Alternate Assessments for Learning Disabled Students

Introduction

Alternate assessment methods are actively proposed for evaluating the progress of different student populations, including students with disabilities. The reason is that traditional methods of assessment are not effective enough to illustrate actual results and performance (Lazarus & Rieke, 2013). The purpose of this paper is to discuss the topic of alternative assessment methods for students with learning disabilities about Marion County School District, analyze associated political, legal, and current issues, identify students’ needs, and propose applications for the selected school district.

Introduction to Topic and School District Details

The topic to be discussed in this project is alternate assessment methods for such a specific student population as students with learning disabilities. The rationale for selecting this topic is that many school districts experience difficulties with proposing adequate formative and summative assessments for those students who require special attention (Cho & Kingston, 2013; Tindal, Nese, Farley, Saven, & Elliott, 2016). Marion County School District located in Marion, South Carolina, is one of such districts where the number of students with specific needs is high (Marion County School District, 2017). Thus, almost each school district serves diverse students with various needs. To guarantee the achievement of K-12 study goals, teachers should not only pay attention to planning lessons and proposing modifications to address these students’ needs, but they also should adapt assessment tools to see a real picture regarding students’ progress.

In Marion County School District, the strategic plan for 2017-2018 is oriented to improving the reading and writing skills of diverse students, including students with specific learning disabilities, such as dyslexia, nonverbal learning disabilities, and dysgraphia among others. The K-12 assessment goal formulated by the authorities of Marion County School District for the 2017-2018 school year is to guarantee that, by June 2018, about 80% of students, including those with learning disabilities, will demonstrate improved reading skills successfully assessed with the help of Fountas and Pinnell assessments, Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA), SC Ready assessments, and MAP assessments (Marion County School District, 2017). Furthermore, another K-12 assessment goal for Marion County School District includes the use of such alternate assessment tools as Dominie Assessment and Star Reading. From this point, it is important to discuss the topic of alternate assessments for students with disabilities in the context of the goals formulated for the 2017-2018 school year in Marion County School District.

Even though teachers actively use alternate assessment methods for working with students with disabilities in their practice, there are still some political, legal, and current issues associated with the topic. The first issue is political, and it is related to the adoption of the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act, according to which all schools are obliged to report on students’ academic achievements, including those with disabilities and special needs. As a result, school authorities experience problems while choosing the most appropriate alternate assessments for their students with special needs to align them with the state achievement standards, as well as developed alternate standards (Cho & Kingston, 2013). These initiatives can result in adopting inappropriate assessment tools to address specific state standards.

The second issue to discuss is legal, and it is associated with the development of individual education plans under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Students with learning disabilities have the right to be educated regarding an individual plan that includes alternate assessments (Cho & Kingston, 2013; Kingston, Karvonen, Bechard, & Erickson, 2016). However, those educators who decide on proposing alternate or modified traditional assessments for students with disabilities can make a wrong conclusion, affecting the quality of education and eligibility of final results. As a result, despite having a right to be educated and assessed by their needs, students with disabilities have no opportunities to benefit from individual education programs because of inappropriately selected alternate assessments.

The third issue is associated with current problems experienced by educators in different school districts, including the Marion County School District. The problem is that, although there are many alternate assessment designs, teachers often experience problems while adapting them to individual education plans and students’ specific needs. Thus, despite having possibilities to use checklists, portfolios, computerized assessments, and performance assessments to measure achievements of students with disabilities, there are many problems with their adoption, modification, and scoring (Tindal et al., 2016). For instance, teachers in Marion County School District have problems with using combined assessments to evaluate the performance of students with disabilities. Thus, the alternative Dominie Reading assessment and the computerized Star Reading assessment are not discussed as effective to be used while working with students who have learning disabilities (Marion County School District, 2017). The problem can be associated with the inappropriate integration of these tools into practice.

Three Students’ Needs Including Special Learning

Those students who study in Marion County School District, including students with learning disabilities, have three specific needs that are the use of more appropriate alternate assessments to measure achievements in reading and writing for all grades, the improvement or adaptation of the Dominie Reading assessment, and the Star Reading assessment, and the use of more flexible assignments. Currently, the authorities of Marion County School District are focused on implementing traditional Fountas and Pinnell assessments, DRA, SC Ready assessments, and MAP assessments, but many students with specific needs have a few opportunities to appropriately demonstrate their knowledge and skills concerning these standardized assessments (Marion County School District, 2017). Furthermore, the application of the Dominie Reading and Star Reading assessments to be used for students with learning disabilities can also be an ineffective decision because there are more appropriate alternate assessment tools that can be used for these students (Kingston et al., 2016). Still, if the application of these assessments is possible, it is necessary to modify them. Thus, another need is associated with the aspect of flexibility. Students with different specific needs study in Marion County School District, and assessments, as well as alternate ones, should be flexible to address diverse students’ needs.

Three Applications to K-12 District Assessment

While focusing on the application of the topic regarding alternate assessments to the K-12 assessment procedures followed in Marion County School District, it is important to refer to students with learning disabilities as a target population. Firstly, the authorities of Marion County School District should be provided with the information regarding effective alternate assessment methods that can be used for working with students with disabilities and that address the education standards of South Carolina (Lazarus & Rieke, 2013). Secondly, the school district authorities should be informed regarding the approaches to adapting the Dominie Reading and Star Reading assessments to the evaluation of students’ performance because these combined tools were previously used in Marion County School District, and their application requires only minor modifications.

Finally, it is important to support the integration of more alternate assessments in the curriculum developed for diverse groups of students. Different assessment tools and practices can be used in addition to traditional methods and possible adjustments. It is important to focus on the integration of assessment checklists, observations, performance assessments, portfolios, computerized assessments, and self-assessments (Tindal et al., 2016). The currently used reading and writing assessments adopted in Marion County School District are numerous and rather appropriate, but more effective tools can be applied to the teaching practice in this district to ensure the improvement in students’ performance.

Conclusion

The paper has provided a discussion of such topics as the application of alternative assessment methods for working with different groups of students, including students with learning disabilities. Marion County School District is a specific school district selected for this project. Even though the authorities of this school district pay much attention to applying effective reading and writing assessment tools for diverse students from all grades, the use of alternate assessments still requires improvement. The reason is that current political, legal, and administrative issues can influence the process of applying alternate assessments for all students, including those who study according to their plans. This problem remains unresolved about the Marion County School District, and more attention should be paid to applying appropriate alternate assessment methods for measuring the achievements of students with specific learning needs.

References

Cho, H. J., & Kingston, N. (2013). Why IEP teams assign low performers with mild disabilities to the alternate assessment based on alternate achievement standards. The Journal of Special Education, 47(3), 162-174.

Kingston, N., Karvonen, M., Bechard, S., & Erickson, K. A. (2016). The philosophical underpinnings and key features of the dynamic learning maps alternate assessment. Teachers College Record, 118(14), 14-19.

Lazarus, S. S., & Rieke, R. (2013). Leading the transition from the alternate assessment based on modified achievement standards to the general assessment. Journal of Special Education Leadership, 26(1), 25-30.

Marion County School District. (2017). Strategic plans: MCSD 2017-2018 reading plan. Web.

Tindal, G., Nese, J. F., Farley, D., Saven, J. L., & Elliott, S. N. (2016). Documenting reading achievement and growth for students taking alternate assessments. Exceptional Children, 82(3), 321-336.