USDE Phasing out AA-MAS for Students With Disabilities: What this Means for NYS

Updated 11/27/14 10:30 pm:

I updated the blog piece by weaving NYS policy changes as to special education via NYSED 6/24 field memo and the changes proposed by feds relating to accountability from notes on the issue I already had in my files. But, in my opinion, USDEs AA-MAS phase out plan is not the issue at bar. The real issue that we need to be contacting our representatives about and opposing are the changes to accountability measures imeplemented by USDE and the fact that CC calls for students with disabilities to excel within the general curriculum and that teachers and schools are being held accountable for the performance of students with disabilities performance via testing.


Some states have implemented an alternate assessment based on modified achievement standards (AA-MAS). The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) allows up to two percent of students to be deemed proficient with this assessment option. Students who participate in an AA-MAS must have an individualized education program (IEP) and be unlikely to achieve grade level proficiency within the year covered by the IEP.

In 2011 the U.S. Department of Education provided the opportunity for states to request flexibility from some of the ESEA accountability requirements. To receive a flexibility waiver, states with an AA-MAS were required to include a plan to phase out the use of the AA-MAS for ESEA accountability by the 2014-15 school year.

In justifying the phase out, USDE Arne Duncan stated as follows:

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The regulation regarding the USDEs phase out plan is garnering a great deal of attention, speculation and debate on social media with misinfo flowing among advocates. The purpose of this post is to  address and clarify the facts particularly in regard to application in NYS.

Here is an example of one argument being advanced on social media regarding USDEs plan to phase out AA-MAS:

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Another example:

Phasing out the authority of the states” has been precisely the point for every last one of Duncan’s promoted education reforms, from Common Core to Common Data Standards to State Longitudinal Database Systems to P-20 programs to Common Core Assessments to teacher and school evaluations” is one of the arguments being advanced to address this issue. 

Be it known, I am NOT a fan of Duncan, USDE or NYSED. But, in this case, I dont think the arguments and panic being advanced on social media about this issue are entirely accurate. I am seeing action alerts and panic with calls to contact legislators and our NYS Board of Regents to object to the USDEs plan to phase out AA-MAS from state authority.

I am hoping this post clarifies  the facts  for NYS advocates and sets the record straight about the USDEs plan to phase out AA-MAS from state authority and what this means for us.

The federal register notice at issue reads as follows:

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Here are the facts:

In April 2007, the U.S. Department of Education (USED) released new regulations for the No Child Left Behind Act, that added an alternate assessment based on modified achievement standards (AA-MAS) to existing assessment measures:

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These regulations supplemented the most recent Elementary and Secondary Education Act legislation regarding the development of grade-level assessments and alternate assessments based on alternate achievement standards. States could use this new assessment for students with disabilities to count up to two percent of students as “proficient” for purposes of Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).


For a summary of ED’s 2% Rule For Students with Disabilities: Alternate Assessments Based on Modified Academic Achievement Standards see here:–Rule-For-Students-with-Disabilities–Alternate-Assessments-Based-on-Modified-Academic-Achievement-Standards/


These regulations were in response to state concerns that there were students with disabilities who were not able to show proficiency on the general assessment and yet would not be assessed appropriately by the alternate assessment based on alternate achievement standards. It supplemented the option of developing alternate assessments based on grade-level achievement standards which only a few states used.


The regulations state that “there is a small group of students whose disability has precluded them from achieving grade-level proficiency and whose progress is such that they will not reach grade-level proficiency in the same time frame as other students” (34 C.F.R. Part 200). However, this statement has raised countless questions about who this “small group” is within that larger group of students who are not eligible for the AA-AAS but who are not performing well on the grade-level assessment. An emphasis of the regulations and the non-regulatory guidance was that this assessment must be challenging for these students. The assessments are required to cover the same breadth and depth as the other grade-level assessments. Modified achievement standards were described as being challenging for eligible students although defining a less rigorous expectation of mastery of grade-level content.


They could not be linked to content from a lower grade level or exclude content standards that were assessed by the grade-level general assessment. Again, these conditions raised challenges for states to develop assessments that measured the same content, including the same depth of knowledge, but would be “less difficult” for students with disabilities.


In 2007, six states (Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma) either had or were in the process of developing an assessment they considered to be an AA-MAS.


