SRI worked with two state consortia to design items for alternate assessments. This work advanced how the learning of students with significant cognitive disabilities is assessed.
Changes in assessment practices in recent years have led to changes in learning expectations for students with significant cognitive disabilities. This in turn has begun to influence classroom practices. However, developing adequate, reliable assessments aligned to general education curricula for this population of students remains a challenge.
SRI worked with two state consortia to design alternate assessments based on alternate achievement standards (AA-AAS); one consortium focused on math and the other on English language arts. These projects advanced the methodology for designing assessments to measure the learning of students with significant cognitive disabilities. The projects were funded by the U.S. Department of Education through two Enhanced Assessment Grants. This work led to SRI being selected by one of the two national consortia for alternate assessment, the National Center and State Collaborative (NCSC), to design the exemplar items in mathematics and English language arts to assess the performance of students with significant cognitive disabilities on the Common Core State Standards.
The projects, Alternate Assessment Design–Mathematics and Alternate Assessment Design–English Language Arts, integrated recent work in the pedagogy of special education for students with significant cognitive disabilities, alternate assessment design, and Universal Design for Learning (UDL) with evidence-centered assessment design (ECD) using the Principled Assessment Designs for Inquiry (PADI) system. These projects developed a process for systematically producing items of graduated complexity built on the same standards on which all students are assessed. This process allows students at different levels of cognitive functioning within the population of students with significant cognitive disabilities to demonstrate what they know and can do.
Experts from several disciplines worked on the projects, including assessment, special education, education for students with significant cognitive disabilities, and specific content areas. These projects operationalized the federal guidelines for alternate assessment design that specify that “all students, including students with disabilities, be held to grade-level achievement standards when taking assessments.”
SRI and the state consortia achieved the following results:
- Extended the conceptual framework of ECD to include alternate achievement standards
- Integrated the principles of UDL with ECD to develop tasks accessible to all learners
- Developed an innovative approach for systematically designing assessment tasks of graduated complexity
- Identified standards of common critical areas of learning for all consortia states, using the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Principles and Standards for School Mathematics and the then new Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Mathematics
- Developed design patterns, task templates, task specifications, and task exemplars that addressed state-priority academic standards for students with significant cognitive disabilities
- Evaluated the exemplar assessment tasks produced using ECD through review by a panel of experts
- Evaluated exemplar assessment tasks through pilot-testing in all consortium states
- Provided state departments of education with procedural guidelines on how to use ECD to design and develop assessment tasks for use with students with significant cognitive disabilities
- Supported state department of education staff and teachers in developing additional tasks to expand the task bank for each assessment
- Provided participating states with a library of design patterns, task templates, and task specifications that are reusable and extendable
- Disseminated products and findings through a website, presentations, and publications