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Printed on: 07/31/2021
Please always refer to the online version for the most current up-to-date information.
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Chapter 11: Information on District-Wide Assessments/Graduation Requirements
(11.1) What is the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) System?
The CAASPP is the California student achievement testing system for English Language Arts/Literacy (ELA) and math for students in grades 3 through 8 and 11. It includes the California Science Test (CAST) for students in grades 5, 8, and one of grade 10, 11, or 12 in which the pupil is receiving science instruction. [Title 5 California Code of Regulations (CCR) section 851.5. The CAASPP system replaced the STAR (Standardized Testing and Reporting) Program beginning with the 2014-15 school year. [California Education Code (Cal. Educ. Code) section 60640.]
The ELA and math portions of the test are based on the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), which is a set of educational achievement standards that California and a number of other states have adopted since 2010. The CCSS describe what students should know and be able to do in each subject area at each of these grade levels. The CAST measures what students know and can do using the California Next Generation Science Standards, which focus on understanding the scientific concepts found in the life sciences, earth and space sciences, and physical sciences.
(11.2) Must my child participate in the CAASPP testing?
No, each year a school district must notify parents of children in the testing grades about their child’s anticipated participation in the testing, but the notice must also tell parents that they have the right to have their child excused from all or part of the testing if a parent submits a written request to excuse his/her child from testing. [Cal. Educ. Code Sec. 60615; 5 C.C.R. Sec. 852.] However, because the notice requirement for school districts and a parent’s right to request that their child be excused from testing is annual, a parent must submit her request each year that her child would otherwise be tested. A written request for a third grader to be excused from testing will not also excuse the student from testing in the fourth grade. [5 C.C.R. Sec. 852 (a).]
(11.3) Can children with disabilities who will participate in CAASPP achievement testing get any assistance or accommodations in taking the CAASPP tests?
Yes, a wide variety of test-taking aids and resources are available to students, both with and without disabilities, in the CAASPP testing program. Readers of this question and answer should review Title 5 of the California Code of Regulations sections 854.1 through 854.4 for a more comprehensive list of these aids and resources and discussion of the information summarized below.
All children, including children with disabilities, who are taking CAASPP tests have available to them certain “universal tools” to assist them in taking these tests. Universal tools can be either embedded or non-embedded. “Embedded” means these resources are part of the test delivery system for the computer-based CAASPP tests. “Non-embedded” means these resources are not part of the test delivery system but would be provided for the student by the school district. “Universal tools” means those things which are available to any student who is taking the CAASPP whether he/she has a disability or not and whether any educator or team of educators has requested them for the student or not. Universal tools include things like taking breaks, using a dictionary for writing tests or a glossary for reading tests, and using a calculator for certain parts of the math tests in grades 6, 8, and 11.
All children, including children with disabilities who are taking CAASPP tests also have available to them certain “designated supports” for taking CAASPP tests. “Designated supports” can also be embedded or non-embedded. Designated supports include such things as color contrast or color overlay or magnification for reading, and amplification or noise buffers for listening. The difference between “designated supports” and “universal tools” is that designated supports must be determined necessary by an educator for a child who does not have a disability. For children with disabilities, the designated supports must be specified in the Section 504 plan or IEP of a child with a disability in order for them to be used.
In addition to all of the above, children with disabilities (children who have IEPs or Section 504 plans) may also use “accommodations” in CAASPP testing. “Accommodations” are also either “embedded” or “non-embedded” testing aids and resources. In order for a student with a disability to use an accommodation in this testing process, the accommodation must be specified in the student’s IEP or Section 504 plan. Accommodations include such things as:
- alternative response options for reading, writing, and listening;
- Braille for paper-pencil tests;
- large-print version of a paper-pencil test;
- print on demand for reading, writing, and listening;
- read aloud for English Language Arts reading passages;
- scribes for writing;
- speech-to-text for reading, writing, and listening;
- word prediction for reading writing, and listening.
The embedded and non-embedded universal tools, designated supports, and accommodations are available on all areas (English Language Arts, Math, and Science) of the CAASPP tests. [5 C.C.R. Sec. 854.1 – 854.3.] They are also available to students who take the Spanish version of CAASPP achievement tests; see Q&A 7 below.
