Statewide Testing

Updated 8/1/13

The purpose of this section is to clarify the legal requirements for the inclusion of students with disabilities in state and district-wide assessments. Additionally, the section reflects the California Department of Education's considered response to implementation issues that have arisen as the state and local school districts implement the STAR (Statewide Testing and Reporting) program and follow assessment guidelines proposed by No Child Left Behind (NCLB).

Statewide assessments have the following purposes: 1) to show how much a student has learned, 2) to reveal how successfully a school has educated its students, and 3) to help guide instructional improvement strategies. Since instructional and policy decisions are based on data from standards-based assessments, students with disabilities need to be included to the maximum extent possible.

The 2004 amendments to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 2004), similar amendments to California law, and the Federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) require the inclusion of students with disabilities in general state and district-wide assessment programs with appropriate accommodations, where necessary. All states must establish performance goals for students with disabilities that are consistent, to the maximum extent appropriate, with other goals and standards for non-disabled students. All states must establish performance indicators to assess progress toward achieving those goals that at a minimum address the performance of students with disabilities on assessments, dropout rates, and graduation rates.

The above regulations require that states also do the following:

  • Make available to the public, and report to the public with the same frequency and in the same detail as it reports on the assessment of non-disabled children
  • Report the number of children with disabilities participating in regular assessments
  • Report disaggregated data obtained from assessments
  • Develop and administer alternate assessments for children with disabilities who cannot participate in regular assessments with accommodations or modifications
  • Report the number of children participating in alternate assessments
  • Report the performance of children on alternate assessments
  • Reflect the performance of all students with disabilities in performance goals and indicators that are used to guide State Improvement Plans

Since the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) in 2002, the participation of students with disabilities has become more critical. Not only must schools make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) for all students, but particular subgroups of students must also show yearly progress. NCLB requires that 95% of each subgroup participate in the state's assessment and be included in the state's accountability system. Students with disabilities comprise one of the subgroups. States are required to comply with a 95% subgroup participation rate within each content area and grade level. Participation includes taking the standard assessment with or without accommodations or modifications or taking the California Alternate Performance Assessment (CAPA). NCLB requires that schools show progress toward student proficiency on grade level state standards. The federal regulations allow for a differential learning standard for a small percentage of students with significant cognitive disabilities who take the alternate assessment.

The State Board of Education (SBE) has determined how NCLB Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) criteria will be integrated into California's current accountability system, the Academic Performance Index (API). The SBE has examined the accommodation policies and made changes in order to ensure students with disabilities have access to the state assessments.

Statewide Assessment
The IDEA 2004 assessment requirements clearly apply to California's Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) Program enacted by SB 376 (Chapter 828, Statutes of 1997). The State Board of Education has currently selected the California Achievement Test, 6th edition (CAT-6), the California Standards Test (CST), the California Modified Assessment (CMA) and the California Alternate Performance Assessment (CAPA), to be administered during the spring testing window to all students in grades 2 through 11 participating in this program. California Education Code requires that all students shall be tested, including students in special education programs and students subject to Section 504 plans under federal law.

Assessing Students in Nonpublic Schools, Alternative Education Programs, or State Operated Programs
The school district responsible for the IEP of a student placed in a nonpublic school must ensure that the student is appropriately included in the STAR program. Students placed in nonpublic schools, alternative education programs, or state-operated programs are part of ALL students included in the STAR program. It is expected that these students will have the same access to the core curriculum and statewide assessment as students have on the regular school campus.

STAR regulations state, "no test may be administered in a private home or location unless the test is administered by an employee of the school district with credential status and the employee signs a security affidavit." Nonpublic schools may administer the STAR examination at the school site, provided that a credentialed employee of an affiliated school district who signs a security affidavit administers it. No test can be administered to a pupil by the parent or guardian of that pupil.

State-operated programs, such as the California Schools for the Deaf, the California School for the Blind, and alternative and correctional facilities are responsible for including their students in the STAR program.

