Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Logo
Special Education

Administrative Advisory SPED 2002-4Revised

Special Education Students in Out-of-District Placements — Participation in MCAS Testing and High School Graduation Standards

To:Superintendents, Charter School Leaders, Special Education Administrators, Directors of Educational Collaboratives, Directors of Approved Public and Private Special Education Schools and other Interested Parties
From:David P. Driscoll, Commissioner of Education
Date:October 7, 2002

This advisory relates to all Massachusetts students who are receiving a publicly funded education in an out-of-district day or residential school, having been placed in the school by a Massachusetts school district under the special education law. The purpose of this advisory is to clarify the responsibility for these students' participation in the MCAS (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System) testing program and the standards for award of a high school diploma starting with the class of 2003.

Participation in the MCAS Assessment Program

All publicly funded students at the grade levels being tested, including students in charter schools, in institutional school programs, in educational collaboratives and in private special education schools, participate in the MCAS program. This requirement of universal participation ensures that all students will have the opportunity to learn the material covered by the academic learning standards in the Massachusetts curriculum frameworks.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has made an effort to identify all schools, including those out of state, that are providing publicly funded education to Massachusetts students, so that the students may be included in the MCAS program. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education asks Massachusetts school districts to identify the students they have placed in out-of-district programs and the location of the programs. The Department then arranges for the out-of-district schools to receive testing materials and administer the MCAS tests.

Beginning in FY 2001, the MCAS test results for students in out-of-district programs have been included in the results for the sending Massachusetts school districts as well as provided to each out-of-district program. In accordance with the Special Education Regulations, 603 CMR 28.06(3) and 28.09, the sending school district is responsible for ensuring that each student it has placed in an out-of-district program participates in MCAS, as follows:

  1. The school district monitors the provision of services to and the programs of individual students placed out-of-district. 603 CMR 28.06(3)(b).

  2. The school district enters into a written contract with each out-of-district placement to ensure that the student(s) the school district has placed in the program receive all appropriate services, including assessment services. 603 CMR 28.06(3)(f).

  3. Day and residential school programs approved by the Department under 603 CMR 28.09 are required to have "written procedures outlining how such schools will ensure that enrolled students also participate in state assessment programs in accordance with the assessment participation information provided on the student's IEP." 603 CMR 28.09(9)(d). The sending school district may obtain a copy of the school's written procedures for student assessment.

  4. The school district's authority and responsibility covers not only approved day and residential special education schools, but also unapproved programs for which the district has met the requirements of 603 CMR 28.06(3)(e) for placement of publicly funded students. The district may choose to delegate the task of ensuring participation in the MCAS program to the unapproved program using the written contract required under 603 CMR 28.06(3)(f).

Award of the High School Diploma

Under the special education law, a student with a disability who requires special education is entitled to receive publicly funded special education until s/he turns twenty-two or "attains a high school diploma or its equivalent," whichever comes first. General Laws c. 71B, s.1. Starting with the high school graduating class of 2003, satisfaction of the requirements of the competency determination — performance at the level of 220 or better on the grade 10 MCAS in English language arts and mathematics — is a condition for high school graduation or receipt of a high school diploma. General Laws c. 69, s. 1D. These two laws provide the framework for the award of the high school diploma to students who are receiving publicly funded education in an out-of-district special education program, as follows:

  1. At least one year in advance of a probable graduation date, the sending public school district has the responsibility to convene a Team meeting for annual review of the IEP. At this meeting, the public school must indicate whether the student is expected to meet high school graduation standards and communicate the likelihood of graduation to the parent at the meeting and in the IEP that is proposed for the student. For students in out-of-district placements, the Team meeting at which this discussion takes place should include a representative of the out-of-district program so that there is a common understanding among the public school, the out-of-district program, the parent, and the student, of the likelihood of graduation.

  2. The standards for award of the high school diploma include requirements set by the district and state standards including, as of 2003, the competency determination standard. However, by choosing to send a student to an out-of-district program, the public school district is accepting the out-of-district program as sufficient to meet local requirements that are necessary for graduation in addition to the competency determination.

  3. For programs approved by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education in accordance with 603 CMR 28.09 (the "approved" private and public day and residential programs), the sending public school district shall assume that the approved special education school has aligned the school curriculum with the state curriculum frameworks consistent with 603 CMR 28.09(9)(b).

  4. For unapproved programs, the sending public school district is responsible to ensure that the curricular program of the unapproved school is sufficient to allow the student to make effective progress toward Massachusetts state standards.

  5. Beginning with the high school graduating class of 2003, the granting of a "high school diploma" for students served in out-of-district placements signifies, at a minimum, the successful completion of the state competency determination through the MCAS grade 10 testing program in English language arts and mathematics.

  6. All students who receive a publicly funded special education program must be provided with an opportunity to participate in the MCAS testing program (or alternate assessment) according to the federal special education law and MCAS administration guidelines published by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

  7. As in the past, any school, including a public school, an educational collaborative, a private special education school, or other out-of-district education agency may issue a certificate to a publicly funded student. The certificate may recognize achievement, attendance, course completion, or participation.

  8. A publicly funded student who receives a certificate from a private special education school or other out-of-district education program in 2003 or thereafter, but who has not received a high school diploma or its equivalent, is entitled to continue receiving publicly funded special education services as long as the student continues to meet the eligibility criteria for such services. The right to continued services ends when the student turns 22 or receives a high school diploma or its equivalent, whichever comes first.

  9. Beginning with the high school graduating class of 2003, a certificate issued to a publicly funded student by an out-of-district program may only be called a "diploma" and indicate "high school graduation" if the student has met the state MCAS competency determination standard.

    1. In these circumstances, either the sending school district or the out-of-district program, or both jointly, may award a high school diploma to the student.
    2. If the high school diploma is awarded by the out-of-district program, then the diploma shall indicate that the student has met state standards for high school graduation, and that the diploma is awarded "by the [Name of out-of-district School or Program,] according to the standards of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts."
    3. A student who earns the high school diploma from the out-of-district placement is also entitled, upon request, to receive a diploma from the sending school district indicating that the student met state and local graduation standards under the auspices of the school district.

In closing, we hope this information is helpful to public and private special education school administrators in ensuring that local practices are consistent with requirements for the participation in MCAS testing and high school graduation standards for eligible students with disabilities. If you have any questions or require additional information, please contact Program Quality Assurance Services at the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (781-338-3700). Thank you for your attention to this memorandum and for assuring that students with disabilities receive appropriate services.

Last Updated: October 7, 2002

Contact Us

Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
135 Santilli Highway, Everett, MA 02149

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.