Julia K. Landau, J.D.
Janet R. Vohs, B.A.
Carolyn A. Romano, J.D.
Bound copies of AllKids
Count may be ordered
About the Federation and the PEER Project
The Federation for Children with Special Needs is a nonprofit organization based on the philosophy of parents helping parents. Founded in 1974 as a coalition of twelve disability and parent organizations, today the Federation is an independent advocacy organization committed to quality education and health care for all, and to protecting the rights of all children. To this end, the Federation provides information, support, and assistance to parents of children with disabilities, their organizations, their professional partners, and their communities. We further believe that listening to and learning from families and from people with disabilities about their experiences, knowledge, hopes, and dreams are fundamental to shaping a society in which everyoneís contributions count.
Parents Engaged in Education Reform (PEER) is a national technical assistance project funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs. PEERís purpose is to support parents of children with disabilities and their organizations to be informed, active participants in education reform efforts.
Through publications, teleconferences, workshops, and institutes, the PEER Project provides opportunities for parents, parent organizations, and professionals to learn about school reform efforts occurring in states and local communities. In addition, to enhance opportunities for early literacy for at-risk students, PEER is providing information and training to parent and community organizations in promising and best practices in early literacy. Information briefs, facts sheets, and a resource manual on school reform are currently being developed.
Funding for All Kids Count: Including Students with Disabilities in Statewide Assessment Programs was provided by the Office of Special Education Programs, U.S. Department of Education through grant #H029K50208. However, the contents of this publication do not necessarily reflect the view or policies of the Department of Education and no official endorsement by the Department of Education should be inferred.
Readers are granted permission to reproduce this document for nonprofit distribution. The only requirement is that proper credit be given to the authors, the PEER Project, and the Federation for Children with Special Needs.
The illustrations are reprinted by permission of the artist, Martha Perske, and are drawn from the following publications by Robert Perske and Martha Perske: Circle of Friends (1988), Hope for the Families (1989), and New Life in the Neighborhood (1989), published by Abingdon Press, Nashville.
A number of people contributed directly to the creation of this book. We owe special thanks to: Martha Perske for granting the Federation for Children with Special Needs permission to use her illustrations that convey more powerfully than words ever could a rock-solid belief in the absolute worth and dignity of each child; Linda Bond, National Assessment Consultant at CTB/McGraw Hill, for her generous assistance in providing background and developing and refining the survey instrument; Martha Thurlow and Judy Elliott at the National Center for Educational Outcomes (NCEO) for assistance in a number of important ways, not the least of which was engaging in thoughtful, probing conversations about controversial issues surrounding statewide assessment: Judy Elliott helped locate and research state documents and sharpen the survey questions, and Martha Thurlow critiqued the glossary and wrote the PEER Information Brief on Assessment included in this book; Laura Farah at the National Parent Network on Disabilities, who set the survey process into motion and assisted in analyzing results; Lou-Anne Kroutil, legal intern from Northeastern University School of Law, for her help in drafting the glossary and verifying all the contact information for the state departments of education; and State Department of Education officials who reviewed and discussed information on the "State Profile" sheets.
Our thanks to the following people who reviewed drafts of various parts of this book as it was being developed. Their comments and those of many others improved our understanding: Barbara Buswell, PEAK Parent Center; Ken Oslen, Mid-South Regional Resource Center; Scott Trimble, Director of Student Assessment Systems, Kentucky Department of Education; Marcia Harding, Coordinator of Special Education, Arkansas; Jay McIntire, Policy Specialist, Council for Exceptional Children; Charlotte "Dee" Spinkston, Northeast Regional Resource Center; James Viola, Bureau Chief, New York State Education Department; and Phoebe Winter, Council of Chief State School Officers.
Closest to home, at the Federation offices in Boston, we thank the following for their invaluable support and contributions: Evie Hausslein who contacted all the state education officials, managed to keep track of piles of enormously detailed information, and then helped us transform all of it into a format that would be maximally useful; Piyanuch "Oui" Sirithanachai, for her mastery at deciphering handwritten notes and translating them swiftly and accurately while preparing revisions of the various manuscripts; and Kristen "Nummi" Nummerdor who cast a constructively critical eye over all and helped shape the final product.
Finally, we thank Jim Button at the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, U.S. Department of Education, for his ongoing support of the PEER Project and the publication of this book.
"Measure what you treasure." This popular saying is particularly relevant when considering the participation of students with disabilities in statewide assessment systems. Statewide assessments have become a key component of school reform initiatives because they are seen as a way to hold schools accountable for the educational results of all students. Assessments also help states and school districts gather information about student performance and progress, leading to improved education for all students.
Yet, a look at the recent history of assessment practices across the country reveals that students with disabilities have been excluded from assessments at alarmingly high levels: approximately fifty percent of students with disabilities have been excluded from various large-scale assessments, with rates of exclusion varying widely from state to state. Exclusion from large-scale assessment systems gives an unfortunate message that the learning achievements and progress of some students donít count. If, as a nation, we really do believe that all students count, then we must count all students, including students with disabilities, in statewide assessments. Counting all students does not mean that all students take the same tests. It does mean that every student deserves full and equal opportunity to demonstrate what he or she knows and is able to do. It also means that every studentís learning and educational progress is accounted for and considered when critical policy and program decisions based on assessment scores are made.
