State Dept. of Education seeks testing waivers to aid students with cognitive disabilities

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The Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE) will be seeking waivers from the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education to allow students with cognitive disabilities to take the Alabama Alternate Assessment (AAA).

The test —  a performance task assessment administered as an alternate to the general education state assessment. It is administered to students with significant cognitive disabilities working on the Alabama Extended Standards, and is a paper-based multiple choice assessment administered in the areas of reading and mathematics in Grades 3-8 and 10 and science in Grades 5,7, and 10 — is part of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), signed into law in 2015 by then President Barack Obama. The program was intended to replace the No Child Left Behind Act; and ensures that students in the U.S. with a significant cognitive disability, are not excluded from learning beside their peers. Former-Gov. Robert Bentley then created an implementation task force in 2016 to assure the law’s success.

The ESSA, “shifts the power of education from the federal government and returns power and control to the states.” Under ESSA, states are able to decide for themselves what is best for their students in regard to the “implementation of academic standards, testing, accountability, school improvement and teacher quality,” but also requires states to ensure that the number of students assessed using an alternate assessment does not exceed one percent of the students in the state who are assessed using Alabama statewide assessments.

State is seeking a waiver as the ESSA places a 1 percent cap on the participation rate for each subject on the AAA. If a state anticipates it will exceed the 1 percent cap, it must seek a waiver.

During the 2016-2017 school year, Alabama’s participation rate on the AAA was: 1.21 percent for reading, 1.21 percent for math, and 1.23 percent for science.

Since Alabama exceeded the 1 percent cap for the 2016-2017 school year, it is anticipating exceeding the 1 percent cap for 2017-2018 school year. Thus, the ALSDE will be requesting a waiver for reading, math, and science from the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education.

The ALSDE is seeking public comment as part of this process. According to the ALDSE:

You may send written comments on the request for a waiver to: Student Assessment, Alabama State Department of Education, P.O. Box 302101, Montgomery, AL  36130-2101.

Mrs. Nannette Pence or Mrs. Maggie Hicks may be reached by phone at 334-242-8038, by fax at 334-242-7341, or through email at Written comments will be accepted until June 15, 2018.