(11.4) If my child could participate in CAASPP testing if he used an aid or strategy that is not listed as one of the universal tools, designated supports, or accommodations, can he be allowed to use that specialized aid or strategy in the testing process?
For students with Section 504 plans or IEPs, a school district may submit a request to the California Department of Education (Department) to allow a student to use an “unlisted resource” in the CAASPP testing process. [5 C.C.R. Sec. 850(a-m) and 854.9(a)-(c).] An “unlisted resource” is an instructional support that a pupil used in daily instruction or in assessment that is not already listed as a universal tool, designated support, or accommodation. The school district must make this request at least ten days before CAASPP testing begins, and it must make this request annually. The Department will review the request and only permit the student to use the unlisted resource if it determines that it does not threaten the security of the test and does not change the construct being measured by the test. [Id.] A change of construct means a modification of the concept or skill being tested that fundamentally alters the meaning and comparability of achievement test scores. [5 C.C.R. Sec. 850(j).]
If the Department determines that the unlisted resource does change the construct being measured by the test, the Department will not approve it. However, the student may still use the resource on the test, but the student will receive an individual score report, and he cannot be counted by the school district as participating in CAASPP testing. If the requested unlisted resource is determined by the Department not to change the construct being measured by the test, the student may be counted by the school district as having participated in CAASPP testing. [5 C.C.R. Sec. 854.9(d).]
The Department has already determined that certain unlisted resources do change one or more of the constructs being measured by CAASPP testing and will not approve requests for the use of these resources in this testing process. These include, for example, calculators on the math portion of the test for grades 3 through 5, multiplication tables for grade 3, and the use of a thesaurus. [5 C.C.R. Sec. 854.9(e).]
(11.5) If my child cannot take the CAASPP tests even with the various tools, supports, and accommodations discussed above, but I do not want to excuse him entirely from CAASPP testing, can he still participate in achievement testing?
Students with IEPs in grades three through eight and eleven who cannot take the CAASPP tests even with appropriate accommodations, and whose parents do not excuse them from the program (See question 2 above), may be given an alternate test which is known as the California Alternate Assessment (CAA). The CAA is the successor test to the California Alternate Performance Assessment (CAPA). The need to use an alternate assessment for the student must be specified in her IEP. [5 C.C.R. Sec. 851.5.]
The CAA covers language arts, math, and science. The CAA is only given to students who have the most significant cognitive disabilities. [5 C.C.R section 850(d)&(g) and 854.5(a).] Pupils with the most significant cognitive disabilities are those whose disabilities significantly impact cognitive functioning and adaptive behavior and who require extensive, direct individualized instruction and substantial supports in order to achieve measurement on academic standards. [5 C.C.R. Sec. 850(v).] However, no particular disability is necessarily one that results in the most significant cognitive disabilities, and a child cannot be determined to have one of the most significant cognitive disabilities based solely on his previous low academic achievement or previous need for accommodations in state or local achievement testing. [Id.]
(11.6) How is the California Alternate Assessment given to students?
The CAA is given to pupils one on one (text examiner to pupil). Depending on the pupil’s disability or needs, the CAA may or may not involve the pupil’s independent use of the computer used for the testing, or, for the science portion of the testing, the student’s independent responses to the embedded performance tasks. Unless something is prohibited by the CAASPP Test Administration Manual, students may have instructional supports, such as the language of instruction by a translator, physical supports, and any resources documented in the student’s IEP or Section 504 plan. [5 C.C.R. Sec. 854.5.]6.
(11.7) My child has a disability and his primary language is not English. What, if anything, must be done to accommodate my child’s language needs on the CAASPP test?
School districts may, but are not required to, give a “primary language” CAASPP test as long as it is aligned with the English Language Arts content standards. [Cal. Educ. Code Sec. 60640(b)(5)&(j); 5 C.C.R. Sec. 850(t)(w)&(ab) and 851(a).]
