All STAAR Modified assessments will be administered for the final time during the 2013–14 assessment cycle, according to an Aug. 2 TEA memo on how the state’s assessment program will transition to meet the requirements of House Bill 5.

The memo stated that the U.S. Department of Education has issued a directive that prohibits the use of modified achievement standards for STAAR for special education students (STAAR-M) for accountability purposes after the 2013-14 school year. TEA said it will share information in the coming months on how this student population will be included in the general assessment program beginning with the 2014-15 school year.

A recent “Houston Chronicle” article stated that the USDE directive was issued after disability advocates had lobbied the federal government to eliminate the modified tests, saying they enabled teachers to avoid holding students with disabilities to the same standards as others.

Back in 2007, the USDE authorized the use of modified achievement standards for up to 2 percent of special education students for federal accountability purposes when it published final regulations in April of that year. These regulations continue to be in effect.

Why USDE allowed modified achievement standards on state tests

When the USDE issued the final regulations, it stated that it was building upon the flexibility that was already available under federal Title I regulations, which allow states to develop alternative academic achievement standards for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities. States can include the scores of students taking these alternate assessments, up to a limit of 1 percent of all students in the grades assessed, in showing proficiency under federal Adequate Yearly Progress requirements.

According to USDE, "Since those regulations were published, the experiences of many states, as well as recent research, indicate that in addition to students with the most significant cognitive disabilities, there is a small group of students whose disability has precluded them from achieving grade-level proficiency and whose progress is such that they will not reach grade-level achievement standards in the same time frame as other students.”

USDE further elaborated that at that time, the only choice for special education students was to either take a grade-level assessment or an alternate assessment based on alternate academic achievement standards and that neither of these options provided an accurate assessment of what these students know and can do.

Accordingly, USDE authorized states to develop assessments based on modified academic achievement standards that cover grade-level content. In response to this authorization, Texas developed such a test – the most recent iteration of which is STAAR-M.

What changed?

Under the current administration, the sentiment at USDE has apparently changed, such that in March 2011, in a speech to the American Association of People With Disabilities conference in Washington, D.C, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said that he would end the so-called “2 percent rule” because “we can no longer celebrate the success of one group of students if another group of students is still struggling. We have to be open and honest about where we fall short.”

At that time, Secretary Duncan said he would end the rule permanently, because "students with disabilities should be judged with the same accountability system as all other students.”

TCTA ready to voice members’ comments on STAAR-M’s elimination

As of this posting, the federal 2 percent rule is still in place. Accordingly, TCTA will monitor the situation for opportunities to provide our members’ comments/concerns about the elimination of the STAAR-M.

TCTA is not aware of any similar effort to eliminate the ability of states to administer tests based on alternative academic achievement standards for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities (STAAR-Alt), and in fact, various ESEA/NCLB reauthorization bills filed by key congressmen either specifically or by implication allow the continued use of these tests.

Finally, due to recently passed state legislation that TCTA supported, TEA must redevelop the STAAR-Alt so that it does not require a teacher to prepare tasks or materials for students who take it, and so that it measures students' growth. TEA must administer the redeveloped test no later than the 2015-16 school year.