Project Update - Gaining Access: Improving the Alternate Assessment

According to recent findings of the Gaining Access project, a collaborative project between the IOD and the NH Department of Education, students with the most significant cognitive disabilities may not be benefitting from a curriculum structure which offers instruction in the full breadth of reading, writing, math, and science. These findings are consistent with a US Department of Education review of the NH Alternate Assessment, which recommended a revision to more closely align it with general curriculum standards.

According to data from a sampling of NH alternate assessment portfolios from the 2007-2008 academic year, students with significant disabilities were often only assessed on a very narrow portion of the curriculum in each academic area. For example, in math, although there are six broad strands of curriculum, skills from two of the strands (Numbers & Operations, Geometry & Measurement) represented more than 75% of the math skills on which students were assessed. Similarly, in reading, although there are eight strands of curriculum, skills from three of the strands (Literary Text, Word Identification & Decoding, Informational Text) represented more than 75% of the reading skills assessed. This pattern persisted for writing and science. These findings suggest that the NH Alternate Assessment—which is the accountability structure for ensuring these students have access to and make progress in the general curriculum—could be enhanced to encourage instruction on greater breadth of the curriculum.

“We were expecting these results and are already considering ways to address the issue,” said Gaining Access Project Coordinator Michael McSheehan. “As we proceed with revising the assessment, we are challenged to hold high expectations for students’ learning, increase the overall validity of the assessment, address federal regulations, and design a system that is both effective and efficient for educators to administer. We have our work cut out for us and are excited that so many different stakeholders from across the state have stepped up to help with this project.”

Further analyses of these data will continue as one of many sources informing the Gaining Access project’s effort to revise the NH Alternate Assessment.

For more information on the Gaining Access project, visit

© 2009 Institute on Disability / UCED