Special Education Students and Required State Testing

Parents/Guardians of Identified Students:

Please read the following correspondence from the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE). It explains the requirement of all students, including those with an Individualized Education Plans (IEP), to participate in mandated state testing. PDE dictates that the only acceptable reason to for a parent to opt-out of state testing is for religious ideology. If a parent would like to opt their child out for religious beliefs a process of reviewing the test and completing paperwork is needed.  Please contact the Office of the Superintendent for additional information regarding religious opt-out of state testing.

Dr. Keating

TO: Chief School Administrators, Assessment Coordinators, Special Education Directors

From: Brian Tuesdale, Chief

Date: November 22, 2019

RE: Participation in State Assesments


This message is being sent prior to the Winter Keystone administration to Chief School Administrators and Assessment Coordinators today. It will be sent to Special Education Directors next week. This message will be sent again prior PSSA testing.

Federal law requires all students participate in state assessments, including students who have an Individualized Education Program (IEP). Specifically, the Every Students Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires that state assessments be administered to all public school students in each state (20 U.S. Code § 6311(b)(2)(B)). Additionally, the Individual with Disabilities Education Act’s implementing regulations require states to “ensure that all children with disabilities are included in general state and district-wide assessment programs,” including assessments required under ESSA (34 CFR §300.160(a)). Accordingly, state assessments are to be administered to all public school students in Pennsylvania in grades 3-8 and 11, including students with an IEP.

In Pennsylvania, the state assessments include the Pennsylvania System of State Assessment (PSSA), Pennsylvania Alternate System of Assessment (PASA), and Keystone Exams. The PASA is the statewide alternate assessment designed for students with the most severe cognitive disabilities. IEP teams do not have the authority to exempt students with an IEP from participation in state assessments. Rather, a student’s IEP team must determine whether a student can meaningfully participate in the PSSA or Keystone Exams or whether the student should be administered the PASA. Additionally, IEP teams have the responsibility to implement the directive to “support the development and provision of appropriate accommodations for children with disabilities,” (20 U.S. Code § 1414 (e)(2)(C)(x)).

Finally, it is not the role of an IEP team to determine whether a student will opt out of a state assessment based upon religious beliefs pursuant to 22 Pa. Code § 4.4 (d)(4). If a parent/guardian feels the state assessment is in conflict with their religious beliefs, they must follow the process for opting the student out of the state assessment. In cases of religious exemptions, the IEP team must address the state assessment section of the IEP as it would if the child were taking the test. Any student who is exempted by their parent/guardian from a state assessment due to religious reasons will count negatively in the LEA’s overall participation rate.

Any questions related to this message should be directed to Brian Truesdale at ra-pas@pa.gov. Thank you.