By 2008, California, Connecticut, and Texas also offered this assessment option.


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To be clear: New York did NOT implemnent the AA-MAS.
In Fall 2008, the New York Comprehensive Center (NYCC) applied for and received supplemental funding from USED to collaborate with the New York State Education Department (NYSED) to study these issues further. A copy of NYSED et al’s outline and policy discussion on AA-MAS is linked here:


However, again, New York had NOT implemented the AA-MAS and NEVER HAS IMPLEMENTED THE AA-MAS. Thus, the phase out plan does not apply to us.


At present, USDE intends to phase out the AA-MAS from state authority altogether.  While most states did not develop this assessment, those that did are now faced with the need to discontinue its use. The proposed regulation to phase out AA-MAS affects the states I listed above that implemented the measure. The proposal does NOT affect any other state and, in my opinion, it does not amount to the Feds seeking to usurp state authority which argument is being advanced and argued on social media. States that did implement AA-MAS are affected but NYS is not.


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You can read details about the states that implemented AA-MAS and each states phase out plan here:


Having said  all that, on a seperate issue, NYS did apply for out of level testing in its ESEA Flex Waiver in 2014 and it is THIS that NYS parents and educators need to concerned about. USDE denied NYSEDs application for out of level testing which is a problem.


On February 10, 2014, the New York State Board of Regents released a memorandum detailing its decision to submit an Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) waiver renewal request. The waiver request contained a number of proposed amendments that, if approved, would have a significant effect on current state testing procedures for students with severe disabilities.


Most significantly, Proposed Amendment No. 1 would allow the state to use “out-of-level” testing to assess certain students with disabilities at their instructional grade levels, rather than their chronological grade level. The Board justified its decision to propose the amendment by stating that current testing procedures place students with disabilities at a disadvantage because assessments at their chronological age level do not reflect the content actually learned at their instructional grade level. As a result, the Board asserted that the current assessments do not provide “instructionally actionable information on student performance” or “accountability, instructional or growth information for purposes of teacher and leader evaluations.”


NYSEDs plan to soften expectations for students with severe diabilities was a particular relief to parents and many educators especially in light of the rigor and developmental  inappropriate content of common core.


The proposed waiver was only meant to be temporary until the state can establish and implement its own adaptive assessments.

Still, many of the public commenters condemned the proposed testing method, arguing that it would have a lasting, negative effect on students. Specifically, various advocates for students with disabilities argued that out-of-level testing lowers academic standards, inhibits the development of skills necessary for college and future careers, and leaves students permanently behind on the course to a high school diploma.In an incredibly surprising twist, disability advocates opposed NYSEDs plan to soften expectations for students with severe disabilities.

See here:

NYSEDs plans for SPED students is what parents should be worried about. I will post an update on this piece later.

You see, that USDE expects students with disabilities to be held to the same academic standards as their peers and schools and teachers held accountable for their progress is disturbing in light of common core and the craze for high stakes testing. But,  this is not without debate. Severely SPED students are taking tests that are completely out of level and these are being tied to  teachers and AYP for accountablity purposes.

But, I digress. Back to the AA-MAS phase out plan.

You might be very surprised to learn that many disablity advocacy groups and Sen. Harkin Senate Education Committee chairman support the phase out plan.


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States would still be able to count 1 percent of kids, those with the most severe disabilities, as proficient on alternate assessments even under the new regulations (the 1 percent rule is a different regulation that the administration isn’t proposing to tweak).

In conclusion, according to the proposed regulation, states with ESEA Flexibility (waivers) are required to discontinue the use of the AA‐MAS by 2014‐2015 but NYS is not affected because NYS never implemented AA-MAS in the first place. Hope this explains and helps clarify the USDE regulation regarding withdrawing states ability to provide an AA-MAS and phase out of the AA-MAS from testing in the US.

So, while the AA-MAS does not immediately affect NYS, recent accountability changes at the federal level do impact NYS special ed students. These policy shifts are doing our kids a great deal of harm.

First, USDE threatened to withhold funding for States that fail to meet for 2 or more years but have not actually withheld money.
Here is a good article that breaks it down:

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USDE explains how NYS falls in “needs assistance 2 or more years category” warranting intervention accoutability measures to toughen up and challenge our students so that they perform better:

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In this sarcastic masterpiece, Peter Greene explains how USDE thinks that high expectations and testing will cure disabilities.

