MCAS Alternate Assessment (MCAS-Alt)

Notice of Intent to Apply and Opportunity for Comment Regarding a Waiver Extension of the Federal Requirement Related to the Percentage of Students who Participate in Statewide Alternate Assessments

To:Interested Educators and Members of the Public
From:Jeffrey C. Riley, Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education
Date:August 28, 2018

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (Department) intends to seek a renewal for the upcoming 2018–2019 school year of its existing waiver of the federal requirement that would limit the number of students in the state who take alternate assessments to one percent of eligible students. The purpose of this notice is to provide you with an opportunity to comment on the request for a waiver by the Department. A waiver of the "one percent requirement" was previously granted to Massachusetts by the U.S. Department of Education in December 2017 for the 2017–2018 school year.

Under the requirements of the reauthorized Elementary and Secondary Education Act, known as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), states must limit the total number of students designated to participate in statewide alternate assessments based on alternate achievement standards to 1.0 percent of the total number of students required to participate in statewide assessments. The aim of the legislation is to prevent designation of an excessive number of students with disabilities for alternate assessments, since this may limit access by those students to the full range of academic content standards and could, as a result, delay or prevent them from eventually meeting their state's graduation requirements. Generally, students with significant cognitive disabilities are administered alternate assessments because they cannot participate in standard assessments, even with accommodations. In Massachusetts, the alternate assessment based on alternate achievement standards is the MCAS Alternate Assessment, or MCAS-Alt.

Massachusetts alternately assessed a total of 7,951 students in the 2017–2018 school year, or just under 1.6 percent of its MCAS-eligible students. This represents a decrease of 590 students taking the MCAS-Alt from the previous school year (2016–2017), during which 1.7 percent of eligible students were alternately assessed. As these data indicate, we have made progress in reducing the number of students taking the MCAS-Alt, but reaching the target set by ESSA (i.e., 1.0 percent) will likely take several years. In pursuit of this goal, the Department has posted a memo containing guidance and resources on this topic for Massachusetts schools and districts, and will continue to promote awareness of the need for appropriate assessment of students with disabilities through statewide training and oversight.

It is worth noting that the "one percent cap" is applied uniformly across all states, regardless of the relative percentage of students with disabilities in a state's school-age population. Given a national average of 13.0 percent of school-age students receiving special education, Massachusetts serves a relatively high 17.7 percent of all students. The overall percentage of students taking alternate assessments in Massachusetts, therefore, might be expected to be higher than in most states.

The U.S. Department of Education is permitting states to apply for a renewal of their "one percent" waivers for the 2018–2019 school year. To be eligible for a waiver, states must demonstrate progress and continued efforts to lower the number of students taking alternate assessments, as well as a participation rate of 95 percent or higher in statewide assessments. The waiver, if granted, will permit Massachusetts to gradually reduce the number of students participating in the MCAS-Alt while continuing to provide oversight, resources, and training to assist IEP teams in making 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 September 28.

Last Updated: August 29, 2018

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