Alternate Assessment: Measuring Outcome and Supports for Students With Disabilities, by Harold L. Kleinhert and Jacqui Farmer Kearns. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes, 2001.
This book is a comprehensive compendium of information on the important topic of alternate assessment for students with significant disabilities. It encompasses a historical overview (chapter 1), a discussion of how assessment should be linked to instructional planning and delivery (chapters 2 through 9), and a discussion of the research findings related to alternate assessment (chapter 10).
Dramatic changes have occurred in the education of learners with significant disabilities since the passage of P.L. 94–142 twenty-seven years ago. Prior to this legislation, students with significant disabilities were often denied educational services altogether. In the 1970s and early 1980s, educational programs were primarily segregated in nature. In the last decade, more and more students with significant disabilities are educated in general education classes, due largely to the advocacy efforts of parents and professionals.
As inclusion increased, professionals were faced with the task of reconceptualizing education for learners with severe disabilities. Given the forced dichotomy of “special education” and “regular education,” special educators were often quite naïve about what occurred in general education classes. Because discreet learning trials and functional skills devoid of relevance to the core curriculum would no longer suffice, teacher trainers and researchers had to determine what were the best practices in general education classes. This book contributes to that knowledge base in numerous ways.
As the authors note, the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act—IDEA (1997) puts additional emphasis on the inclusion of students with disabilities in general education classes by mandating that the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) address participation and progress relative to the general education curriculum. Furthermore, IDEA 97 requires that students with disabilities be included in state and district assessments, and by July of 2000, that alternate assessment be provided for children who cannot participate in these state and district assessments.
Given this mandate, the editors and their contributors are to be commended for this excellent contribution to the field on this topic. Only 4 years after this mandate, they have published a book that will assist state policy makers, teachers, parents, curriculum specialists, and students in their efforts to develop and implement quality alternate assessments that align with general education goals and standards.
The authors begin by providing a historical overview of educational reform. This broader context frames their discussion of the IDEA 97 mandates regarding inclusion of all students with disabilities in statewide and district assessments, or alternate assessments. On p. 5, they clearly state their guiding assumption: “Although IDEA '97 does not explicitly require that alternate assessments for students with disabilities be based on the general curriculum, it is the authors' position throughout this book that it does not make sense to require that all students be included in the general curriculum (including students with significant disabilities) and then not have their learning measured in the context of that same curriculum.” This philosophical position is operationalized throughout the book, as the authors provide numerous practical examples of how students with significant disabilities can be working on functional skills related to general education standards.
In the core of the book, chapters 2 through 9, the authors address the how, why, what, who, and where of alternate assessment. They clearly describe how IEPs should be developed and how the goals and objectives should relate to state standards. They recommend the use of standards with broad outcomes that relate to real-life application and can be applied across grade levels and in several content areas. One suggestion for this book's next edition would be to reference the standards that are listed in the book. For example, are they individual state standards, or are they standards from a national organization (e.g., National Council on Social Studies)? The authors also describe how the IEP objectives could be implemented in daily instruction through various instructional activities. Throughout these chapters, they provide numerous examples of sample goals, objectives, and instructional activities appropriate for children in elementary, middle, high, and postsecondary schools.
In chapters 4, 5, and 6, Kleinhert and Kearns deal primarily with assessment and reiterate two important points. First, assessment and instruction are recursive processes that must be integrally linked. Second, it is critical that students be involved in self-assessment on a regular basis, so as to teach self-determination skills. This involvement can include goal setting, time management, review of progress, and journal reflections. Chapter 6 is replete with examples of ways to teach self-determination and includes excellent sample forms for students with a wide range of competencies.
Several chapters are co-authored by teachers or parents. Their voices add authenticity to this work. For example, many readers will relate to Colleen Bracke's description of her feelings about her son Ryan's 13th birthday party (pp. 167–169) and will applaud Mary Reeves for her description of her daughter Martha's successful science project and its impact on her social relationships. Jean Clayton's discussion of how to embed assessment into daily instruction (pp. 78–83) provides teachers with a useful tool for replication. This section is followed by a discussion of teacher decision-making regarding instructional adaptations, another important component of quality teaching.
In the discussion on developing social relationships (chapter 8), the authors acknowledge the extreme variability regarding inclusion. Recognizing this reality, they go beyond the usual discussion of how to engage peer support by suggesting what special education teachers should do to fully include themselves in their school's culture. In this chapter, the authors discuss how peers can not only support students in the instructional process, but can also be external evaluators by noting the participation and performance of the student in the instructional activity. Such information could supplement existing data sources.
Chapter 7 covers the elements of technology (e.g., various augmentative systems available commercially) that are appropriate for students with significant disabilities and shows how electronic portfolios can support alternate assessments. A complete description of the Indiana Assessment System of Educational Proficiencies enriches this discussion. Numerous web sites on portfolio assessment direct readers to outside sources.
This book is filled with practical suggestions and examples. As teachers and administrators grapple with the implementation of alternate assessment, this information will be invaluable. For example, the timeline for implementation of an alternative portfolio (p. 89) enables readers to see this as a formidable, yet manageable task. In addition, the appendix includes several useful forms that may be photocopied and added to a teacher's existing repertoire.
A final strength of the book is chapter 10, which is devoted to research findings. The authors include descriptions of six research studies related to alternate assessment, including two validation studies. One study reported a significant correlation between the alternate portfolio scores and the overall schoolwide accountability scores for students in 36 Kentucky schools.
In summary, I consider this book to be a valuable addition to what we know about best practices in instruction and assessment for learners with severe disabilities in general education environments. It should be required reading for preservice students in special education teacher preparation programs, and it will serve as a valuable resource for teachers, parents, and other instructional personnel. The authors provide empirical evidence related to various facets of alternate assessment and include a comprehensive and nuanced discussion of the implementation of alternate assessment in educational programs.