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Alternative assessments create accessible standards for interested states

THURSDAY, APRIL 17, 2014 16:58 PM

The challenge of creating a standard testing procedure in schools is that the students themselves aren't standard. In every grade level you will find children who excel, those who meet expectations, and students with cognitive and learning disabilities. Because students are so diverse, more states are adopting the Dynamic Learning Maps Alternative Assessment System. Led by the Center for Educational Testing and Evaluation (CETE), the system is geared toward students with cognitive disabilities and is meant to work alongside the Common Core State Standards.

Meeting the needs of students
According to Education Week, approximately 4 million students are currently undergoing CCSS testing to evaluate the progress of state programs. While the number of kids taking the alternative assessments only reaches into the thousands, the information the tests will glean is still of great importance.

Developers of the alternative assessments are hoping to gather new information from 2014 exams: Can the tests place students on the right spot in a cognitive continuum so the questions are challenging but appropriate? Do teachers and aids understand their role in the alternative tests? How long does it take students of various cognitive levels to answer a question? Are the tests engaging enough to hold the attention of students? In other words, as Director of Dynamic Learning Maps Neal Kingston explained, are the tests truly accessible and laid out in an understandable fashion?

"There's lots of accessibility issues," Kingston told the source. "Sometimes we're really sure what we're looking for, and sometimes we don't know what's going to happen."

Goals of the assessments
The designers of the alternative assessments clearly have a lot to consider as they build their tests. For example, they want to modify questions and problems similar to those on CCSS assessments without being too accommodating. While the students should still be challenged, they must also take tests that are geared toward their success. 

Assessments and standards for cognitively challenged students can't look identical to those other children use. Data is paramount to creating such a set of standards for this group. Creators must compare the learning level of cognitively challenged students to that of kids at the same grade level with more accelerated skills. Once the CETE discovers that information, it can create grade level-based standards similar to CCSS for students with cognitive disabilities.

States are joining
Currently 18 states have either joined the Alternative Assessment System or have pledged to do so. Students who have the benefit of joining the system follow a map of sorts. Though all children begin their educational journey at different spots, they all have the same end goal. The alternative standards will help them arrive at academic success.