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Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System

The MCAS Alternate Assessment (MCAS-Alt) and the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)

ESSA mandates that the DESE monitor and offer technical assistance to districts over the one percent cap.

ESSA states in part that

…"a State may provide for alternate assessments aligned with the challenging State academic standards and alternate academic achievement standards…for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities, if the State…ensures that, for each subject, the total number of students assessed in such subject using the alternate assessments does not exceed one percent of the total number of all students in the State who are assessed in such subject"

….." States that adopt Alternate Assessments based on Alternate Achievement Standards must create a "definition for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities …which addresses factors related to cognitive functioning and adaptive behavior…"

Each year the state must request a waiver extension if the projection for the state is over the one percent cap.

Determining Which Students Should Participate in the Alternate Assessment

Massachusetts defines "students with the most significant cognitive disabilities" are students who demonstrate all four criteria:

  1. have cognitive disabilities evidenced by significant delays in attaining age-level academic achievement standards, even with systematic, extensive individually designed instruction, related services, and modifications; and
  2. have cognitive disabilities that significantly impact their educational performance and ability to apply learning from one setting to another; and
  3. require extensive, direct individualized instruction and substantial support to achieve measurable gains on the challenging State academic content standards for the grade in which the student is enrolled; and
  4. perform significantly below average in general cognitive functioning and adaptive behavior. This is defined as a student functioning two or more standard deviations below the mean on commonly accepted norm-referenced assessments in both cognitive functioning and adaptive behavior (e.g., two or more adaptive skill areas such as daily living skills, communication, self-care, social skills, and academic skills).

All districts must address any disproportionality of students in any subgroup taking the alternate assessment, per 34 CFR 200.6(c)(4)(iii)(B)

  • Each district will collect, disaggregate, and review the MCAS-Alt participation rates for students within the following subgroups: male, female, English learners (ELs), African-American, White, Asian, Hispanic/Latino, and economically disadvantaged.

  • Districts will review the available data School and District Profiles. If the district determines that disproportionality exists, the district must develop an action plan that includes professional development for staff who make decisions during IEP team meetings regarding assessment participation for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities.

  • Students who take the MCAS-Alt will continue to receive instruction in the general curriculum beyond what is necessary to collect materials and data for the student's MCAS-Alt.

  • Students with significant disabilities who are performing at or near grade-level expectations, but who are unable to demonstrate knowledge and skills on a paper- or computer-based test, even with accommodations, will be considered for a "grade-level" or "competency" portfolio.

If you wish to review DESE's waiver or a district's justification and statement of assurances, please contact Student Assessment by email or phone at 781-338-3625. Thank you very much for your attention to this matter.

Last Updated: May 7, 2024

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