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Logo for the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. (Courtesy DESE)
Logo for the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. (Courtesy DESE)
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State education officials are hoping to extend a waiver of a federal requirement that limits the number of students in the state who can take alternative assessments on statewide standardized tests.

Under the requirements of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, states must limit how many students take “alternate assessment based on achievement standards” to 1% of the number of students who sit for statewide tests, according to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Students with cognitive disabilities are administered alternate versions of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System test, called MCAS-Alt, because they cannot participate in the standard test, even with accommodations.

The aim of the Every Student Succeeds Act is to “prevent the designation of an excessive number of students with disabilities for alternate assessments, since this may lower academic expectations unnecessarily and limit access by those students to the full range of grade-level academic content standards,” according to a notice from DESE Chief Officer for Assessment Rob Curtin.

A waiver of the 1% requirement was previously granted to Massachusetts in December 2017, for the 2017-2018 school year, and waiver extensions have been granted each year since. This extension request would apply for the 2022-2023 school year.

The number of students who have had to take alternative MCAS tests has been steadily declining since the first waiver request in 2017. In the 2016-2017 school year, 1.6% of the student population took the alternative test, 1.4% did in 2018-2019, and it was down to 1.2% last year in the 2021-2022 school year.

“As these data indicate, Massachusetts has made steady and substantial progress in reducing the number of students taking the MCAS-Alt. Reaching the one-percent threshold set by ESSA, however, will likely take several more years,” says Curtin’s notice. “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.”

The department is accepting public comment on the waiver request submitted via email to mcas@doe.mass.edu until Dec. 16.