All Kids Count is intended as a basic primer on the participation of students with disabilities in statewide assessment systems. Its purpose is to give parents, parent leaders, professionals, and other interested parties basic guidelines and points of reference for participating in discussions around policies and practices related to the inclusion of students with disabilities in large-scale assessment programs.
Right now educators, school administrators,
parents, policymakers, test designers, and other stakeholders are intensely
engaged in developing new strategies to include students with disabilities
in large-scale assessments. One important impetus for this increased attention
to assessment occurred on June 4, 1997, the day President Clinton signed
into law the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Amendments
of 1997. IDEA now requires that students with disabilities have access
to the same high standards and general education curriculum as their non-disabled
peers. IDEA also requires that all students with disabilities be included
in state and district assessments, with accommodations where appropriate.
Participation of children with disabilities is similarly required by the
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation
Act of 1973.
Benefits to Students
A Key to Higher Expectations. The overall goal for our nationís many education reform initiatives is to raise the level of learning for all students, including students with disabilities. This goal is grounded in the belief that all students are capable of meeting much higher standards than have been expected of them in the past. Historically, expectations for students with disabilities have been appallingly low, as these students have been discouraged from participating in general curriculum studies. Students with disabilities must participate in assessments to ensure meaningful access to the same high curriculum and standards that drive education for all other students.
School Accountability for All. Participation in assessments sends the message that schools are accountable for all students reaching higher levels of learning. The higher expectations placed on schools can result in increased use of accommodations or adaptations and other strategies to help students with disabilities reach higher standards.
A Role in Shaping Policies and Programs. To help students meet higher standards, state and local education agencies are developing new instructional methods and technologies. Data from assessments can be used to gather information about promising practices and to improve programs. If students with disabilities are included in assessments, their needs will be considered in shaping education policies, programs, and practices.
High Stakes for Individual Students. For individual students, the importance of assessment may be even more direct and critical. Increasingly, assessments are used as the basis for awarding diplomas or for gaining access to post-secondary opportunities. Students with disabilities must have equal opportunities to demonstrate their competencies in order to have full and equal access to future life opportunities.
States are now reviewing and revising their policies in order to comply fully with IDEA. Educators must now consider the achievement of all students with disabilities when evaluating the performance of a school, district, or state. These changes to IDEA provide great promise. When properly implemented, they will ensure that students with disabilities receive the full benefits of education reform. As with all other aspects of special education law, however, making the promise a reality is contingent on the active participation of parents of students with disabilities working in partnership with educators.
In America, we treasure education and view it as essential to creating the educated citizenry necessary for a democracy to flourish. We treasure our children as the best hope for our future and the future of our country. With active participation of parents, committed professionals, and ordinary citizens, we can create an educational system that demonstrates its commitment to each child by counting and being accountable for each childís learning.
Overview of Contents
Executive Summary: Analysis of Statewide Assessment Survey Results --This Summary provides a national picture of statewide assessment policies and practices, including those related to the participation of students with disabilities in statewide assessment programs. The analysis is based on findings from the PEER Projectís state-by-state survey of statewide assessment programs.
State Profiles: Statewide Assessment Survey Results -- The State Profiles are based on the PEER Projectís survey of individual state policies and practices related to statewide assessment. In addition to general information about each stateís assessment program, there are brief answers to specific questions related to the inclusion of students with disabilities in assessments, the use of accommodations, and the reporting of scores.
In conducting this survey, the PEER Project analyzed state policy documents and directly contacted state education officials to update, verify, and expand upon the Council of Chief State School Officersí Annual Survey of State Student Assessment Programs (Fall 1996, data on 1995-96 programs). The PEER Projectís survey was conducted from Summer 1997 through February 1998. The PEER Project recognizes that states are continuously engaged in addressing school reform and assessment issues, and, therefore, some of the reported information may already have changed.
Policy Issues, Questions, and Strategies -- This section highlights key policy and implementation issues for students with disabilities and suggests strategies for improving state policy and program development related to assessment.
Examples of Accommodations from State Assessment Policies -- The PEER Project compiled this list of accommodations while reviewing state assessment policies. They are offered as examples of possible accommodations that may be useful in developing an individual studentís IEP or 504 plan, or in designing state policies.
Assessment: A Key Component of Education Reform -- Prepared by Martha L. Thurlow, Ph.D., Associate Director, National Center for Educational Outcomes, this PEER Information Brief provides an overview of the role of assessment in education reform and highlights issues related to the inclusion of students with disabilities in large-scale assessments.
