Part 2: Alternative Assessments and Alternative Education Programs
The Maryland alternative assessment, previously called ALT-MSA, is now referred to as the MSAA, Multi-State Alternative Assessment. Alternative assessments are only for students who have significant cognitive disabilities. A single score on an IQ assessment is not to be the determining factor as to whether a student has a significant cognitive disability. Students demonstrating academic deficits or difficulties solely due to specific learning disabilities (SLD), speech-language impairments, other health impairments (OHI), and emotional-behavioral disabilities (ED) do not qualify for the Maryland alternate assessments. Individualized Education Program (IEP) teams must consider multiple factors in determining whether a student qualifies as a student with a significant cognitive disability such as psychological assessments, adaptive skills, assessment data, and performance in the curriculum. Students who take the MSAA are taught using alternative academic standards and will not receive the instruction needed to earn a diploma. IEP teams must review the student's determination as to whether they qualify for alternative assessment annually.
Parents who do not believe their child has a significant cognitive disability and does not qualify for alternative assessments should request an IEP meeting to discuss and document their disagreement by refusing consent.
Refusing consent: When a parent refuses consent for an alternative assessment, the IEP team/school district must either accept the parents' refusal and continue the child on a diploma track and continue to provide the student with a free appropriate public education (FAPE) or pursue mediation or due process. If a school district seeks mediation or due process, they would be asking an administrative law judge to override the parents refusal and allow the school district to teach the student using alternative curriculum, test the child using the alternative assessment, and to ultimately be removing the child from pursuing a diploma.
Neither consent nor refuse: When a parent does not want to make a decision as to their child qualifying for alternative assessments, they can choose to neither consent nor refuse to consent. In other words, they would not indicate consent either way. In abstaining from consent or refusal, the school-based members of the IEP team's recommendation will go into effect once prior written notice has been provided.
If a parent consents to their child taking an alternative assessment, the child will be taught using alternative curriculum.
The decision as to whether a student qualifies for an alternative assessment is extremely important. Taking the alternative assessment means the student receives significantly modified curriculum. The longer the student is taught using the modified curriculum, the less likely the child will be prepared to attain a diploma. The Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) provided guidance that, "IEP teams should be especially cautious about students with significant cognitive disabilities participating in an alternate assessment in their early school years." Maryland Guidance for IEP Teams on Participation Decisions for the Alternate Assessments Until an IEP team is absolutely certain a student meets all of the eligibility criteria, the team should err on the side of caution and continue instructing the student in the general curriculum.
Alternative Education Program:
An alternative education program is one that does not issue or provide credits towards a Maryland High School Diploma. Students who qualify to take an alternative assessment are instructed using modified curriculum and therefore are not working towards earning credits and a diploma. Some school districts call these programs life skills programs, community based instruction, or alternative academic curriculum programs. The required consent as to whether a student participates in an alternative assessment is a separate consent from the alternative education program. MSDE has clarified that, "While instruction and assessment generally align, the law separates the two in the event that the IEP team determines that only one is appropriate and necessary to meet the student’s needs at a given time."
For example, if an IEP team were to determine that a student should take the regular assessments (i.e., PARCC, HSA) but was to also determine the student required an alternative education program, the instruction and assessment decisions would not be aligned. The parents would then have the opportunity to consent to the alternative education program, refuse to consent, or neither.
If you have questions as to whether your child qualifies for a alternative assessment or whether they need an alternative education program, contact our office for an initial consultation. Our experienced attorneys hold certification in special education, school psychology, and collectively have over 100 years of experience in the field. We will analyze your case and provide you guidance as to your options.
Disclaimer: This blog is made available by the Law Office of Brian K. Gruber, P.C. for educational purposes only as well as to provide general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site, you understand that there is no attorney client relationship between you and the publisher. The blog should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.