SDAA is an acronym for state-developed Alternative Assessment. In this case, the state is Texas, and in Texas, everything is bigger, including its standardized testing program. The SDAA is a test that was developed to access special education students who could not successfully take the TAKS, the high-stakes test that is taken by general education students.
Since almost all children had to be tested, the SDAA became a way to test students without hurting schools’ overall test ratings. Today, more and more special education children are being encouraged to take the SDAA, as it can be administered to a child on any grade level, at the level that the child is functioning at. For example, a child who is in eighth grade can take the SDAA on a third-grade level.
Of course, this drastically increases the child’s chances of passing the test. While obstinately designed to measure a child’s progress of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), it is in fact a rather easy test that almost all children with the most rudimentary skills can pass.
There have been many ARD meetings where administrators urge teachers and parents to accept a low testing level as part of the student’s individualized education plan, as when the scores are released, it will look better for the school. Whether or not this test actually measures a child’s learning is debatable, and most likely differs from campus to campus and how they choose to designate testing levels.
Fortunately, it appears that the state has become aware of these problems, and will be phasing out the SDAA. In a few years, only one percent of all special education students will be able to take this alternative test.
While it is understandable why the state took this measure, it is difficult to understand how some special education students will be able to take the much more challenging TAKS test, as more than one percent are severely disabled, at least at many campuses. For parents and teachers, it can become quite a quagmire, with no easy solutions.
The SDAA has recently morphed into the SDAA-II. According to the Texas Education Agency, these changes were made to assess more of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills than the previous SDAA. It is good that this test is being revamped, as the 6th grade SDAA did not come close to measuring what the 6th grade TAKS test does, even though it might have had an eighth-grader taking it.
Currently, the SDAA does provide some protection for students. If a student qualifies as a special education student and takes the SDAA, then they do not risk failing the TAKS and potentially being held back a grade. However, once a student reaches the 9th grade, that protection is gone. If a special education student has an alternative degree plan, then they can graduate without the TAKS test.
If they wish to graduate by taking the regular number and type of courses that their peers take, then they will also need to pass the TAKS in order to graduate. Because of the school’s previous tendency to overuse their ability to exempt students from taking the TAKS, this is rarely an option anymore.
Another way that the SDAA can help students is by providing larger print and pictures that accompany the text. This helps struggling readers to be successful on the test. Perhaps, as the SDAA is slowly phased out, the TAKS test will also be modified where optional large print or pictures are available. This remains to be seen.
On the Texas Education Association’s website, parents and teachers alike can find released versions of the test. These can be helpful when there is a concern that the student may not pass the test, as they provide good practice, and familiarize the student with the test-taking format. Educators may also want to take a closer look to see which TEKS will possibly be on the SDAA-II test.
During the ARD meeting, when the individualized education plan is being developed, is when testing levels are typically determined. Make sure to get this in writing. Be careful if a school administrator or teacher calls you and says that they need your permission to make a minor change to your child’s IEP. In some cases, that minor change has been the testing level, and this is not legal if an ARD has not been held.
Do be aware that students who are taking the SDAA are separated from the other students when it is time for the schools to do their standardized testing. If your child is in inclusion classes, but has an IEP that states that he or she will be taking the SDAA, this could be an unwelcome surprise. Talk to the testing coordinator at the school so that you can tell your child what to expect on that day.
The SDAA can work for or against your child. Find out about it before you have your child’s annual ARD meeting so that you can help school personnel make choices that are in the best interest of your child.