Teen student with his head bent over his schoolwork.January 2017
A collaborative publication of the Center for Parent Information and Resources (CPIR) and The Advocacy Institute
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This fact sheet is designed to accompany the Stakeholder Guide to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and gives you a brief overview of ESSA’s requirements for academic assessment of students with disabilities.  It’s organized in a Q&A format. Click on a question below, to quickly access specific information, or keep scrolling to read the full fact sheet.

  1. What academic assessments are required by the ESSA?
  2. Are the academic content and achievement standards on which these assessments are based the same in every state?
  3. How are students with disabilities to be included in the state academic assessments?
  4. Are the requirements for student participation the same in every state?
  5. What accommodations must be provided to students with disabilities on academic assessments?
  6. Who decides the accommodations that will be provided to students with disabilities on academic assessments?
  7. How is the performance of students with disabilities reported?
  8. Should parents be provided with an explanation of how their child performed on state assessments?
  9. What is the connection between a student’s IEP and the student’s participation in state academic assessments?
  10. Do the assessments required by ESSA have student “stakes” such as promotion to the next grade or receipt of a regular diploma?

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1. What academic assessments are required by the ESSA?

ESSA requires states to give the following academic assessments to all public school students each year:

  • Mathematics | In each of grades 3 through 8; and at least once in grades 9 through 12
  • Reading or language arts | In each of grades 3 through 8; and at least once in grades 9 through 12;
  • Science | One time during grades 3 through 5; grades 6 through 9; and grades 10 through 12.

These assessments must be aligned with the state’s academic content and achievement standards. In addition, states must give an annual assessment of English language proficiency to all English learners.

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2. Are the academic content and achievement standards on which these assessments are based the same in every state?

No. ESSA requires each state to adopt challenging academic content standards in mathematics, reading or language arts, and science that:

  • align with entrance requirements for credit-bearing coursework [not remedial instruction programs] in the system of public higher education in the state and relevant state career and technical education standards;
  • apply to all public schools and public school students in the state, including students with disabilities.

ESSA also requires each state to adopt academic achievement standards that:

  • are aligned with the content standards;
  • include not less than 3 levels of achievement; and
  • include the same knowledge, skills, and levels of achievement expected of all public school students in the state except for students identified with the most significant cognitive disabilities.

The U.S. Department of Education does not review or approve the states’ academic content and achievement standards. Therefore, academic content and achievement standards can and do vary from state to state. While most states have adopted the Common Core State Standards, several states have developed their own academic content standards.

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3. How are students with disabilities to be included in the state academic assessments?

ESSA requires that students with disabilities participate in the same academic assessments as all other students, with only one limited exception for those students with the most significant cognitive disabilities (see Alternate Assessment Fact Sheet). This means that the vast majority of students with disabilities should will take the academic assessments. (ESSA requires that students with disabilities be provided with appropriate accommodations, as will be discussed in a moment.)

Equally important, ESSA requires that students with disabilities participate in the assessment for their enrolled grade. In other words, a student in grade 6 cannot be given the assessment designed for grade 4. This ensures that the information about how students with disabilities are doing academically is based on their enrolled grade, providing critical information for schools and parents.

English learners with disabilities must be given both the test of English language proficiency and the academic assessments.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) also requires states to include students with disabilities in all state and district-wide assessments.

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4. Are the requirements for student participation the same in every state?

Yes. Every state must assess all students in the grades previously described every year. Students may also be expected to participate in assessments in other subject areas, such as history, geography, and writing skills, if and when the state requires it. However, ESSA requires assessments only in the areas of reading/language arts, math, and science.

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5. What accommodations must be provided to students with disabilities on academic assessments?

ESSA requires states to provide the appropriate accommodations, such as interoperability with, and ability to use, assistive technology, for students with disabilities (as defined by IDEA), including students with the most significant cognitive disabilities and students covered under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, that are necessary to measure the academic achievement of such children.