Test Preparation for Students with Disabilities
The regulations for the STAR program restrict the materials that can be used to prepare examinees: "no program or materials shall be used by any school district or employee of a school district that are specifically formulated or intended to prepare pupils for the designated achievement test." However, "practice tests provided by the publisher as part of the designated achievement for the limited purpose of familiarizing pupils with the use of scanable test booklets or answer sheets and the format of test items are not subject to the prohibition."

The CDE recommends that students be made aware of when the spring testing window will take place. A classroom discussion of what group standardized assessment is and its purpose may be helpful to some students. Students should be encouraged to get plenty of sleep and eat a good breakfast. Teachers may wish to familiarize students with different testing formats such as multiple choice or fill-in-the-blanks. It may also be beneficial for students (especially younger ones) to have practice in "bubbling-in" answers. Many test publishers offer practice activities and tests for use with students before a group standardized administration.

Determining How Students with Disabilities Participate in STAR
The student's Individualized Education Program (IEP) team is responsible for determining how a student will participate in the Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) program. The IEP team should consider the student's day-to-day need for adaptations. The IEP team will make the decision each year on how the student should participate in statewide testing. Many students with special needs can take tests under the same conditions as their non-disabled classmates. Only adaptations used in the classroom should be used in testing, and then only to give the student access to the test. The goal is to "level the playing field" and not give an unfair advantage to the student with disabilities.

Individuals who know the student's strengths and weaknesses should make decisions about any adaptations. The student and his/her parent should be comfortable with the adaptations proposed for the State Testing. The student's assessment participation should be reviewed annually, and if necessary changed. Information about the student's test behavior can guide future use of testing adaptations.

Adaptations Defined
The State Department of Education defines 3 types of adaptations:

Variation: Test variations are adaptations that are available to all students to assure that they are physically able to take the tests. They include the use of assistive equipment, visual supports and magnification, audio amplification, sensory supports (including adjusted lighting and sound reduction), simplified directions, use of alternative communication systems, and testing in small groups. They do not alter the content or the validity of the tests.

Accommodations: The term "accommodation" is commonly used to define changes in format, response, timing, or scheduling that do not alter in any significant way what the test measures or the comparability of scores. They are available to students with special needs, including students who have 504 plans, if the accommodations are written in their plans. Accommodations include flexible setting for tests, extended time, revised or enlarged test materials, assistive devices used independently, oral or signed responses on written tests, and Braille tests or materials. Accommodations may require early planning in order to have materials available to the student during the testing "window." The scores of students who use these accommodations will be reported to the State as scores "with Accommodations" and will be counted in the districts participation rate and in the calculation of the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) rate.

Modifications: When adaptations in the assessment alter what the test is supposed to measure or the comparability of scores, they may be referred to as "modifications". Test modifications are available only to students with disabilities who have the modification documented in the IEP. Modifications are not available to students with 504 plans. The IEP team should be well informed about the possible consequences of using test modifications. Modifications should only be used when other accommodations have been considered and determined that they do not allow sufficient access to the test. The student who uses modification on the State Testing Program will be reported as "not proficient" in the calculation of the district's AYP, but will be counted in the district's participation rate. Some test modifications include use of a calculator or math manipulatives, use of a dictionary, reader services on the reading portions of the test, use of oral or signed responses on the writing portions of the tests. Out of level testing is not allowed as a modification.