Analysis of Statewide Assessment Survey Results
Over the past months, from the Summer of 1997 through February 1998, the PEER Project conducted a survey of statewide assessment programs. The purpose of the survey was to provide parents, parent leaders, professionals, advocates, and others with a snapshot of their stateís policies and current practices in assessment. With the recent passage of the IDEA Amendments of 1997, many statewide assessment programs are in flux; nearly all will have to make major changes in assessment policies and practices to fully implement IDEA. The survey findings and individual state profiles will assist those efforts in a number of ways. First, since students with disabilities have been largely excluded from large-scale asessment in the past, parents and others concerned with the education of students with disabilities are unfamiliar with the language and practices of assessment. The state profiles provide a handy reference for understanding the status of statewide assessment in oneís own state and for identifying areas where more information may be needed. The survey will also serve a useful purpose by providing a point of reference to gauge future progress toward achieving full compliance with IDEA.
The following report summarizes our key findings as of February 1998.
In many states, test results have high stakes for individual students. For example, more than a third (43%) of the states require students to "pass" an assessment in order to receive a high school diploma. These high stakes underscore the importance of participation. If students with disabilities are exempt from the assessment, they will not even be considered when schools are determining which students are eligible to receive diplomas.
The type of assessments utilized by states throughout the country are quite varied. There is a wide range in the choice of specific assessment instruments, the grades in which students are assessed, the subjects tested, and the types of questions used. Regardless of the specific nature of a stateís assessment system, full implementation of IDEA requires a focus on state policies for including and accommodating students with disabilities in the assessment program.
Findings Related to Students with Disabilities
The following is a summary of the PEER Projectís survey findings (corresponding to questions 6, 7, and 8 of the state profiles) which pertain to students with disabilities.
of All Students with Disabilities in Statewide Assessment
All children with disabilities must participate in statewide assessment. Yet, very few states currently have policies which provide for full participation of students with disabilities. The vast majority (89%) of states currently allow exemption of some students with disabilities. The exemption criteria for many states are quite broad, leading to concern that existing policies contribute to exclusion of large numbers of students from participation in the assessment. More than one quarter (28%) of the states do not provide any specific criteria for IEP teams to utilize when determining exemptions. In addition, there are still some states (17%) that continue to exempt students based on the restrictiveness of their placement or the category of their disability, policies that are clearly inconsistent with the IDEA Amendments of 1997. In a few states, the IEP team is not used to determine a studentís participation in assessments. These policies and practices will need to be changed to comply with IDEA.
One third of the states allow exemptions for students whose instructional programs do not reflect the learning standards on which the test is based or for students who are not seeking a diploma. These exemption criteria are particularly troubling. IDEA was amended to require access to the general education curriculum. This change was made in recognition of the fact that many students are currently denied the opportunity to learn the same curriculum provided to students without disabilities. Thus, exemption criteria linked to a studentís lack of participation in the general curriculum will simply solidify these exclusionary practices.
IDEA now mandates that a state must conduct alternate assessments for children who cannot participate in the general statewide assessment, even with accommodations [20 U.S.C. 1412(a)(17(A)(ii)]. "Only a small percentage" of students should participate in the state assessment program with alternate tests [Note to Proposed Rules 34 C.F.R. 300.138]. Alternate assessments must be available no later than July 1, 2000. Yet, a Summer 1997 phone survey conducted by the PEER Project found that 62% of the 26 states responding did not have alternate assessments available. This finding is consistent with the survey conducted by the Council of Chief State School Officers* which indicated that 90% of the states did not have alternate assessments available. This is of grave concern, because the unavailability of these tests means that students requiring alternate assessments to demonstrate what they know will be denied that opportunity. It will take time to develop the alternate assessments necessary to provide students with equal opportunities to demonstrate their competencies. Therefore, state agencies must act quickly in order to comply with IDEA and be ready to conduct alternate assessments by July 1, 2000.
State officials frequently indicated that they were in the process of revising state exemption policies in view of the new IDEA requirements. Significantly, all the states have adopted policies regarding participation of students with disabilities, a change that signifies notable progress over recent years. In addition, the vast majority of states utilize the IEP team for making assessment decisions. It is now crucial that parents, educators, and state and federal officials ensure that any new policies address the needs of all students with disabilities.
* Annual Survey of State Student Assessment Programs: Data on 1995-96 Statewide Student Assessment Programs. (Fall 1996). Council of Chief State School Officers. Washington, DC.
of Appropriate Accommodations in order for Children with Disabilities to
Participate in Statewide Assessments
The IEP team is authorized and required to specify any accommodations and modifications necessary for the child to participate in the statewide assessments. In the vast majority of states, the IEP teams do determine individual accommodations. Few states, however, comply fully with IDEA requirements.
Almost three quarters of the states (72%) provide a list of "approved accommodations." The majority of these states, however, preclude IEP teams from recommending an accommodation that is not on the approved list. Such a restriction is inconsistent with IDEA because it limits the ability of the IEP team to choose accommodations or modifications based on the studentís individual needs. Only five states appear to permit IEP teams to choose the accommodations or modifications a student needs even if the accommodations are not on the stateís approved list. Twelve states allow the IEP team to request state approval for an accommodation that is not listed. However, this approval process still removes the IEP decision about accommodations from the team most knowledgeable about the child, a practice inconsistent with IDEA.
