What are the Effects of the Virginia Alternate Assessment Program on the Instruction of Students with Severe Disabilities in One School District?




Mistretta, Lisa Anne

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Virginia’s Alternate Assessment Program (VAAP) is a relatively new, but important program for use with students with significant disabilities. An understanding of teachers’ perspectives relating to the VAAP as well as its Aligned Standards of Learning (ASOLS) is crucial in understanding teachers’ attitudes concerning perceived effectiveness and improved outcomes for students with the most significant disabilities. This mixed methods study addressed the perspectives, practices and attitudes of teachers using the VAAP in one school district in Virginia. The purpose of the study was to examine the implementation of the VAAP from the perspectives of school personnel on instruction of students with severe disabilities in one school district. The specific components of the study included review of: (a) the implementation of “evidenced based best practices,” (b) student scores on the VAAP, (c) current curricula and specific teaching practices, and (d) the perceived influence of the degree of severity of the students taking the VAAP. Finally, the study considered teachers’ and staff’s perceptions of the VAAP with ASOLs and its relationship with instructional practices. The overall findings from the participants in this study include the following: (a) a need for more expertise and improved staff development in the area of instruction for students with severe disabilities; (b) there were no significant differences before or after VAAP with ASOLs implementations on teachers’ use of evidenced based best practices; (c) it is unclear whether results of the VAAP inform instructional practices; (d) a clearly established curriculum for students with severe disabilities does not appear to be consistently implemented; (e) the VAAP with ASOLs does not appear to have impacted the majority of teachers’ practices for students with severe disabilities; (f) there is disagreement among staff regarding perceptions of the appropriateness of mastery of academic content with the degree of the severity of the student’s disability, and (g) both positive and negative perceptions of the VAAP with ASOLs exist among staff in this small school district. Although the VAAP with ASOLs has increased academic expectations for student performance, especially for student with more mild to moderate cognitive disabilities the utility for the most severely cognitively impaired and medically fragile students remains less clear. This study provides a description of how one district is working with the alternative assessment procedures with students with cognitive disabilities. Future research can provide evidence on the effectiveness of the VAAP with ASOLs with students with significant disabilities.



Alternate assessment, Severe disabilities, VAAP, Virginia Alternate Assessment Program, Academics, Curriculum