California Modified Assessment
Federal regulations approved in 2007 allowed states to assess students with IEPs based upon modified achievement standards. The California Modified Assessment (CMA) became available in the spring of 2008 for a small number of students for whom the STAR tests, even with accommodations or modifications do not yield valid scores. The test will not be fully implemented until 2010 but is available at more grade levels each year until full implementation. The CMA is a measure of the same content as the CST, but in a different format. The questions do not span the same breadth and depth of the content standards, but cover the same skills. There are fewer questions on a page and fewer total questions. The recording of responses is simplified. The IEP team may decide that the student with disabilities may require the CMA format if:

  1. The student has taken the CST in a previous year and scored "Below Basic" or "Far Below Basic," or, the student has taken the CAPA on 2 previous years and scored "Proficient" or "Advanced," and
  2. The student has IEP goals that address core curriculum standards in CMA content areas, and
  3. The student is exposed to grade level core curriculum in the classroom, and
  4. The IEP team has determined that the student will not receive a proficient score on the CST
    The CMA may be taken with accommodations, if the IEP team determines they are appropriate.
CMA Characteristics
  • The total number of test questions has been reduced
  • The language of test questions has been simplified
  • Fewer multiple choice options are offered
  • Pictures are used to aid understanding
  • More white space is provided on the test

California Alternate Performance Assessment (CAPA)
IDEA 2004 and No Child Left Behind require participation by students with severe disabilities in the State assessment program. The rationale for this requirement is the belief that including all students in the assessment programs will help to create a more accurate picture of education at the school, district and state levels, and will lead to greater accountability for the educational outcomes of all students. It was anticipated that severely disabled students, whose instructional program primarily covers functional, non-academic content, and for whom no appropriate testing accommodations can be devised will participate in alternate assessment

The IEP team should consider:

  • whether the student participates in an academic or functional curriculum;
  • the types of instructional moifications employed with the student;
  • whether the student is working toward a standard high school diploma;
  • the preference of the parent, where applicable the preference of the student, input from other involved agencies


The CAPA consists of English/Language Arts and Mathematics sections. A Science section will be added to each level as it becomes available. There is an extensive materials list for the CAPA. Districts should assemble the required materials well in advance of the testing date.

The CAPA is organized into five levels, representing specific grade spans. Most students eligible for the CAPA take the level corresponding to their grade placement. These students are expected to move through the CAPA levels as they progress from grade to grade. Some students with complex, profound disabilities may be eligible for Level 1 throughout their school careers.

CAPA Levels

Level I Criteria

  • Students are between the ages of 7-16, equivalent to grades 2-11
  • Students have severe, pervasive disabilities
  • Students are exposed to core curriculum at or below the 1st grade level

Level II

  • Grades 2-3

Level III

  • Grades 4-5

Level IV

  • Grades 6-8

Level V

  • Grades 9-11


Just as students with disabilities should be educated in the least restrictive environment (LRE), the student has a right to participate in the assessment program at the "least restrictive" level. If the testing level is too easy for a student, a perfect score does not provide information about the student's knowledge and skills. If a student taking CAPA Level 1 scores in the advanced performance level the IEP team may want to consider having the student take the standard CST assessments. This should not be an automatic decision, but should be considered carefully by the IEP team.

A district may only administer the CMA and the CAPA to a total of


of their enrolled students!


Training Tag

California Alternate Performance Assessment

Assessment/Alternate Assessment



California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE)
The California Education Code has established minimum requirements for graduation from California high schools. One of these requirements is for students to pass the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE). The purpose of the California High School Exit Exam is to assure that students who graduate from high school have demonstrated the achievement and knowledge embodied in the state standards in reading, writing, and mathematics.

The CAHSEE is administered to all California high school students beginning in grade 10. Students with IEPs may use any variations, accommodations or modifications listed in their IEPs during testing. Students with 504 plans may use any accommodations listed in their 504 plans.

Students who do not pass the CAHSEE in 10th grade have seven additional opportunities to retake the exam. Only the part(s) not passed must be taken again. In addition, school districts are required by law to provide supplemental instruction aligned to state academic content standards for students who do not pass the exam.