In announcing a new emphasis and “major shift,” the U.S. Department of Education will now demand that states show educational progress for students with disabilities.

Arne Duncan announced that, shockingly, students with disabilities do poorly in school. They perform below level in both English and math. No, there aren’t any qualifiers attached to that. Arne is bothered that students with very low IQs, students with low function, students who have processing problems, students who have any number of impairments — these students are performing below grade level.

“We know that when students with disabilities are held to high expectations and have access to a robust curriculum, they excel,” Duncan said. (per NPR coverage)

And I’m pretty sure we don’t know any such thing. I’m pretty sure that the special needs students in schools across the country are special needs precisely because they have trouble meeting the usual expectations.

There’s no question that special needs students require more educational attention than simply being warehoused. And it’s true that unnecessarily low expectations are no help to any student. But it is also true that an entire educational sub-specialty, a whole other class of training, has been developed simply to address the challenge of teaching students with special needs. Learning support (what we used to call special ed) teachers team with regular ed teachers to find ways that meaningful and useful educational progress can be made, so that special needs students, no matter how great or small the need, can progress and achieve and become happy, functioning adults. It takes a lot of care and effort and understanding of what special challenges each individual student faces. While it’s true for all students, it is doubly true for special needs students that one size does not fit all.

Yes, expectations must be high. But they must also be realistic. Expectations are not magical.

But who knows. Maybe Arne is on to something. Maybe blind students can’t see because nobody expects them to. Maybe the student a colleague had in class years ago, who was literally rolled into the room and propped up in a corner so that he could be “exposed” to band — maybe that child’s problems were just low expectations. Maybe that 6-year-old sitting and crying at his desk because he can’t understand the letters like everyone else — maybe that child is just the victim of low expectations. Maybe IEPs are actually assigned randomly, for no reason at all.

And that’s not even the stupidest thing. We’re not there yet.

Kevin Huffman, education boss of Tennessee (a lawyer with a Teach for America stint as his education background), also chimed in on the conference call, to explain why disabled students do poorly, and how to fix it.

He said most lag behind because they’re not expected to succeed if they’re given more demanding schoolwork and because they’re seldom tested.

That’s it. We should just demand that disabled students should do harder work and take more tests.

When Florida was harassing Andrea Rediske to have her dying, mentally disabled child take tests, they were actually doing him a favor, and not participating in state-sponsored abuse.

Don’t tell me reading is hard because of your dyslexia, kid. Just do it. And take this test.

We don’t need IEPs — we need expectations and demands. We don’t need student support and special education programs — we need more testing. We don’t need consideration for the individual child’s needs — we just need to demand that the child get up to speed, learn things, and most of all TAKE THE DAMN TESTS. Because then, and only then, will we be able to make all student disabilities simply disappear.

This is just so stunningly, awesomely dumb, it’s hard to take in. Are they that enamored of the magical power of tests? Do they imagine that disabled students are just all faking, or that the specialists who diagnose these various problems are just making stuff up for giggles? Either way, Duncan and Huffman have set an entirely new high bar for ignorance, insensitivity, and just plain flat out stupidity.

USDE Duncan says the Feds are “changing the guidelines ” such that students with disabilities must show progress academcally via accountability measures. THIS is what affects us here in NYS.

So, what are all these shifts and changes in accountability really about? Well, advocate Nancy Bailey believes that all a ruse and that the feds want to do away with special education services altogether:

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Now back to NYS and the impact the above proposed policy changes at the federal level are having on NYS special education students. The AA-MAS phase out plan, doesnt really affect us at all. But the balance of the federal policy changes as to accountability  discussed above, absolutely do impact NYS and not in a good way.

Thc crux of the CCLS, calls for students with disabilities to be challenged to excel within the general curriculum. Special education students must be held to the same academic standards outlined for all students by age in each grade level, according to the Application to Students with Disabilities Guidance Policy issued by the CC creators ( .