A Spanish language achievement test called the Standards-based Tests in Spanish (STS) is the primary language assessment in California and is available to school districts for purposes of the CAASPP system if they choose to offer a primary language assessment test as part of the CAASPP system. [5 C.C.R. Sec. 850(t)&(ab).] In those school districts offering the STS, eligible students are those in grades 2 through 11 whose primary language is Spanish and who are receiving instruction in Spanish, or who are enrolled in dual language immersion programs that include Spanish, or who are recently-arrived English Learners (ELs) whose primary language is Spanish. [5 C.C.R. Sec. 851.5(g).] A recently-arrived EL is someone who is designated as an EL and who is in his/her first 12 months of attending a public school in the United States as of April 15 of the previous school year or later. [5 C.C.R. Sec. 851.5(w).]
California law also provides for the use of the embedded and non-embedded universal tools, designated supports, and accommodations for use by students when taking the STS. [5 C.C.R. Sec. 854.4.] See Q&A 3 above for a more thorough discussion of what the embedded and non-embedded universal tools, designated supports, and accommodations are, who is entitled to them, and what the requirements are for their use.
(11.8) What are the requirements for receiving a high school diploma in California?
All typical public high school students must complete what is called “the prescribed course of study.” The prescribed course of study is the list of 13 courses required by the state for receipt of a diploma. Those are the following:
- three courses of English
- two courses of math (including Algebra I)
- three courses of social science (U.S. History and geography; world history, culture and geography; and one semester each of American government and economics)
- two courses of science (biological and physical)
- two courses of physical education
- one course of foreign language or visual and performing arts or technical education.
[Cal. Educ. Code sections 51224.5 and 51225.3.]
School districts must ensure that students complete the prescribed course of study before awarding diplomas, but local school districts can add to these requirements. [Cal. Educ. Code Sec. 51225.3(a)(1)&(2).] You should contact your local school district to find out whether any additional courses or other requirements, such as a Senior Project, apply in your district.
Whether a charter school high school student must complete the same list of courses depends on a number of factors, and parents are encouraged to contact the Charter Schools Division of the California Department of Education at 916-322-6029 for more information.
(11.9) Does the Algebra I requirement also apply to students with disabilities?
Yes. However, students with disabilities, who have attempted but did not pass Algebra I, even with necessary and appropriate support services and accommodations, should consider asking their school district to request a waiver of this requirement from the State Board of Education for purposes of receiving a diploma. [Cal. Educ. Code Sec. 56101.] Waivers are not always granted, but the waiver process is the only way for a student with a disability, who cannot pass the Algebra I, or any other course or graduation requirement, to still receive a diploma.
(11.10) Is there an alternative way for students to complete the prescribed course of study required for a diploma?
The law permits alternative ways for students to complete the prescribed course of study. State law requires that the governing board of each school district adopt alternative means for pupils to complete the prescribed course of study. The policy or plan must be developed with the active involvement of parents, administrators, teachers, and pupils. [Cal. Ed. Code Sec. 51225.3(b).] These alternative means may include:
- Practical demonstration of skills and competencies,
- Supervised work experience or other outside school experience,
- Career technical education classes offered in high schools,
- Courses offered by regional occupational centers or programs,
- Interdisciplinary study,
- Independent study, and.
- Credit earned at a postsecondary educational institution.
Any alternative means and modes necessary for pupils in grades 7 through 12 to complete the school district’s prescribed course of study must be written into a student’s IEP. [Cal. Ed. Code Sec. 56345(b)(1).]
Requirements for graduation and specified alternative modes for completing the prescribed course of study must be made available to pupils, parents, and the public. [Cal Ed. Code Sec.51225.3(b).] The law further provides that the State Superintendent must convene an advisory panel to provide recommendations on alternative pathways to satisfying the state’s high school graduation course requirement. [Cal.Ed. Code Sec. 60640(c)(6).] See Q & A 9 above.
(11.11) If my child meets the graduation requirements and receives a regular diploma, does special education eligibility end?
Yes. Graduation with a regular high school diploma will make your child ineligible for further special education services. [Cal. Ed. Code Sec. 56026.1(a); 34 C.F.R. Sec. 300.102(a)(3)(i).]
