a majority of the states.
  • State assessment staff – Eighty percent of states (41 states) reported that state assessment staff were involved in the development of the alternate achievement standards, reflecting a majority of the states.
  • State instruction and curriculum staff – Sixty-five percent of states (33 states) reported that state instruction and curriculum staff were involved in the development of the alternate achievement standards, reflecting a majority of the states.
  • Test vendor – Fifty-three percent of states (27 states) reported that test vendors were involved in the development of the alternate achievement standards, reflecting a majority of the states.
  • Outside experts – Eighty-four percent of states (43 states) reported that outside experts were involved in the development of the alternate achievement standards, reflecting a majority of the states
  • Special education teachers – Ninety-six percent of states (49 states) reported that special education teachers were involved in the development of the alternate achievement standards, reflecting a majority of the states and the highest frequency reported.
  • General education teachers – Seventy-six percent of states (39 states) reported that general education teachers were involved in the development of the alternate achievement standards, reflecting a majority of the states.
  • Content specialists – Eighty-four percent of states (43 states) reported that content specialists were involved in the development of the alternate achievement standards, reflecting a majority of the states.
  • School psychologists/counselors – Twenty-seven percent of states (14 states) reported that school psychologists or counselors were involved in the development of the alternate achievement standards.
  • School/district/state administrators – Sixty-three percent of states (32 states) reported that school, district, or state administrators were involved in the development of the alternate achievement standards, reflecting a majority of the states.
  • Parents – Seventy-three percent of states (37 states) reported that parents were involved in the development of the alternate achievement standards, reflecting a majority of the states.
  • Other – Sixteen percent of states (8 states) reported that other individuals were involved in the development of the alternate achievement standards.

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Standard-setting methodologies used to develop alternate achievement standards (B2)

This open-ended item asked about the process used to develop the alternate achievement standards (the descriptors and cut scores) in reading/language arts and mathematics across all the grades assessed. Responses were coded according to a list of possible approaches described in the literature (see table 1). Multiple response codes were possible and are presented graphically in figure B2 below and for individual states in table B2 in appendix B, NSAA Data Tables.

  • Modified Angoff – Ten percent of states (5 states) used the Modified Angoff method to develop alternate achievement standards.
  • Extended Angoff – No states used the Extended Angoff method.
  • Yes/No Method – No states used the Yes/No Method.
  • Bookmark or Item Mapping – Twenty-four percent of states (12 states) used the Bookmark or Item Mapping method.
  • Performance Profile Method – Eight percent of states (4 states) used the Performance Profile Method.
  • Reasoned Judgment – Twelve percent of states (6 states) used the Reasoned Judgment method.
  • Judgmental Policy Capturing – Ten percent of states (5 states) used the Judgmental Policy Capturing method.
  • Body of Work – Thirty-one percent of states (16 states) used the Body of Work method, reflecting the highest frequency reported.
  • Contrasting Groups – Eight percent of states (4 states) used the Contrasting Groups method
  • Item-Descriptor Matching – Four percent of states (2 states) used the Item Descriptor Matching method.
  • Dominant Profile Method – Two percent of states (1 state) used the Dominant Profile method.

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What were the names for the advanced, proficient and basic achievement levels for students being assessed based on alternate achievement standards for reading/language arts and mathematics? (B3)

NCLB requires achievement standards to describe three levels of achievement—advanced, proficient, and basic. States often develop more than the required three levels and often apply different terminology to those levels. This open-ended item yielded specific information on the names of the various achievement levels for reading/language arts and for mathematics in each state. The names of the achievement levels that states adopted are reported by each state in the NSAA State Profiles and in table B3 in appendix B, NSAA Data Tables.

What descriptors applied to each achievement level for students being assessed based on alternate achievement standards for reading/language arts and mathematics? (B4)

This open-ended item asked for the descriptor for each achievement level in reading/language arts and mathematics. The uniqueness of the descriptors does not allow for comparison across states. However, it was possible to code the states into mutually exclusive categories based on the degree to which descriptors were specific to grade levels or grade spans. The information is presented graphically in figure B4 below and for individual states in table B4 in appendix B, NSAA Data Tables. An example of a proficient-level descriptor is included for illustrative purposes in each profile in the NSAA State Profiles.

  • The same descriptors applied to all grades tested – Thirty-nine percent of states (20 states) had a single set of descriptors that applied to all grades included in the accountability assessment system for reading/language arts and mathematics, reflecting the highest frequency reported.
  • The same descriptors applied to grade spans tested – Twenty-five percent of states (13 states) had descriptors that applied to grade spans assessed for reading/language arts and mathematics.
  • Descriptors were unique for each grade tested – Thirty-one percent of states (16 states) had descriptors that were unique for each grade assessed for reading/language arts and mathematics.

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What cut scores were developed for reading/language arts and mathematics? (B5)

This open-ended item asked what cut scores were developed across grade levels in reading/ language arts and mathematics. The following mutually exclusive response categories emerged during coding and are presented graphically in figure B5 below and for individual states in table B5 in appendix B, NSAA Data Tables.

  • Unique cut scores for each grade – Thirty-five percent of states (18 states) had developed unique cut scores for each grade level, reflecting the highest frequency reported.
  • Unique cut scores for grade spans – Twenty-nine percent of states (15 states) had developed unique cut scores that applied to grade spans.
  • One set of cut scores for all students – Twenty-seven percent of states (14 states) had one set of cut scores that applied to all students.
  • Other approaches – Ten percent of states (5 states) used other approaches (e.g., applying a rubric to determine proficiency level).

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