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Virginia Journal of Education

Understanding VGLA and VAAP

A Virginia Department of Education official helps educators understand these two sometimes-confusing programs.

Keeping up with the rules and procedures for how special-needs students meet Virginia’s Standards of Learning assessments is a sometimes confusing challenge for many educators. To help with some of the most commonly-asked questions about the Virginia Grade Level Alternative (VGLA) and the Virginia Alternate Assessment Program (VAAP), we asked H. Douglas Cox, Assistant Superintendent for Special Education & Student Services at the Virginia Department of Education, to pull together some information. Here are our questions and his responses:

Can you spell out the requirements for VGLA and VAAP? What are the differences between the two programs?
It is the state’s intent to include all students with disabilities in the assessment component of Virginia’s accountability system. Decisions about participation and how a student with a disability will be tested are made by the IEP team.

The purpose of the VGLA is to provide students whose disabilities prevent them from accessing the Standards of Learning test or tests in a content area, even with accommodations, with the opportunity to participate in state assessments. Typically, a student with a disability recommended for the VGLA demonstrates grade level achievement on classroom assignments but has a disability that results in an inability to demonstrate knowledge and skill on a multiple-choice test, even when accommodations are provided. The VGLA is available for students in grades 3 through 8 as a grade level alternative assessment for SOL testing. Students who qualify to participate in the VGLA will be required to demonstrate individual achievement of grade level content as presented in the SOL test blueprints. Students will compile work samples, called a Collection of Evidence (COE), to demonstrate performance on all on-grade level SOLs. Decisions about participation are made on a test-by-test and individual basis.

The purpose of the VAAP is to evaluate the performance of students with significant cognitive disabilities. The VAAP is available to students in grades 3 through 8 and grade 11 for students working on academic standards that have been reduced in complexity and depth. Only students with significant cognitive disabilities who are eligible under IDEA 2004 and who meet the VAAP guidelines for participation may be assessed through the VAAP. Students will compile a COE to demonstrate performance.
(adapted from Procedures for the Participation of Students with Disabilities)

How do school divisions deal with caps in these programs?
The 1 percent cap is determined by dividing the number of VAAP proficient/advanced scores by the number of students at each tested grade level. The number of students at the tested grade level is determined by the division’s total September 30th fall membership for grades 3-8 and 11. The 1 percent cap applies only at the division and state levels, not for individual schools. Divisions may request an exception to the cap of proficient or advanced VAAP scores that may be included in AYP determinations.
The VGLA is not capped. Decisions about participation are made on a test-by-test and individual basis by the IEP team.
(from Superintendent’s Memo ADM #12, 2008)

What is meant by the term “collection of evidence”? Who is responsible for doing it?
The student’s teachers collect a variety of work samples demonstrating performance on the SOL/ASOL for the academic content area in which instruction has been provided. A signed Affidavit of Student Performance ensuring that the student independently completed all evidence under the supervision of the content area teacher or other school personnel must be included in the COE.
(from VGLA Program Manual)

Does the Virginia Department of Education specify that all student work samples must have a minimum score of 70, 80 or 100 percent to be included in the portfolio?
The state does not require a minimum score on work samples included in collections of evidence, only that it is graded.

When does a student move from “SOLs with accommodations” to VGLA?
When a student is unable to demonstrate individual achievement on the Standards of Learning even with all available accommodations and the student demonstrates individual achievement of the Standards of Learning content by means other than multiple-choice. 
(from VGLA Program Manual)

Must a student meet all participation criteria to move to VGLA? How should an IEP team measure whether or not a student can access the test? Is there a discrepancy they should be looking for?
Yes, a student is eligible based on answering “yes” to all criteria. How an IEP team documents an answer of “yes” is a local decision.

How does a teacher deal with program requirements when more than one academic year is involved?
It’s acceptable to collect evidence across more than one school year or term in cases where the course or instruction covers more than one year or term or the SOL test blueprint includes standards for multiple grade levels. The IEP team must determine VGLA participation during the year that the student begins to receive instruction in the content area for which the VGLA assesses. Local divisions should ensure that teachers and school staff involved in collecting evidence across more than one year or term are adequately trained on VGLA implementation and that they sign affidavits indicating that the work is solely that of the student. Additionally, the school division must ensure that the collection of evidence is secured and appropriately transferred from staff person to staff person until the time of submission.
(from VGLA Frequently Asked Questions)

Similarly, how should a school handle a student who transfers with an IEP that requires that they do the VGLA?
The collection of evidence from the former school division transfers with the student.  The teachers at the new school may add/subtract from the collection as they see fit.

Who has been trained to be assessors?
Each year the Office of Test Administration, Scoring and Reporting conducts workshops for the administration of the VAAP and VGLA. The purpose of these workshops is to update administrators regarding program changes and to provide training sessions to share with school staff responsible for preparing collections.
(summarized from Testing Memo No. 719)

How are assessors selected and by whom? Are they school division teachers, administrators?
How assessors are selected is a local decision. There is no requirement that they are currently school division employees.

Are there any safeguards against the manipulation of IEPs? Am I responsible if I sign off on the IEP?
The Regulations Governing Special Education Programs for Children with Disabilities in Virginia (8VAC20-81) regulates IEPs. Provisions are built into the regulations to ensure proper implementation as well as several avenues of recourse when disputes arise.

Will you please describe the “several avenues” available to teachers who believe there has been an irregularity?
The “several avenues” described above is in reference to safeguards against IEP manipulation, and include mediation, complaints and due process. Testing irregularities are handled through local and state investigations. Teachers are encouraged to report irregularities to the local school division and, if not satisfied, to call the VDOE.

Will any allowances be made in consideration of the amount of teacher time that must be spent on all this documentation?
Collecting work samples and student products are a routine part of the ongoing instructional process. Although additional work is required to organize the collection of evidence and to prepare it for submission, the COE provides students with disabilities a method of demonstrating their knowledge of content through non-traditional means.  Given the broad range of methods available to students participating the programs, a COE is the most flexible and efficient method for examining performance.
(from VGLA Frequently Asked Questions)

What should a teacher do if he or she feels like the VGLA work samples that are being collected are not representative of the student’s classroom performance?
The teacher should report the concern to his/her immediate supervisor (or follow local policy if one has been developed).  


Need More Help?
If you have more questions about VGLA and VAAP (and you probably do), the Virginia Department of Education’s website offers more detailed information. For VGLA information, including frequently asked questions, worksheets, and an implementation manual and forms, visit

For additional help with VAAP, similar information is available at


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