Graduation with a regular diploma is a “change of placement” for special education students. [34 C.F.R. Sec. 300.102(a)(3)(iii); Cal. Ed. Code Secs. 56500.5.] A “change of placement” is a legally significant event for a special education student and requires that the district send a prior written notice to students and parent (a reasonable amount of time before this change in placement happens). [34 C.F.R. Sec. 300.503(a)(1); Cal. Ed. Code Sec. 56500.4(a).] The prior written notice must include: a description of what the district intends to do, an explanation of the reasons for the action, a description of any alternatives the district considered and why those were rejected, a description of the reports, tests, and procedures on which the action is based, and information on students’ and parents’ rights and sources of advocacy assistance. [34 C.F.R. Secs. 300.102(a)(3)(iii) & 300.503(b); Cal. Ed. Code Sec. 56500.4(b).] Without this required notice, the district’s proposal to graduate your child may be inappropriate. [Union School District v. Smith, 15 F.3d 1519 (9th Cir. 1994).] However, no new evaluation of your child is required before awarding her a regular high school diploma. [34 C.F.R. Sec. 300.305(e)(2); Cal. Ed. Code Sec. 56381(i)(1).]
Before a special education student graduates with a diploma or reaches the maximum special education eligibility age of 22, the school district must provide the student with a summary of his academic achievement and functional performance including recommendations on how to assist the student in meeting his postsecondary education goals. [Cal. Ed. Code Secs. 56026(c)(4) & 56381(i)(2).]
If you disagree with the IEP team’s determination that your child will graduate, you may file for due process.
(11.12) If a student did not receive appropriate services for some period of time before she graduated with a diploma, can she continue to be eligible for special education?
No. However, a student who was denied appropriate services can ask, either informally or through a due process hearing, that a school district provide compensatory transition services. See Chapter 6, Information on Due Process/Compliance Procedures. Compensatory services provided by the school district voluntarily or because of a due process hearing officer’s order may be provided after a student has graduated with a regular diploma. [Maine School Admin. Dist. No. 35 v. Mr. and Mrs. R. (1st Cir. 2003) 321 F.3d 9, 17-18; San Dieguito Union High Sch. Dist. v. Guray-Jacobs (S.D. Cal. 2005, No. 04CVL330) 44 IDELR 189, 105 LRP 56315; Hemet USD, OAH Case No. 2015090860, 116 LRP 20083 (2015).] In this situation, the student is not eligible for special education for any purpose other than receiving those compensatory services. Once the compensatory services are provided, the student’s eligibility ends.
Claims for past denials of appropriate services cannot be more than two years old at the time a parent or student requests a due process hearing. [34 C.F.R. Sec. 300.507(a)(2); Cal. Ed. Code Sec. 56505(l).] If a student has not been provided appropriate special education services in the two-year period prior to graduation, the parent (or student if 18 years of age and not conserved) should, if at all possible, file for due process before the student graduates with a diploma and his special education eligibility ends. A school district might argue that a parent of or a student who is no longer an eligible special education student does not have standing to bring a special education due process action against the district.
(11.13) When my child reaches the age of 18, will she begin to make decisions regarding the IEP or will I continue to be the decision-maker for educational purposes?
At age 18, educational decision-making authority transfers from the parent to the student, unless the student has been determined incompetent under California law. The school district must notify both you and your child of the transfer of rights and must provide a notice of procedural safeguards no later than one year before your child turns 18. [34 C.F. R. Sec. 300.520; Cal. Ed. Code Secs. 56041.5 & 56043(g)(3).] If the student has been declared incompetent by a court and the parent has been appointed as conservator, the parent can continue to make educational decisions for the student. However, if a student has not been determined incompetent by any court, she has the legal capacity to make educational decisions. The student has the option of making these decisions on her own or including parents in the IEP decision-making process. She may also assign educational decision-making authority to a parent if she chooses to do so. See Assignment of Educational Decision-Making Authority form, Appendices Section, Appendix P.
