Monday, August 27, 2012

Alternate Assessment. Thoughts?

Our school had quite an experience this year when we received our test scores. Our school has done very well over the past several years in raising our performance index and our students have worked so hard to do well on their achievement tests. For those that are new to this terminology, performance index is the number score that schools earn based on the "level" of the student performance on the state test. There are five levels: advanced, accelerated, proficient, basic and limited. A student who scores advanced gets multiplied by 1.2, accelerated 1.1, proficient 1 and so on. In short, you want more kids in advanced and accelerated because they count more.

There are some students who are best served by taking alternate assessments, which are assessments designed to meet their needs. These students do not take the traditional state assessment. Last year, we had one student who was on alternate assessment. This student did AMAZING and passed all of the assessments, so we were naturally very proud. We were also proud of our overall scores, but lost a little of our spark when we learned that this student's tests for math and reading ended up NOT counting for our school.  In fact, they counted as FAILING, even though this student had passed. Is anyone else confused? (Or confuzzled, as an old student of mine used to say.)

The reason for this nonsense is a rule, dictated by NCLB, that a school district is not to have 1% of their total student population taking alternate assessment. What this means is that some schools discourage alternate assessments, even when there are students that may benefit. The punishment for a school district having a more than 1% of students on alternate assessment? Well, as crazy as it sounds, the school district must put the names/test scores of all of the students on alternate assessment "in a hat", pick out enough to lower the percentage and then discard those students' test scores. Those students' tests then COUNT AS FAILING. The student is still shown as passing to their parents and in their cum file, but for the district? Failing, failing...failing.

How on Earth is this allowed to happen? I'm all for alternate assessment when it is in the best interest of the student. But why are the schools, intervention specialists (who work hours and hours on this assessment) and the students the ones punished for doing the right thing? If we as a nation really cared about what is best for every student, then it shouldn't matter if a district goes above 1%. Each district should allow any student who needed alternate assessment to take one, without having to worry about a limit, if you ask me.

***Further reading on Pages 9 and 10 of this document.

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