State policies which allow IEP teams to consider the full range of accommodations, including those utilized in classroom instruction, will best protect against discrimination in assessment practices. Approximately one quarter of the states appear to have such policies, allowing IEP teams to consider accommodations based solely on the childís individual needs. At the same time, it is important to note that additional research will be needed to address technical issues around test measurement and use of the full range of accommodations.
Scores of Students with Disabilities with the Scores of All Other Students
("Aggregated") and Separately from the Scores of Students without Disabilities
IDEA requires states to report the scores of students with disabilities in two ways. First, school, district, and statewide summaries must report the scores of students with disabilities with the scores of all other students ("aggregated" scores). This provision is important because if the scores of students with disabilities are only reported separately, the achievement of students with disabilities is likely to be considered as less important when evaluating school performance. As stated in the comment section of the proposed rules regarding aggregation of data: "The Secretary believes that the IDEA Amendments of 1997 were designed to foster consideration of children with disabilities as a part of the student population as a whole." In addition, school, district, and statewide summaries must also report the performance of children with disabilities separately from the scores of students without disabilities ("disaggregated" scores) to allow analysis of student performance and identification of specific trends.
Approximately one fifth (23%) of the states currently report both aggregated and disaggregated scores. Approximately one half of the states report only disaggregated scores, reporting the performance of students with disabilities separately from students without disabilities. The remaining states only provide aggregated reports, incorporating the scores of students with disabilities in local and state reports. As states move forward to implement the new provisions of IDEA, they must ensure that all reports are comprised of scores of students with disabilities in the aggregated and disaggregated forms. Reporting aggregated and disaggregated scores will ensure that the performance of students with disabilities is fully considered when evaluating the overall performance of our public schools.
Again, the PEER Project emphasizes that these findings are intended as a snapshot of the status of statewide assessment programs at a particular moment in time. The U.S. Department of Education, states, school districts, educators, parents, professionals, students, and other interested citizens will continue to be actively engaged in developing meaningful ways to measure progress and evaluate educational practices of students and schools. It is critical that issues for students with disabilities be considered as these systems are designed and developed. Implementing IDEA will present many rewards and challenges as we strive to extend the benefits of school reform to all students.
Statewide Assessment: Policy Issues, Questions and Strategies
This policy paper provides a list of questions that parents and parent organizations can address in an effort to ensure that statewide assessment systems fully and fairly include students with disabilities. In the past, students with disabilities have too often been excluded from large-scale assessments. However, students with disabilities now must be included in state assessment programs with appropriate accommodations, as required by the recent amendments to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
Statewide assessments have enormous ramifications for students with disabilities. Assessments frequently serve as the cornerstone of efforts to improve education. If students with disabilities are excluded from the development and administration of statewide assessments, it is less likely that they will benefit from overall school reform improvements. Also, statewide assessments can be a way to hold schools accountable for improving educational outcomes for all students. If students with disabilities are excluded, they may not be considered when important educational policy decisions are made.
Statewide assessments are different from the three-year individualized evaluations required by IDEA for students receiving special education services. For students in special education, a variety of tests and assessments are used to determine whether the student continues to need special education and to identify the studentís specific educational needs. In contrast, statewide large-scale assessments are usually standardized, "paper and pencil" assessments. The goals of statewide assessment programs also differ from those of special education assessments. Usually, the purpose of a large-scale assessment is two-fold: 1) to provide information about individual student achievement, and 2) to gauge the success of schools and school systems -- to hold educators accountable for student attainment of educational outcomes.
Almost all states now have some type of statewide assessment program as a result of education reform initiatives. Many states will now need to revise their assessment policies in order to comply with new IDEA amendments and ensure participation of all students with disabilities. Parents who are knowledgeable about diverse learners (including students with IEPs) need to become active participants in the development of assessment policies. The following questions are intended as a guide to effective participation during this period of reform and change.
of assessment will the state use?
Find out which type of assessment your state will administer, and the subject areas covered, then analyze what you think will best meet the needs of students with disabilities.
or which contractor will the state use?
the process for developing the assessment?
Such a committee is important because some test questions rely on information unavailable to a child because of his or her disability. In addition, students with all types and severities of disabilities should fully participate in all samples, trials, and field tests.
the "stakes" or consequences of the statewide assessment?
Furthermore, some states use assessment results as a direct accountability tool for educators and school systems, for example, linking test scores with bonuses, school funding, or accreditation.
students with disabilities participate in the statewide assessment?
Despite these requirements, currently some states exempt certain groups of students with disabilities from the state assessment, based on disability categories, the childís reading level, or the restrictiveness of the childís placement. Other states already include all students in the assessment system, providing accommodations or alternate assessments that enable students with disabilities to participate fully.
It is crucial to ensure that all students with disabilities participate in the statewide assessment, as required by law. If students with disabilities are excluded from testing, there is no mechanism to determine whether these students receive the benefits of education reform. Further, if certain groups of disabled students are exempt, then the achievement of the excluded students will not be considered when evaluating a school or school districtís performance. Schools will have less incentive to improve education for students whose scores do not count. For those states where test results have significant consequences for the individual students, such as receipt of a diploma, participation becomes even more critical.
if a student with disabilities needs accommodations in order to participate
in the assessment?
