The U.S. Department of Education announced proposed regulations on Aug. 23, 2013, that would require states to “transition away from” use of modified tests such as the STAAR-M for special education students after the 2013-14 school year. The proposed regulations emphasize the Department’s commitment to “holding all students to high standards that better prepare them for college and career.”

The announcement followed a TEA statement made in early August 2013 that said the USDE had issued a directive prohibiting the use of modified achievement standards for STAAR-M after the 2013-14 school year.

Comments on new USDE regulations due Oct. 7, 2013

Educators and others may submit comments on the proposed regulations through the Federal eRulemaking Portal. Information on using the portal, including instructions for accessing agency documents, submitting comments, and viewing the docket, is available in the site's FAQs section.

Additionally, TCTA will submit comments on behalf of our members. Those comments will include input received from TCTA members via an online survey. (Update: The survey is now closed. Thank you to all who participated.)

Background on modified standards/tests

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

In the the newly proposed regulations, the Department acknowledges that when it first authorized the use of modified achievement standards in 2007, it did so based on the possibility that neither a general assessment nor an alternate assessment based on alternate academic achievement standards would provide an accurate assessment for certain students with disabilities. This included those whose disability precluded them from achieving grade-level proficiency and those whose progress was such that they would not reach grade-level proficiency in the same time frame as other students.

According to the USDE:

“This position was based on information received from some states, as well as research available at the time, which indicated that general grade-level assessments may be too difficult for this small group of students with disabilities, while alternate assessments based on alternate academic achievement standards may be too easy.

“Since the USDE amended the Title I regulations in April 2007, many states have been working collaboratively to develop and implement general assessments aligned with college- and career-ready standards that will be more accessible to students with disabilities than those in place at the time states began developing alternate assessments based on modified academic achievement standards. These new general assessments will facilitate the valid, reliable, and fair assessment of most students with disabilities, including those for whom alternate assessments based on modified academic achievement standards were intended.

“With the development and implementation of more accessible general assessments, combined with appropriate supports and instruction, we believe that modified academic achievement standards and alternate assessments based on those standards will no longer be educationally appropriate. Consequently, it is no longer in the best interest of students with disabilities for a state to invest further resources in the development or refinement of modified academic achievement standards and alternate assessments based on those standards. Rather, resources for future assessment development are best focused on preparing for implementation of more accessible general assessments, such as those currently being developed in many states.”

The Department further noted that “each of the forty states and the District of Columbia that has received ESEA flexibility has agreed to phase out its use of alternate assessments based on modified academic achievement standards, if it has those assessments, by the 2014-15 school year. Only California, North Dakota, and Texas have an alternate assessment based on modified academic achievement standards but have not received ESEA flexibility, and Texas' request for ESEA flexibility is pending.”