State Standardized Testing

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State-assigned standardized tests are given to all students at various time points in their academic careers. They help families and teachers know how students are performing compared to same-grade peers and also help measure an individual school’s performance. Two types of tests are used: (1) standards-based tests; and (2) tests of general knowledge.

Students with disabilities may be entitled to receive accommodations while taking state-assigned standardized testing. Accommodations may include taking the test in an alternate location, having extra time on the test, having the directions read, having the test read (except for reading comprehension sections), or using assistive technology. Whether or not your child will receive testing accommodations will be decided by your child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) team. In general, if your child does not receive accommodations on classroom tests, it is unlikely he or she will receive accommodations on state-assigned standardized testing.

Standards-Based Tests

Standards-based tests are tests which are developed by states and which match the content contained within the state’s established curriculum for each grade (known as the Common Core Standards). The federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) requires that all public school students take standardized standards-based tests in reading and math each year between 3rd and 8th grade and at least one time between 10th and 12th grade. Additionally, science assessments must be given at least once between 3rd and 5th grade, between 6th and 9th grade, and between 10th and 12th grade. States may choose to test more frequently and/or include additional subjects. Under NCLB, schools must demonstrate Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) on these standards-based tests. In general, AYP is achieved when a specific grade level at a school performs better on the standardized testing than the previous year’s class did on the same grade level testing.

A very small number of students are permitted to take alternate assessments. Each state can set its own guidelines for who is eligible for the alternate tests. For example, in Pennsylvania, the majority of school students take the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA), which is Pennsylvania’s primary standards-based test. The Pennsylvania Alternate System of Assessment (PASA) is available for students with severe cognitive disability. It can be adjusted to different levels of ability. Only students who meet six very restrictive criteria are eligible to take the PASA. Those criteria are as follows:

  • The student is in grade 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, or 11;
  • The student has a severe cognitive disability;
  • The student requires very intensive instruction to learn;
  • The student requires very extensive adaptations and support to perform and/or participate meaningfully and productively in the everyday life activities of integrated school, home, community, and work environments;
  • The student requires very substantial modification of the general education curriculum; and
  • The student’s participation in the general education curriculum differs very substantially in form and/or substance from that of most other students (for example, requires modified objectives, materials, and/or activities).

Each year, your school district must provide you with a progress report on how the district is doing on standard-based tests and how your child’s particular school is performing. (You will receive this report in addition to your child’s individual scores.) These district and school reports are broken out by subgroups, which enable you to see how certain categories of students, for example, students with disabilities, are performing. The reports will also tell you if the federal government has identified your school as needing improvement, needing corrective action, or needing restructuring. In certain circumstances, if your child’s school is repeatedly not making AYP, your child may be eligible for supplemental educational services (for example, tutoring) or you may be able to send your child to a different school. If your child has not performed well on standard-based tests and your child’s school has repeatedly not made AYP, talk to your child’s principal about your options. You may also want to consult a special education attorney.

Tests of General Knowledge

In addition to state tests matched to state-determined content standards, schools also administer tests of general knowledge. These tests are administered to students across the country. Many districts in Pennsylvania and other states use the Measure of Academic Progress (MAP) test. It is taken on a computer and adapts its difficulty to each student’s responses. If the student answers a question correctly, a more challenging question is asked next. Similarly, if the student misses a question, an easier question is presented. The test is available for math, reading, and science and is very short – less than one hour for each subject. It is usually given each year, which allows for comparison over time. Many districts use the MAP tests as a way to gauge academic progress of students receiving special education services, though they are also used for students without disabilities.

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Last Updated: December 1, 2016

The Center for Autism Research and The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia do not endorse or recommend any specific person or organization or form of treatment. The information included within the CAR Autism Roadmap™ and CAR Resource Directory™ should not be considered medical advice and should serve only as a guide to resources publicly and privately available. Choosing a treatment, course of action, and/or a resource is a personal decision, which should take into account each individual's and family's particular circumstances.


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