Most states currently rely on the IEP team to determine how students with disabilities will participate in the statewide assessment. The individual decisions regarding assessment are subject to due process procedures required by IDEA.
of accommodations are available to students with disabilities?
Accommodations necessary to remove barriers to participation must be provided. It is important to acknowledge that use of some types of accommodations can be controversial. These issues become most apparent when the accommodation is closely related to the skill being assessed (i.e., reading a reading test). State policy which allows IEP teams to consider the full range of accommodations, including those utilized in classroom instruction, such as a reader for all subjects, will best protect against discrimination in test administration. Such a policy is critical, especially for high-stakes tests.
IDEA recognizes that some students may require "alternate" assessments in order to participate in the state assessment system. The recent amendments to IDEA require states to develop and begin conducting alternate assessments no later than July 1, 2000.
the test results be used?
the test scores of students with disabilities be reported?
When the scores of students with disabilities and students without disabilities are reported together ("aggregated"), it is clear that the progress of all students will be given equal weight when evaluating the effectiveness of public school systems. At the same time, it is also important to provide mechanisms to separate the scores of students with disabilities in order to hold schools accountable for their achievement. Many states will need to change their reporting practices to comply with new IDEA reporting requirements.
Obtain copies of your stateís education reform and assessment legislation, regulations, and policy documents.
Call your state Department of Education to request these documents. You can also request them from your local legislator. (See State Departments of Education Contact Information, page 85.)
Review state documents to determine current policy regarding inclusion of students with disabilities and provision of accommodations.
Decide whether a change in law or policy is necessary to ensure inclusion of all students with disabilities in statewide assessment with necessary accommodations. You can contact your stateís Parent Center, Protection and Advocacy organization, disability and childrenís advocacy organizations, or the American Civil Liberties Union to request assistance in reviewing your stateís law and policy. (See Parent Centers on Disability Contact Information, page 95.)
Propose changes to your state law and policy that will address concerns about inclusion of students with disabilities.
Work with key stakeholders (other parent and disability organizations, P&A, childrenís advocacy organizations, state special education advisory committee, etc.) to secure the changes necessary to fully and fairly include all students with disabilities in assessment.
Identify who will be making policy decisions about participation of students with disabilities.
The state Department of Education or your local legislator can help you to determine whether the legislature, state board of education, or department of education will be the leader in this area.
Get involved in the decision-making process.
If your state or district has an assessment advisory group, join the group or ensure that parents of children with disabilities, adults with disabilities, and special education and inclusion experts are appointed to the group. The state Department of Education or your superintendent can inform you whether an advisory group exists.
Set up meetings with the decisionmakers, and provide materials and information to support your positions about the policy questions listed above. Provide proposed language for necessary policy changes, and provide examples of students with disabilities who may be excluded from the assessment.
Consider a variety of advocacy strategies to effect changes in your state policy and practice.
Any of the following strategies may prove to be useful or necessary: dissemination of position papers, proposals, and reports; providing information and training to parents of children with disabilities statewide; meeting with staff at the Department of Education; testifying before legislative hearings, the State Advisory Council (SAC), and state Board of Education; providing information to media; filing complaints with the Office for Civil Rights or OSEP; and legal action.
Identify other organizations or constituencies with similar concerns and positions.
Bilingual parent groups, Title I parent groups, PTAs, teacher unions, and educatorsí professional organizations may prove to be useful allies.
Ensure that the organization administering your stateís assessment is qualified to assess students with disabilities.
Contact the PEER Project or the Parent Center in your state to get information about contractors and assessments being considered for selection or already chosen by your state. Ascertain the experience and expertise of testers in including students with disabilities in assessments, and the appropriateness of proposed tests. You can also call The National Center for Fair and Open Testing (FAIR Test), at (617) 864-4810 for information.
Develop questions to ask all contractors to ascertain their history and expertise in including students with disabilities. For instance, ask them for the percentage of students with disabilities who have participated in other assessments they have developed. Request policies regarding participation and accommodations for other assessments they administer. Request resumes of the staff who will be involved in the project. Request specific details about the organizationís experience including students with severe disabilities.
Ensure that participation in assessments is fully addressed at IEP meetings.
Work with your local school district
or state Department of Education to ensure that IEPs specifically address
participation in statewide (or district-wide) assessments. IEP members
must specify whether the student with a disability can participate in the
assessment: (1) under routine conditions; (2) with accommodations, or (3)
with an alternate assessment. The IEP should state the specific types of
accommodations or alternate assessment required.
Examples of Accommodations from State Assessment Policies
Education reforms designed to improve educational results for all students have been initiated at federal and state levels throughout the 1990s. The Goals 2000: Educate America Act, national school reform legislation signed into law by President Clinton on March 31, 1994, specifies important goals and principles applicable to all students. This legislation specifically includes students with disabilities in its call for much higher standards of learning for all students. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Amendments of 1997 (IDEA) further reinforce the requirement to include students with disabilities in regular education reform initiatives. IDEA raised the standards for students with disabilities by requiring that they have access to the general education curriculum, and by requiring that they be included in state assessment programs with appropriate accommodations.