It’s also important that students with disabilities have practice in using or applying the accommodations to be provided during assessments. Accommodations provided to a student during state assessments must also be provided during classroom instruction, classroom assessments, and district assessments. However, some instructional accommodations may not be appropriate for use on certain statewide assessments. For example, reading a test to the student may invalidate a reading test. Some states have determined certain accommodations to be “standard” or “nonstandard” and may instruct Individualized Education Program (IEP) teams to only select accommodations that the state has determined will not invalidate the results of a particular test or portion of a test.

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6. Who decides the accommodations that will be provided to students with disabilities on academic assessments?

The IDEA requires the student’s IEP team to make decisions regarding the accommodations to be provided during assessments. Students must be provided accommodations based on individual need as long as the accommodations do not invalidate the assessment.

In order to make sound decisions regarding accommodations, the IEP team members must be familiar with the state’s academic content standards and state accommodation guidelines.

Assessment accommodations should be documented in the student’s IEP. Test accommodations should be reviewed annually and updated and revised as needed. While the IEP team is responsible for determining the specific accommodations a student needs to participate in state assessments, the IEP team may not exempt a student from participating.

The same procedures should be followed for students with Section 504 Plans.

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7. How is the performance of students with disabilities reported?

Individual test scores will not be made available to the public. Only the parents and school receive the results of an individual child’s tests.

ESSA requires student performance on state academic assessments to be disaggregated (or broken out) for several subgroups of students: economically disadvantaged racial/ethnic groups, special education students, and English learners at the school, district, and state levels. (Disaggregated assessment results are only reported when the number of students in the subgroup meets or exceeds the “minimum” number of students set by the state.)

This disaggregation is designed to allow the performance and expectations of historically low-performing groups of students – including students with disabilities – to be visible to the public so that performance gaps are identified. This information must be included in the annual state and local school district report cards required by ESSA.

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8. Should parents be provided with an explanation of how their child performed on state assessments?

Yes. Parents should be provided with user-friendly information on how their child performed, including an explanation of achievement levels. Teachers should also let parents know how they will use the test results to improve instruction.

Unfortunately, a recent survey of perceptions of assessments found that 61% of parents say their child’s teachers rarely or never discuss their child’s assessment results with them. So there is an urgent need for better, more frequent communication between teachers and parents.

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9. What is the connection between a student’s IEP and the student’s participation in state academic assessments?

While a student’s participation in academic assessments is required by both ESSA and IDEA, the results of that participation provide valuable information that should be incorporated into a student’s IEP.

In November 2015 the U.S. Department of Education distributed guidance to states that stated:

To help make certain that children with disabilities are held to high expectations and have meaningful access to a State’s academic content standards, we write to clarify that an individualized education program (IEP) for an eligible child with a
disability under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) must be aligned with the State’s academic content standards for the grade in which the child is enrolled.

A student’s “present levels of academic achievement and functional performance” should include the student’s performance on the most recent state academic assessments. The student’s measurable annual goals should be aligned with the academic content standards for the student’s enrolled grade, regardless of how far behind the student might be performing.

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10. Do the assessments required by ESSA have student “stakes” such as promotion to the next grade or receipt of a regular diploma?

No. States have the option to add student “stakes” to their standards and assessment systems. In some states students are required to pass one or more high school assessments as a condition of receiving a diploma. Some states require students to achieve at certain levels on assessments to be promoted to subsequent grades. However, student “stakes” are not a requirement of ESSA.

While ESSA requires that all students be assessed, the emphasis of such assessments is focused on group measures, rather than on one individual student. These group measures are used to evaluate the performance of entire schools, school districts, and states. Additionally, ESSA puts a strong focus on the performance of subgroups of students that have traditionally experienced poor academic achievement, such as minority students, students with limited English proficiency, and students with disabilities.

As ESSA states, “The purpose of this title is to provide all children significant opportunity to receive a fair, equitable, and high-quality education, and to close educational achievement gaps.”

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Other Fact Sheets on ESSA

CPIR offers additional fact sheets on ESSA that may interest you. They are:

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Authorship | This guide has been produced in a partnership between the Center for Parent Information and Resources (CPIR) and The Advocacy Institute under a cooperative agreement from the U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs.
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