What’s more, instruction for those with even the most severe cognitive disabilities are expected to “retain the rigor and high expectations of the Common Core State Standards” without due regard to the extent, nature and actual classification of students with disabilities.
The 2001 No Child Left Behind Act and the 2004 re-authorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act required children with disabilities “to be involved in and make progress in the general education curriculum.” The CCLS one size fits all approach means there’s even less room for remediation for students who need individual support which is hallmark component of the IEP classification. How SWD will receive the support they need is a grave concern for parents and educators in NYS.
One of the focuses of CC ELA standards is text complexity. When the Common Core was officially implemented, grade level lexile benchmarks suddenly jumped up by 2 to 3 grade levels. Thus, what used to be considered an appropriate text for a 7th grader is now considered appropriate for a 4th grader. Students who were reading 2 grade levels below benchmark suddenly woke up to find themselves 4 to 5 grade levels below benchmark. The Common Core widened the achievement gap overnight.

With CCLS raising lexile levels and expecting SWD are expected to reach a bar that is set not AT grade level, but much higher than their intended grade level. CCLS are typically 1.5 grade levels ahead of chronological age and grade level prior to the standard. The IDEA intended for students to be supported with the general population AT grade level, the legislation never intended SWD would have to compete with the general population above and beyond their grade level which is what CCLS does. Moreover, restricting students to curricula that is far beyond their cognitive capacities substantially lowers achievement and puts these students in an unfair disadvantage that intended IEP supports simply cannot be expected to remediate. Does this not violate their rights?
Indeed, the word “remediation” appears nowhere in the standards, not even in the one Common Core document that addresses this subject: a one-and-a-half-pager entitled “Application to Students with Disabilities (see link above).” It says that special-needs students should have the support services, individualized instruction, and assistive technology they need for the “the rigor and high expectations of the Common Core State Standards.” It does not, however, state what these services are or how they would work.

Moreover, CCLS ignore learning differences. When we say “students with disabilities,” we are talking about a very wide range of students. The term SWD encompasses students with dyslexia, students with emotional disabilities, and students with severe developmental delays and cognitive impairments. CCLS is a one size fits all approach that demands each student learn the same material, at the same time the same way essentially.

As for curricular materials, they might be altered or presented “in multiple ways,” but only “within the framework of the Common Core.”

For students with sensory disabilities like deafness or blindness, the necessary accommodations—e.g., sign language interpreters or audio books—are obvious. Cognitive disabilities are different.

The CCLS also stipulated that IEP goals should be “aligned with grade level learning standards.” Which begs the question, is it appropriate for CCLS to mandate what IEP goals should and shouldn’t state? As per IDEA, IEP goals are to be individualized learning goals that will enable a student to work towards grade level standards.
Herein lies the problem.

On June 24th, 2014, the NYS Department of Education released a Special Education Field Advisory on the role of the Committee on Special Education’s role in relation to the CCLS. See here:


The field advisory details a policy asserting that the goals created for a student as part of their individualized education plan (IEP) must be aligned with the CCLS and that furthermore, students with disabilities must be instructed on grade level content.

Linked to the document is a Guidance Document entitled Accessing the Common Core for Students with Disabilities written by two individuals who have limited experience in the field of Special education and very littl experience in a public school setting. It is this flawed document,  incompetent guidance and inappropriate expectations that presently drives special education in NYS.

In NYS, experimental standards  dictate a disabled students learning goals, not the needs of the student. The field advisory further advises the use of Universal Design as a method for delivering individualized and specialized instruction for students with disabilities despite the fact that there is little research or evidence to support the efficacy of UD for students with disabilities.

Though most Common Core goals are abstract and schematic, collectively they constitute a one-size fits-all approach that fails to provide students with special needs the remediation and resources that they will need to reach the accelerated goals that are expected of them. By issuing this field advisory, NYSED has compounded an already dire problem for SWD – they have straightjacketed NYs special-needs students yet are demanding that they swim a marathon. How many special needs students will be allowed to drown before NYS takes aversive action?

In my opinion, USDEs AA-MAS phase out plan is not the issue at bar particularly for NYS. The real issue that we need to be contacting our representatives about and opposing are the changes to accountability measures imeplemented by USDE and the fact that CC calls for students with disabilities to excel within the general curriculum and that teachers and schools are being held accountable for the performance of students with disabilities performance via testing.

Please read the above and contact your legislators and state representatives if you share my  concerns.




6 thoughts on “USDE Phasing out AA-MAS for Students With Disabilities: What this Means for NYS

  1. Thanks so much for the clarification. My opinions about CC and students with disabilities are very mixed. I don’t want to go into personal details but there has to be a better way to teach kids with disabilities so they can reach their potential, create measurable goals and track their progress. I am so frustrated by what’s going on.

