Alternate Assessment

29 Mar


True to my last post, I’m procrastinating.  I’m putting off what I could do today for tomorrow.  Specifically, writing up a GAA portfolio. GAA = Georgia Alternate Assessment.


NCLB says that all students must be assessed at varying times, in order to determine whether or not the school has made AYP.  99% of all students take some sort of standardized test.  In

High School, that would be the high school graduation test.  But what about the other 1%?


This is where the science of teaching intersects with the art.  Students with intellectual disabilities who are in an alternate and functional curriculum can undergo some sort of alternative assessment, which we in
Georgia call the GAA.  But only 1% of all students may be in the GAA.  Every student in the GAA over the 1% mark counts as a failure towards AYP.  Otherwise, schools would be herding all of their special education students into alternate assessments.


So what, exactly is an alternate assessment?  Obviously, my students can not take a pencil and paper test, filling in little bubbles.  They would eat the tests, the pencils and possibly the proctors.  No amount of accommodation or support is going to get them through such a test.  But we still have to measure their progress, somehow.  We still have to be held to some sort of rigorous standard of accountability, right George?  So how do we get these kids to participate? I’m almost embarrassed to tell you.


The year before the student enters the 11th grade (when they would be taking the high school graduation test) we sit down at the IEP and decide which goals should be included in the GAA.  Actually, I decide because no one else on the committee really cares.  I pick out 5 goals, with one of them having to be a communication goal.  Making sure to write out the goals as explicitly as possible and making sure it is measurable, I pluck these 5 goals from the IEP, one each from several domains.  There are 8 possible domains: Communication (required), Social/emotional, Recreation/leisure, Motor, Community, Vocational, Cognitive/functional academics, Daily living/personal management.  So the GAA I’m procrastination on has one objective from the daily living skill domain, specifically to make simple meals such as making a sandwich, with 80% of the steps being done independently over 3 consecutive sessions.  Throughout the year, I keep track of him making sandwiches during our daily living skill time and observe how independent he is.  Which it turns out, he is almost 100% independent in this.  Great! 


So when his IEP comes, I check off this goal as mastered, and on the GAA recording sheet I get to bubble in “Functional” as in the goal has been mastered.  If he didn’t quite make it, but made 50% or more of his goal, I bubble in “Progressing.”  Heaven help me if this student is not either functional or progressing, because that would count as a failure on the AYP.  Two other ratings are “Emerging” and “Initial” which we will never ever bubble in again, after we failed to make AYP 2 years ago.  Our instructions from our principal are explicit and direct: ALL GAA students MUST be either functional or progressing on all goals.  No exceptions.  No Excuses.  So this is why I picked easy goals that I was pretty sure this student could do.  I also pick objectives that are easy to measure.  All objectives are supposed to be measurable, and my IEPs are among the few in the world where all of the goals adhere to GAA standards. 


Up till now, you are wondering; what am I procrastinating on?  In addition to bubbling in sheets, I have to write up some sort of portfolio on each objective that is one page long.  This should include a discussion of the data collection system, results and discussion of his progress.  I’m good with graphs so I can take graduated prompting or discrete trial data to make something that takes up half a page.  But then I have to come up with more content.  For my sandwich goal, this will be a bit challenging as I can’t find his data sheets.  At least I had/have them as most teachers don’t have real data.  So I’m going to have to resort to doing what other teachers do: make it up.  There’s where the artist in me comes into play.  I have data sheets on all the other objectives, but this one doesn’t have much documentation.  And I’M not going to be the one to have my student cause the entire school to not make AYP.  So there you have it.  Alternate assessment has a lot of room for subjectivity and messing around which is why only 1% of students are allowed to be in it.  For students like mine, the whole concept of AYP is a bit ridiculous since we’re more often concerned with maintaining performance rather than progressing.  Students with CP, seizures, other health problems and severe cognitive deficits often get worse as they get older.  Students with Down Syndrome frequently have health problems as they enter something akin to “middle age” in late adolescence.  This is not to say they can not learn, because they can and it’s my job to teach them.  But their goals don’t resemble what the rest of the high school students are working on.


Next year, the GAA will be aligned with the regular, grade level curriculum.  We still do not know how it will manifest itself but changes are coming down the pike that will make things more difficult challenging. 


I guess I might as well stop procrastinating and start writing.




2 Responses to “Alternate Assessment”

  1. B. Smith September 7, 2006 at 8:03 am #

    Well, Dick – I feel your pain. We had our first meeting yesterday about the new GAA process and I want to know what you think about the new way to assess your students using GAA. I also have severe and profound students and am at a loss as to what I am going to do. I guess I’m looking for someone to complain with. PLEASE HELP ME!!

  2. Dick Dalton September 7, 2006 at 9:44 pm #

    Last spring I attended a meeting just for this, but obviously not all teachers went. Every place they presented was packed. I was rescheduled twice and ended up driving to Macon!

    When we have our meeting, I’ll post an update and share what I’m doing. I’m not sure exactly what I’m going to do yet, because we haven’t heard the full story. But I have sort-of ideas. One thing for sure: it’s going to be more work for us teachers. Hang in there, because what you’re doing is important enough that the paperwork stuff can be forgiven more than neglecting the kids. We just do what we’ve always done: our very best!


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