These higher expectations for students with disabilities have increased attention to providing the accommodations students need to have full and equal access to educational opportunities in instruction and testing. To ensure that their participation in testing is adequately considered, IDEA now requires IEP teams to include a statement of individual modifications and accommodations students with disabilities need to participate in state and district-wide assessments.
In an effort to assist educators, parents, and policymakers as they move toward full participation of students with disabilities in state and district-wide assessment programs, the PEER Project compiled the following examples of accommodations. The list was drawn from a review of state policy documents developed by the 47 states currently administering state assessments. Although states have wide-ranging policies regarding the type of accommodations available for assessments and their usage, it is important to note that test modifications must be based on individual student needs. Since it is impossible to itemize all the possible situations that may accompany a particular disabling condition in relation to a particular test or test item, a comprehensive listing of every possible testing accommodation that may be appropriate is not possible. However, the following brief description of the kinds of accommodations used across the country may be useful as IEP teams consider the full range of accommodations that may be needed to provide students with disabilities full and equal opportunity to participate in assessment programs.
It is important to acknowledge that use of some types of accommodations can be controversial. These issues become most apparent when the accommodation is closely related to the skill being assessed (i.e., reading a reading test). State policy which allows IEP teams to consider the full range of accommodations, including those utilized in classroom instruction, such as a reader for all subjects, will best protect against discrimination in test administration. Such a policy is critical, especially for high-stakes tests. Additional research will be needed to address technical issues around test measurement and use of the full range of accommodations.
The examples of accommodations listed here are organized into four categories that should be considered by the IEP team: Timing/Scheduling Accommodations, Setting Accommodations; Presentation Accommodations; Response Accommodations. The examples are summarized or, in some instances, excerpted from the original policy documents.
A. Timing/Scheduling Accommodations
At time of day or week most beneficial to student
Multiple testing sessions
In periods of ___ minutes followed by rest breaks of ___ minutes
Extended time to complete tests
Untimed testing sessions
...until, in the administratorís judgment, the students can no longer sustain the activity due to physical disability or limited attention span. (Allow test administrator to determine length of sessions and need for breaks based on observation of studentís ability to successfully sustain the activity. Additional sessions would be scheduled as needed to complete testing.)
B. Setting Accommodations
In a small group, in a separate location
Individually, in a separate location
In a carrel
In the special education classroom
With student seated in front of classroom
With teacher facing student
Near studentís special education teacher or aide
At the studentís home
At the hospital
With special lighting
With special acoustics
Individual testing stations for students responding verbally
With adaptive or special furniture
In location with minimal distractions
Students with visual impairments may be separated from other examinees if their method of response is distracting to other students.
Students should not be required to take exams in corridors or other uncomfortable locations.
C. Presentation Accommodations
Large print editions of tests
Braille editions of tests
Directions read aloud by test administrator
Test items read aloud by test administrator
Test given by person familiar to child
Standard directions read several times at start of exam
Directions reread for each new page of test items
Directions given in simplified language
Key words in directions (such as verbs) underlined or highlighted
Directions provided for each new set of skills in the exam
Directions repeated as needed
Student asked to demonstrate understanding of directions
Directions given in any format necessary to accommodate student (signing, auditory amplification, repeating, etc.)
Directions provided on verbatim audiotape (for students who have difficulty with printed words or numbers and/or who acquire knowledge primarily through the auditory channel)
Student given a written copy of examinerís instructions (from examinerís manual) at time of tests
Additional examples provided
Practice tests or examples provided before test is administered
Student [physically] assisted to track the test items by pointing or placing the studentís finger on the items
Spacing increased between test items
Size, shape, or location of the space for answers altered as needed
Fewer items placed on each page
Size of answer bubbles enlarged
Cues (e.g., arrows and stop signs) provided on answer form
Student cued to remain on task
Physical assistance provided
Paper placed in different positions
Studentís test taking position altered
Opportunity for movement increased or decreased
Stimuli reduced (e.g., number of items on desk limited)
Test administered by special education teacher or aide
Directions and test signed by interpreter
Appropriate adjustment of any medication ensured to prevent interference with the studentís functioning
Use of glasses, if needed
Proper functioning of hearing aids ensured
Students who use braille edition of test use braille rulers
Sign language interpreter, amplification, or visual display for test directions/examiner-led activities
Videocassette with taped interpreter signing test instructions and test items
Cued speech interpreters, and/or oral interpreters
Magnifying equipment (closed circuit television, optical low-vision aid, etc.)
Assistive technology (adaptive keyboard, word processor, voice-activated word processor, voice synthesizer, etc.)
Amplification equipment (e.g., hearing aid, auditory trainer)
Noise buffers worn by student
Augmentative communication systems or strategies, including letter boards, picture communication systems and voice output systems
Loose-leaf test booklet (allow student to remove pages and insert them in a device such as printer or typewriter for doing math scratchwork)
Placemarker, special paper, graph paper, or writing template to allow student to maintain position better or focus attention
Acetate color shields on pages to reduce glare and increase contrast
Masks or markers to maintain place
FM or other type of assistive listening device
Closed-caption or video materials
Tape or magnets to secure papers to work area
Mounting systems, including slantboards and easel
Device to screen out extraneous sounds
Each test site must have two adults when using an interpreter to sign the test: 1) a test administrator who reads the information aloud (e.g., directions, test questions) and 2) a qualified interpreter who signs to the students. It is recommended that the school use an interpreter who has previously signed for the students.