Even if a court has not yet determined the student to be incompetent, a school district might take the position that a student is legally incompetent to make her own decisions — including the decision to assign her educational decision-making rights to a parent — and, therefore, needs to have a court-appointed “conservator” to make her decisions for her. However, the decision on whether an adult person must have a conservator is the court’s, not the school district’s. You may wish to consult an attorney about the benefits and disadvantages of filing a petition for limited or full conservatorship with the superior court.
(11.14) If my child is not receiving a regular diploma, but will receive a certificate of achievement or completion, is she still eligible for special education?
Your child is eligible for special education services until the academic year in which she reaches the age of 22, unless she meets graduation requirements before that time. [34 C.F.R. Sec. 300.102(a)(3)(ii); Cal. Ed. Code Secs. 56026(c)(4) & 56026.1(b)&(c).] If your child does not graduate, she may receive a “certificate of achievement” (also called a “certificate of completion”) at the end of the typical senior year or at any time before she exits the school district at age 22. The certificate provides a recognition of accomplishment to students who meet their IEP goals or complete a prescribed alternative course of study, but who will not receive a regular diploma. The certificate was also created to overcome objections by district officials who believe special education students should not participate in graduation ceremonies with their same-age peers when they are not being awarded a regular diploma. Because a certificate does not end eligibility, a student who receives a certificate could continue working toward a regular diploma. [Cal. Ed. Code Secs. 56390 & 56392.]
In addition, the district must continue to provide your child needed transition services. [Cal. Ed. Code Sec. 56345(a)(8).] Your child’s IEP team should discuss how your child’s transition goals will be addressed before all services from the district have ended. Transition outcomes/goals and services should be included in your child’s IEP.
(11.15) If my child is receiving a certificate of achievement or completion, can she participate in the graduation ceremony and related activities?
According to state law, a student receiving a certificate of achievement or completion has the right to participate in graduation ceremonies and any school activity related to graduation. [Cal. Ed. Code Sec. 56391.] Districts, may, but are not required, to award a certificate of achievement or completion. [Cal. Ed. Code Sec. 56390.] However, if participating in graduation-related activities is specified in your child’s IEP (as part of his participation in integrated activities at school), the district must implement the IEP and allow him to participate in the graduation activities whether he is receiving a certificate of completion/achievement or not. You should address this participation in the IEP, beginning with your discussion of transition, at age 16 or younger. This will ensure enough time to take any necessary action to resolve disagreements before the graduation ceremony.
(11.16) If the school district and I disagree on whether my child is ready to graduate with a regular diploma, can I challenge the district’s decision?
Because graduation with a regular diploma is a change of placement that will end your child’s special education eligibility, a school district must send you a prior written notice of their intention to graduate your child. If you disagree with the district’s decision and believe the school district is graduating your child prematurely, the prior written notice should give you enough time to challenge that decision through a due process hearing procedure. Proposed changes of placement are one of the issues which parents and students can file due process hearing procedures to address. [Cal. Ed. Code Sec. 56501(a)(1).] See Q & A 12 above.
If you file for due process to challenge graduation, the “stay-put” provision applies and the district is required to maintain your child’s placement and implement the IEP during due process proceedings. [20 United States Code (U.S.C.) Sec. 1415(j); 34 C.F.R. Sec. 300.518; Cal. Ed. Code Sec. 56505(d).] See Chapter 6, Information on Due Process/Compliance Procedures.
(11.17) If my child plans to take the SAT (originally the Scholastic Aptitude Test) college admissions exam, will she automatically be granted an accommodation if she has an IEP or Section 504?
No. Even if your child has an IEP or Section 504 plan that includes testing accommodations, she still must apply to the College Board, which administers the SAT, to get approval for an accommodation. You must submit documentation of your child’s disability and how the disability limits her ability function in the testing situation. You should submit this document in enough time to get a decision (and appeal if necessary) before the testing dates.
For specific information on the SAT process and its requirements visit: https://www.collegeboard.org/students-with-disabilities
The accommodation eligibility guidelines and application procedures for the ACT (originally the American College Test) are similar to the College Board’s. For specific information on the ACT and its requirements visit: http://www.act.org/content/act/en/products-and-services/the-act/accommodations.html