Virginia's Alternate Assessment Program

According to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 1997, all students with disabilities must be included in state and district-wide assessment programs. They may participate in these assessments with or without accommodations or modifications, or they may participate in an alternate assessment. The 2000-2001 school year marks the first year that students with disabilities in Virginia may participate in the statewide assessment program through an alternate assessment.

Development of the Alternate Assessment

Over the past two years, the Department of Education has worked with a steering committee composed of general and special education teachers, parents, directors of special education, building administrators, division directors of testing, and university faculty from across the Commonwealth to develop a system of alternate assessment for a small portion of students with disabilities who are unable to participate in the state's general assessment (i.e., SOL). The Department has also enlisted the assistance of the Virginia Institute for Developmental Disabilities at Virginia Commonwealth University, and the Mid-South Regional Resource Center and Inclusive Large Scale Standards and Assessment program at the University of Kentucky. Major activities completed by members of this group during the spring of 2000 are highlighted below.

  • A philosophy statement was developed to articulate the Steering Committee's beliefs about the alternate assessment program.

  • Participation criteria were developed to define the ages at which students will participate in the alternate assessment process and the criteria IEP teams will use to determine student eligibility for the alternate assessment process. Copies of the participation criteria have been distributed to each school division's superintendent and directors of special education and testing.

  • A "Question & Answer Document" was produced in response to questions from the field about the alternate assessment program and disseminated to special education directors and division directors of testing at regional awareness meetings.

  • An assessment process and scoring rubric were developed and field-tested with approximately 65 teachers representing 32 school divisions from across the Commonwealth.

The remainder of this article provides an overview of the alternate assessment process, scoring rubric, and participation criteria that will be implemented in the 2000-2001 school year.

Participation in the Alternate Assessment

Decisions about participating in the alternate assessment will be made by the student's IEP team. The team must use the participation criteria developed by the Department of Education to make determinations annually. These criteria take into account both current and historical data to establish that the student

  • has an IEP,

  • demonstrates significant cognitive impairments and adaptive skills deficits, and

  • needs extensive direct instruction and/or intervention in a variety of settings.

Students who participate in the alternate assessment program will be assessed at approximately the same age as students who participate in the SOL assessment. For the 2000-2001 school year, the alternate assessment will be administered:

Elementary I - No later than the school year in which the student is 8 years old on or before September 30,

Elementary II - No later than the school year in which the student is 10 years old on or before September 30,

Middle School - No later than the school year in which the student is 13 years old on or before September 30, and

High School - One year prior to the student's exit year.

Description of the Alternate Assessment

The actual "assessment" will consist of a Collection of Evidence (COE) that measures the student's performance on his/her IEP objectives that access the Standards of Learning. Unlike a traditional paper and pencil test, the COE will consist of multiple forms of data collected about the student over time. These data may include work samples (including actual work or pictures of work); observations of the student; interviews with teachers, parents, or employers; videotapes of the student; reflective documentation or journal entries; and instructional data sheets. The sources of data selected will be determined by the teacher and other individuals who submit the COE. Regardless of the data sources, each COE will consist of the following elements:

  • Table of Contents

  • Parent Consent Form

  • Introduction to the Reviewer (sample of student communication system)

  • IEP at a Glance

  • Student Schedule

  • Student Demographics

  • Parent Validation Letter or Parent Survey

  • Four Completed Entry Cover Sheets (one for each SOL area)

  • Four Entries Referencing the Standards of Learning. One entry is required for each of the following areas: 1) English, 2) Math, 3) Science/Technology, and 4) History/Social Sciences (extended to included Vocational Performance Indicators)

Each of the entries (i.e., one for each SOL area) in the COE will be scored according to five elements. For each element students may receive a rating of progressing, competent, or generalized. The five elements to be scored include:

A. Performance (student performance on IEP objectives that address the Standards)
B. Linkage to the Standards (degree to which work samples evidence the Standards in the four content areas)
C. Variety of Settings and Social Interactions (degree to which students participate in integrated settings and extent of social interactions)
D. Contexts (degree to which activities are functional and skills are embedded across the students' day)
E. Independence (level of prompting required for the student to participate in the targeted activity)

Upcoming Training

During Fall 2000, the Department of Education will offer a series of workshops for teachers and parents across the state to prepare school personnel to implement Virginia's Alternate Assessment Program (VAAP). The teacher implementation workshops will be open to all teachers who have at least one student who will participate in the Alternate Assessment process during the 2000-2001 school year, as well as all directors of special education and division directors of testing. The parent training, coordinated by the Department of Education, will be provided through the parent centers. Additionally, the Department is in the process of developing a series of materials that will assist school personnel and parents in understanding the VAAP. These materials include a training manual that articulates the assessment and methods for developing a COE, a policy and procedures manual for administrators, a brochure and workshop series for parents, and a videotape overview of the VAAP.