A school board may waive the requirement to successfully pass one or both parts of the CAHSEE for a student with a disability if the High School Principal certifies that the student has all of the following:

  • An IEP that requires the accommodations or modifications to be provided to the student when taking the high school exit exam
  • Sufficient coursework in a high school curriculum to have attained the skills needed to pass the CAHSEE
  • A passing score on the CAHSEE while using a modification

Other State Assessment Programs
IDEA '97 refers to "general State and district-wide assessment programs." California operates several large-scale statewide assessment programs and requires school districts to administer proficiency testing in selected grades These programs should include students with disabilities, with appropriate accommodations, if needed. Because participation in these programs is not mandated for all students, the requirement for an alternate assessment of students with severe disabilities does not apply. . In addition to the STAR program, California's other statewide assessment programs currently include the following:

  • Desired Results Developmental Profile (DRDP) is an observational rating scale used in state funded preschool programs, including special education programs. Staff members who are familiar with the students rate their skills in four areas: personal and social competence, effective learning, physical and motor competence, and safety and health. Students with IEP's can be rated on an alternate form, the DRDP Access, if the IEP team determines that is more appropriate than the standard version. The IEP team can also determine which variations may be used by the rater. Ratings are conducted twice per school year when the students are 3, 4 and 5 years old. Results are submitted electronically to the State Department of Education and are used for program efficacy reviews. They are available to parents upon request, but are not reported in a format that allows comparison with other children.
  • The California High School Proficiency Examination (CHSPE) certifies competency in basic skills taught in public high schools. The State Board of Education awards a certificate of proficiency to individuals who pass the CHSPE. The certificate is equivalent to a high school diploma.
  • The Assessments in Career Education (ACE) program offers voluntary end-of-course examinations for high school students in five career-vocational education areas: agricultural core, computer science and information systems, health care (level 1), food services and hospitality, and technology core. Results identify students who have demonstrated outstanding achievement. Students who demonstrate high levels of achievement receive a notation on their diploma.

Participation in and Exemption from General and Alternate Assessment
California Education Code 60615 states with regard to statewide assessment in general: "Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a parent's or guardian's written request to school officials to excuse his or her child from any or all parts of the assessments administered pursuant to this chapter shall be granted." Schools or districts may inform parents or guardians of this right, but may not solicit such requests. Whether the parent chooses to exempt the child from the statewide testing program is not an IEP team decision, and should not be discussed at the IEP meeting. Even if the parents indicate that they will seek exemption for their child, the IEP team must still determine what assessments and what adaptations the child will require. Do not check the box "Exempt from assessment due to age or grade level" when a parents indicate that they will seek exemption for their child.

Resource Link

CELDT and the IEP
Most students with disabilities take the California English Language Development Test (CELDT) with all other students under standard conditions. Students with disabilities may require test adaptations, or may take alternate assessments. Test adaptations are allowed for any student who regularly uses them in the classroom. Accommodations, modifications, and/or alternate assessments must be specified in each student's IEP. Before any adaptation is used, the following activities must be considered when preparing or updating the IEP:

  • The IEP team determines if the student's disability would preclude him/her from taking any or all domains of the CELDT (with or without adaptations).
  • IEP teams review the Matrix of Test Adaptations for Administration of California Statewide Assessments.

Resource Link

Since modifications and alternate assessments fundamentally alter what the test measures, students receive the lowest obtainable scale score (LOSS) on each domain affected and Overall. The LOSS will be used for Title III accountability purposes. Results from a modified or alternate assessment should be used for instructional, initial designation and reclassification decisions, since the LOSS does not reflect the student's English proficiency level.

Alternate Assessments to CELDT
Some English Learners with an IEP may need to take an alternate assessment to CELDT for initial or follow-up annual language proficiency testing. If the IEP team determines that the student's disability would preclude him/her from taking any or all domains of the CELDT (with or without adaptations) they must determine which alternate assessments(s) may be needed for the domain(s) of the CELDT that the student is unable to take. The IEP team must also note how the student's disability precludes the student from taking any or all sections of the CELDT.

Click here to download and print "Procedures Guide-Statewide Testing"