Education and Alternate Assessment for Students with Significant Cognitive Disabilities: Implications for Educators


  • Mary C. Zatta Perkins School for the Blind
  • Diana C. Pullin Boston College



State and federal mandates for education reform call for increased accountability and the inclusion of students with disabilities in all accountability efforts. In the rush to implement high-stakes education reforms, particularly those involving tests or assessments, the particular needs of students with severe cognitive disabilities are only now being addressed by policymakers and educators. For students with significant cognitive disabilities, implementation of alternate approaches to education accountability is increasing. At the same time, the challenges associated with successfully implementing alternate assessment programs are becoming more obvious. This paper describes some of the ways in which alternate assessment as part of standards-based education reform may impact students with significant cognitive disabilities. It provides an overview of state efforts to implement alternate assessments for students with significant cognitive disabilities, followed by an example of how one state has begun to implement alternate assessment through the Massachusetts Alternate Assessment (MCAS-Alt/ Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System Alternate). It reviews issues educators in all states will face in the participation of students with significant disabilities in alternate assessment programs, the content and form of alternate assessments, the validity and reliability of the assessments, and the role of teachers in the implementation of alternate assessment programs.


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Author Biographies

Mary C. Zatta, Perkins School for the Blind

Mary Zatta received her Ph.D. from Boston College. She is administrator in the Deafblind Program at Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, Massachusetts. At the Perkins School, she is responsible for educational and residential programming for deafblind adolescents. In addition to her work at Perkins, she has served as an international consultant in several nations on issues related to the instruction of deafblind children and adolescents. In addition, she is an adjunct faculty member at the University of Massachussetts-Boston / Center for Social Development and

Diana C. Pullin, Boston College

Diana Pullin is Professor of Education Law and Public Policy at the Lynch School of Education and the School of Law at Boston College. She holds a law degree and a Ph.D. from The University of Iowa. She has published extensively in the area of education law and public policy and has served as a consultant to numerous professional associations, research centers, advocacy groups, attorneys, and education officials on issues concerning law, testing, and disability.




How to Cite

Zatta, M. C. ., & Pullin, D. C. . (2004). Education and Alternate Assessment for Students with Significant Cognitive Disabilities: Implications for Educators. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 12, 16.