The interpreter must be proficient in sign language or the studentís individual communication modality. The interpreter should not fingerspell words that have a commonly used sign. Test administrator and interpreter must attend all training sessions.
Because the interpreter must be familiar with the concepts of writing/open-ended and multiple-choice test questions, he or she is allowed to review writing/open-ended test items for up to 15 minutes and multiple choice items for up to 2 hours per subject on the day of testing under secure conditions. The interpreters must not disclose the content or specific items of the test. Test security must be maintained.
Place keepers, trackers and pointers; allow students to use a device [for] place keeping or the assistance of a proctor to nonverbally assist in the manual tracking of item to item or item to answer sheet. Proctor must have training in performing the service without giving verbal or nonverbal clues to student.
On some tests, students with disabilities may be unable to complete a test item due to item format. Whenever possible, the format of the item should be changed to allow student to complete the test. However, this is not always possible, i.e., some test items canít be reproduced in braille. Questions presented auditorally canít always be signed without changing purpose of the item. In such case, questions should be omitted and the credit for the question prorated. (Only use when inability to complete due to item format, not due to lack of competence in skills or knowledge being measured.)
...audiocassettes used in conjunction with a printed test to provide multi-sensory stimulation.
Assist the student to track the test items by pointing or placing the studentís finger on the items.
Directions are nonsecure documents and may be reviewed prior to test administration.
Reaing assessments may be read to student when the intent of reading is to measure comprehension, only if this is the normal mode as documented in IEP/504 plan.
D. Response Accommodations
Student marks answers in test booklets
Student marks answers by machine
Student writes answers on large-spaced paper
Student dictates answers to proctor or assistant who records it
Student dictates answers to scribe or tape recorder to be later transcribed; students are to include specific instruction about punctuation on the Writing Assessment
Student signs or points as alternative responses
Student audiotapes responses
Periodic checks provided to ensure student is marking in correct spaces
Spelling, punctuation and paragraphing requirements waived
Use of Response Aids, such as:
- arithmetic table
- chubby, thin, or long well-sharpened pencils
- Misspellerís Dictionary, if student identified as having a disability which interferes with ability to learn how to spell (not special accommodation - electronic dictionaries are special accommodations)
- calculator, if documented disability interferes with mental or physical ability to perform math processes without calculator
- word processor or typewriter
- calculator/ talking calculator
- communication devices such as language board, speech synthesizer, computer, or typewriter
- other assistive communication device
- additional answer pages for students who require more space for writing due to size of their handwriting
- pencil adapted in size or grip diameter
- slate and stylus, braille writers, and modified abacus or speech output calculators (re: braille only)
- spell-check device (either separate device or as word processing function)
- grammar-check device
Scribe ó The students should know the identity of the scribe, who should have previous experience working with the students.
Answers to questions designed to measure writing ability in English or in a second language may be recorded in an alternative manner (e.g., dictation). Spell check and grammar check devices are permitted. Students with severe spelling disabilities may be excused from spelling requirements.
In general, the student who uses an aid to record responses must provide all information, including spelling of difficult words, punctuation, paragraphing, grammar, etc. Only those students whose disability affects their ability to spell and punctuate should be excused from providing such information. Modifications canít include both a spell check device and deletion of spelling requirements (either/or).
Only those students whose disability affects their ability to either memorize or compute basic math facts should be allowed to use computational aids.
Regardless of the response option used, all student responses must be recorded in a regular spring test booklet before materials are sent in for scoring. If studentís answers are marked in large print or separate sheet, test administrator must transfer the responses to a regular print test booklet.
If a student has no means of written communication sufficient to complete the writing assessment due to severe physical disability, that student can be exempted from the writing portion only of the basic skills test or high school graduation test. An exemption for this reason does not affect that studentís eligibility for a regular high school diploma. Any decision to exempt a student from writing assessment should be clearly documented with justification in IEP.
A Key Component of Education Reform
by Martha L. Thurlow, Ph.D., Associate Director, National Center on Educational Outcomes
Assessments used for education reform often are referred to as statewide or district-wide assessments because they are designed to measure the status of the education system for all students. They may also be called large-scale assessments because large groups of students are tested in a relatively short period of time and under uniform conditions so that results can be compared across groups of students. You may recall taking these kinds of tests when you were in school.
In the past, large-scale assessments were not always considered important for students with disabilities ó it was assumed that special education assessments provided sufficient data on how well students were doing in school. Typically, however, special education assessments have not provided information on what students know and can do relative to local and state standards.
Todayís tests probably are different from the ones that you took. In addition to typical multiple-choice tests, alternative assessments are being used. Many of these alternative forms of assessment require students to provide written responses, and often the responses are expected to be several paragraphs long. The assessments may also be performance-based assessments ó assessments that take a variety of forms including: essays, problem-solving items, science experiments, production of art work, and portfolios of student work and computer simulations.
