Students with disabilities or students who are "qualified handicapped" under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 participate in Virginia's State Assessment Program (VSAP). Students in Grades 3, 5, 8, and specific high school courses take the Standards of Learning (SOL) Assessments. Students in Grades 4, 6, and 9 take the Stanford 9 (SAT 9). Participation in the VSAP provides these students with "equal opportunity to participate in and benefit from the policies and procedures customarily granted to all individuals" (Virginia Department of Education, 1998, p.1). Making decisions independently for each content area, the IEP Team or 504 Committee annually determines in which assessments the student will participate, appropriate accommodations, or exemptions.
The Commonwealth of Virginia published standard and nonstandard accommodations that allow students with disabilities an equal opportunity to demonstrate achievement of the Standards of Learning (Virginia Department of Education, 1998, p. 6). Likewise, there are accommodations for the Stanford 9. Students may participate in the VSAP with:
standard accommodations (conditions that maintain standard conditions),
nonstandard accommodations (permissible conditions that do not maintain standard conditions), or be exempted from testing.
When a student is exempted, a statement must be included in the IEP as to why the student is not participating and how the child will be assessed . Parents and the student should understand that the student will not receive a standard or advanced-studies diploma if exempted from end-of-course SOL assessments. Further, exempted students will participate in an alternate assessment program.
Allowable accommodations are different for the SOL and Stanford 9. (Please see the insert for a complete listing of accomodations.) Accommodations allowed during testing should be only those that the student generally needs and uses during classroom instruction. When a student passes a SOL assessment with standard or nonstandard accommodations, the student has passed for all purposes. When a student takes the Stanford 9, a norm-referenced test, without accommodations or with standard accommodations, the individual test scores are reported and included in school/division averages. When a student uses nonstandard accommodations, the individual student scores are reported but the score is not included in the school/division averages. The results will show inter-individual differences but are not used for comparison with the normed group.
Failure to pass the grades 3, 5, and 8 SOL assessments may result in mandatory summer school attendance, after-school tutoring, an IEP change, or attending remedial classes depending on the policy of the school system. Beginning with the class of 2004, students must earn a prescribed number of credits and achieve passing scores on end-of-course tests to earn standard or advanced studies diplomas.
What do these regulations mean for special educators? First, they mean that our students have equal rights to full participation in the curriculum and assessment process. Second, they mean that if our students do not achieve the standards, they will not receive standard diplomas. Third, they mean that we must work even harder and collaborate with our general education colleagues to help our students achieve success.
Virginia Department of Education, Office of Special Education and Student Services. (1998). Participation of students with disabilities in Virginia's state assessment system. Richmond: Author.