    1. You are most welcome Ann Marie. I share your frustrations – this is precisely the reason I blog about these kinds of issues. Advocating is one thing, but sharing is cathartic and a way to channel my outrage about what our children are being subjected to here in NYS. Frankly, the impact of CC and recent changes that manifest in testing and accoutability on students with disabilities is simply a travesty. Its parents like you who will help things change.

  2. Excellent piece. A wealth of info for me to dive into. I actually went through the whole regulation, as well as multiple blog posts by them too. I believe that its final intent is to push most students under the CC assessment, with the idea that doing so will overcome their disabilities (be prepared for more kids either hating math, on psych couches, meds, or all of the above)

    However, i must comment as to your belief that this does not usurp state rights, as it surly does. This is because one must not stop at just the regulation itself. If one does, then of course, one could conclude that there is no state usurpation, because the allowance for the special assessment in the first place was granted by regulation. However, since I believe in higher order critical thinking ( notice how I did that ? 😉 Duncan would be so proud), one must examine the constitutional foundation of the right of the Feds (or Congress for that matter) to be determining educational outcomes in the first place. Do they have it? Or are they just taking it?

    Perhaps this Common Core issue has helped all of us realize that we have allowed too much sliding of our children’s future into the hands of the Feds. Instead of fighting the small battles here & there, maybe we should be fighting the big war. Eliminating Common Core & the constant assessments, or defeating this regulation & others like it, will only give us a temporary reprieve. It won’t stop the problem: that the USDOE thinks they can tell the states, and parents, what is best for our children.

    1. Thank you Redheadwrites. I dont disagree with you that we must look beyond the regulation. Moreover, I absolutely agree with you about the constitutional implications of the common core measure.

      In fact, in one of my prior blog pieces, I started out addressing the constitutional issue like this:

      “Mandates created by the federal government have placed a large emphasis on standardized testing in our public schools. No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top were attempts to improve student performance and raise the quality of education in the US but critics argue whether these measures have been effective.

      Under No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) schools are held accountable to the federal government to report test score data, and the government implements measures and sanctions to raise scores in repeatedly low-performing schools. Priority has been redirected to math, reading, and writing – the most prominent areas on standardized tests. This measure gives the State Education Department authority to administer assessments. However, it is well settled that the Federal government cannot mandate education policy to the states.

      “Please note that in the U.S., the federal role in education is limited. Because of the Tenth Amendment, most education policy is decided at the state and local levels” says the US Department of Education.

      The imposition of national standards isn’t constitutional. Nothing in the U.S. Constitution authorizes the federal government to exercise any control over education, and this limitation is reinforced by a longstanding federal law that forbids the federal government “to mandate, direct, or control … school’s curriculum, program of instruction, or allocation of state or local resources.”

      In fact, there is no provision for education in the Constitution. Education is a matter reserved to the States. So, technically, it would be impossible for States to claim that districts are “mandated” to comply with federal regulations absent State imposed education related regulations in schools.”

      You can read more about the issues that predicated that post from my blog piece here:

      But, I digress.

      I think the point I was trying to make is that here in NYS we really have bigger priorities and ammunition to lodge against Arnie, the feds and use to argue our case against common core, namely examples to show how tha feds have usurped the rights of the state against the constiution. Again, I have read some of the arguments being advanced about the regulation to phase out AA-MAS. I just dont see the AA-MAS as being a particularly strong example of as it is being made out to be and I think that hurts our case more than it helps it.

      Again the modified assessments are being phased out because of a much bigger issue that is driving this change in policy. And the bigger issue is what people should be objecting to here in NYS to advocate for our special needs kids. Contacting the Regents, state reps and local officials about the impact of the AA-MAS phase out is of no moment. Contacting our Congressional officials is an avenue to take, but I feel we have much bigger ammo and priorities to advance. Just my view.

    2. To further augment my thoughts, IMO USDEs testing and accountability policies for students with disabilities is what is driving the phase out of AA-MAS and should be the focus of our efforts to challenge on grounds including but not limited to a const basis.

      AA-MAS is NOT the issue at bar. It is a side effect.

      Here are some of the policies/regulations we should be objecting to in NYS and acorss the country, in

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