Notice of Intent to Apply for a Waiver of Federal Requirement Related to the Percent of Students Who Participate in Statewide Alternate Assessments and Opportunity for Comment

From:Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
Date:July 21, 2017

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education intends to seek a waiver for the 2017-2018 school year of the federal requirement that would limit the number of students in the state who take alternate assessments. The purpose of this notice is to provide you with an opportunity to comment on this intended waiver request. Under the requirements of the reauthorized Elementary and Secondary Education Act, known as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), Massachusetts would need to limit the total number of students who could be designated to participate in the MCAS Alternate Assessment (MCAS-Alt) to 1.0 percent of the students who are required to participate in MCAS. The aim of the legislation is to prevent an excessive number of students with disabilities from being designated for alternate assessments. Participation in an alternate assessment may limit their access to the full range of academic content standards and could, as a result, delay or prevent them from eventually meeting the state's graduation requirements. Generally, students with significant cognitive disabilities are given alternate assessments because they cannot participate in standard assessments, even with accommodations. The 1.0 percent cap is applied uniformly across all states, regardless of the relative frequency of students with disabilities in the school-age population. It is worth noting that Massachusetts currently assesses 1.6 percent of its eligible students on the MCAS-Alt, in part because Massachusetts serves a higher percentage of students with disabilities than do most other states, about 18.6 percent of all students. We anticipate making some progress in the next year to lower the percentage of students taking the MCAS-Alt, but reaching the target set by ESSA would likely take Massachusetts several years. In pursuit of this goal, the Department recently posted a memo and guidance on this topic, and will continue to promote awareness of the need for appropriate assessment of students with disabilities by providing training and oversight. The U.S. Department of Education is allowing states to apply for a waiver of this requirement for the coming school year (2017-2018). The waiver, if granted, will permit Massachusetts to gradually reduce the number of students participating in the MCAS-Alt while continuing to provide oversight and training to schools and districts to assist IEP teams to make informed assessment decisions for students with disabilities. We welcome your comments regarding our intent to apply for this waiver. Comments may be submitted via email to until August 18.

Last Updated: July 21, 2017

Contact Us

Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
75 Pleasant Street, Malden, MA 02148-4906

Voice: (781) 338-3000
TTY: (800) 439-2370


Disclaimer: A reference in this website to any specific commercial products, processes, or services, or the use of any trade, firm, or corporation name is for the information and convenience of the public and does not constitute endorsement or recommendation by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.