The 1997 amendments to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) require the participation of students with disabilities in statewide and district-wide assessments, regardless of the format of the assessments. This addition to the law means that the education system must be accountable for the results of education for all students.
Accountability is a more encompassing term than assessment. It can include more than the collection of data from tests, record reviews, and other performance assessments. A system is accountable for all students when it makes sure that all students count (or participate) in the evaluation program of the education system. Counting all students does not mean that all students take the same test. Rather, it means that all studentsí learning and progress are accounted for and included when reporting on the education system.
with Disabilities Been Included in Assessment and Accountability Systems?
With the passage of the 1997 amendments to IDEA, exclusion of students with disabilities from state and district-wide assessments is no longer acceptable. IDEA now requires that students with disabilities be included in assessment programs. Specifically, students with disabilities are expected to participate in state and district-wide assessments, using accommodations where appropriate, and their scores are to be reported in the same ways that the scores of other students are reported. To ensure that all students with disabilities are included, alternate assessments are to be developed for the small percentage of students unable to participate in regular state and district-wide assessments. There should be no exclusion of students with disabilities from state and district-wide assessment programs.
Why be concerned
about the exclusion of students with disabilities from assessments and
Students with disabilities often are not considered when items are developed, and they are not included when assessments are field-tested. As a result, assessments may not have appropriate items for students with disabilities. Frequently, there are insufficient test items to accommodate the diversity and range of skills of students with disabilities.
There are many reasons for exclusion that occurs at the point of administration. Among the most common are:
A third point of exclusion occurs when the reports of results are prepared. Often, the scores of students with disabilities are omitted. Scores are omitted in some cases, due to a concern that the performance of students with disabilities will negatively impact the overall results of the assessment. On the other hand, states and districts sometimes are unable to separate the scores of students with disabilities from those of other students. When this is the case, it is difficult to hold schools accountable for the achievement of students with disabilities.
Plan for Assessment: What Needs to Happen?
Check that students receive
the appropriate assessment (regular or alternate).
Remove incentives for exclusion from the regular assessment. Some states have achieved this by assigning the lowest possible proficiency level score to all excluded students when determining school, district, and statewide scores.
IEP Action Steps
(a) the goals of instruction, which
must be linked to the general education curriculum,
The following issues and questions should be addressed during the IEP development process:
Identify the goals of the studentís
instruction. With the IDEA Amendments of 1997, the IEP must address the
studentís participation in the general curriculum.
Assessment Guidelines that Maximize the Participation of Students with Disabilities in Large-Scale Assessments: Characteristics and Considerations. A report authored by J. Elliott, M. Thurlow, and J. Ysseldyke (1996, Synthesis Report 25) at the National Center on Educational Outcomes, University of Minnesota.
Increasing the Participation of Students with Disabilities in State and District Assessments. NCEO Policy Directions Number 6 by M. Thurlow, J. Ysseldyke, R. Erickson, and J. Elliott (1997) at the National Center on Educational Outcomes, University of Minnesota.
Making Decisions About the Inclusion of Students with Disabilities in Large-Scale Assessments. A report authored by J. Ysseldyke, M. Thurlow, K. McGrew, and M. Vanderwood (1994, Synthesis Report 13) at the National Center on Educational Outcomes, University of Minnesota.
Outcomes Assessment for Students with Disabilities: Will it be Accountability or Continued Failure? An article authored by M. McLaughlin and S. Hopfengardner-Warren appearing in Preventing School Failure (1992, vol 36, issue 4, pp. 29-33).
Providing Accommodations for Students with Disabilities in State and District Assessments. An NCEO Policy Directions Number 7 by J. Elliott, J. Ysseldyke, M. Thurlow, and R. Erickson (1997) at the National Center on Educational Outcomes, University of Minnesota.
Recommendations for Making Decisions About the Participation of Students with Disabilities in Statewide Assessment Programs. A report authored by J. Ysseldyke, M. Thurlow, K. McGrew, and J. Shriner (1994, Synthesis Report 15) at the National Center on Educational Outcomes, University of Minnesota.
Reporting the Results of Students with Disabilities in State and District Assessments. NCEO Policy Directions Number 8 by R. Erickson, J. Ysseldyke, M. Thurlow, and J. Elliott at the National Center on Educational Outcomes, University of Minnesota.
Testing Accommodations for Students with Disabilities. A report authored by W. King, J. Baker, and J. Jarrow (no date) at the Association on Higher Education and Disability, University of Ohio.
Testing Students with Disabilities: Practical Strategies for Complying with District and State Requirements. A book by M. Thurlow, J. Elliott, and J. Ysseldyke (1998), published by Corwin Press, Inc. (Thousand Oaks, CA).
For more information, please contact:
National Center on Educational Outcomes
U.S. Department of Education
Division Bureau of Indian Affairs,
Department of Interior Office of Indian
Department of Defense
in US Territories
©1998 Federation for Children with Special Needs,