By Chris McGuinness

Killeen Daily Herald

Texas school districts preparing their classes for the new state assessment test this month also will have a version of the exam available for special education students.

Besides the standard State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness, two tests will measure special education students' academic progress: the STAAR Alternate and STAAR Modified.

"These tests are designed for students with disabilities and are assigned based on the needs of the student and criteria set by the state," said Teresa Daugherty, director of academic assessment and accountability for the Killeen Independent School District.

The STAAR Alternate test is designed for students with "the most significant cognitive disabilities" who cannot take the standard STAAR even with accommodations or heavy modifications, according to the Texas Education Agency.

"The state takes the requirements and breaks them down to very basic concepts," said Matt Howell, an assessment and accountability coordinator for the Killeen district. "Let's say the concept is geometry and spacial reasoning; it would be boiled down to recognizing basic shapes."

The STAAR Modified is most similar to the standard test because it still tests students on grade-level curriculum but delivers the questions in a manner suited to the needs of special education students.

"For example, the student will have fewer answers to choose from, and (the) language of the (test) questions is simplified," said Daugherty. "It's a different way of delivering the same curriculum."

The federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act, previously called No Child Left Behind, requires that all students have access to general education curriculum and be assessed on that curriculum through state tests. The law makes no exemptions for students with cognitive disabilities.

Special education students must meet the basic criteria set by the state in order to take the alternate or modified test. Then, an admission, review and dismissal committee of school administrators, special eduction staff, teachers and parents must meet and decide which of the tests, if any, the student will take.

"They look at the student's history, performance and the severity of the disability," said Daugherty. "They work as a team to make that decision."

The state's previous assessment test, Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, also had alternate and modified versions for special education students. Howell said the main difference between that the TAKS and STARR versions is an increased rigorousness.

While some people might question the ability of a standardized test to measure academic achievement of special education students, whose education and instruction often are highly individualized, Howell said he saw it as a sign of inclusion and acknowledgment of the needs of such students.

"The goal of special education is to give these students the ability to do what their non-disabled peers are doing, so (testing is) as an opportunity to see where they are at and give them the tools to help them manage that disability," said Howell. "They are learning, and we shouldn't leave them out."

This year, students in grades three through eight will take the STAAR test as well as ninth-grade students who will take separate end-of-course assessments for specific subjects. The testing window for all versions of the exam ends in June.

Contact Chris McGuinness at or (254) 501-7568.

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