ERIC Identifier: ED381986
Publication Date: 1995-06-00
Author: Thurlow, Martha
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Disabilities and Gifted Education Reston VA.
National and State Perspectives on Performance Assessment. ERIC
As a result of educational reform efforts over the past 2 decades, large
scale assessment is being reconfigured with an emphasis on performance
approaches. Unlike traditional multiple choice tests, performance assessments
require students to create an answer or product that demonstrates their
knowledge and skills. For students receiving special education services, issues
involving inclusion and the provision of adequate accommodations emerge when
national and state authorities use performance assessments to monitor the
INFUSING PERFORMANCE ASSESSMENT INTO NATIONAL PROGRAMS
United States has a comprehensive assessment program at the federal level that
tracks students' knowledge and skills over time. Performance based items are
finding their way into national assessment systems.
1. National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Known as the U.S.'s
national "report card," the NAEP surveys students' educational achievement
across time. In 1992, NAEP began experimenting with constructed-response
items--a type of performance assessment--in the subject areas of mathematics and
reading. For example:
Grade 8: (Student reads and uses an actual bus schedule
that includes tables, maps, and text.) Monthly bus passes are not valid on which
8: (Student reads two passages from the Oregon Trail, one an informational
account of the Trail and the other a narrative piece based on a diary entry.)
Pretend that you are a young adult of the 1840s who has caught a case of "Oregon
fever." Use information from both passages and from your own knowledge to
explain what you would do about Oregon fever and why.
2. National Adult Literacy Survey (NALS). As administered in 1992, NALS
assessed adult literacy skills. Literacy tasks involving materials that adults
typically encounter in their daily activities were built into the assessment.
HOW HAVE STUDENTS RECEIVING SPECIAL EDUCATION SERVICES FARED ON THE NAEP AND NALS?
Inclusion in the national data collection programs
as a whole will enable students to be included in national assessments that use
performance-based measures. Unfortunately, about 50% of students with
disabilities are typically excluded from participating in national assessments.
Why is this so?
*Guidelines are exclusive: It is questionable whether the guidelines
themselves result in high exclusion rates. For example, NAEP guidelines allow
students to be excluded if the student is mainstreamed less than 50% of the time
in academic subjects and is judged to be incapable of taking part in the
*Accommodations are not available: Neither the NAEP or the NALS allow any
accommodations or adaptations to be made for individuals who need them in order
to participate meaningfully in the assessment.
Overall, school officials hesitate to include students with disabilities into
high-stakes testing situations for obvious reasons. Without a guarantee that all
districts are using the same guidelines to make exclusion/inclusion decisions,
and without sensitivity to the individual needs of students that impede their
success in testing situations, it is questionable whether districts will
actively insist on including all students. However, at this time, a number of
special educators are calling for national officials to study the best way that
students with disabilities might be included in such assessments.
SUGGESTIONS FOR INCREASING THE PARTICIPATION OF STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIES IN NATIONAL ASSESSMENTS
The use of performance assessments
in national data-collection programs has been relatively narrow in scope;
however, there is some evidence that assessment programs that have been
inclusive of students with disabilities in the past (i.e., traditional
assessments), tend to be inclusive of students in performance assessments. Key
aspects to promoting participation of students with disabilities in large-scale
of guidelines for exclusion/inclusion, covering guidelines related to test
development, testing, and reporting of results.
of reasonable accommodations, adaptations, and other modifications in assessment
procedures (i.e., ones that would not threaten the technical adequacy of an
assessment, such as using an interpreter for a student with a significant
hearing impairment to give directions that are typically given orally).
of participation levels.
on the effects of various modifications in assessments (including the use of
different types of performance assessments) on the performance of students with
disabilities and on the technical characteristics of the instruments.
INFUSING PERFORMANCE ASSESSMENT INTO STATE PROGRAMS
states are currently using or considering using some form of performance
assessment in their statewide testing programs. Categories of assessment items
or learning record.
The content areas most typically targeted for performance assessment are
writing, mathematics, and reading.
HOW HAVE STUDENTS RECEIVING SPECIAL EDUCATION SERVICES FARED ON STATEWIDE ASSESSMENTS?
The same problems found at the national level
of excluding students with disabilities are also apparent at the state level.
Complicating this situation is the fact that many states have no formal means in
place for determining the extent to which students with disabilities were
included in assessments or for isolating the data of students with disabilities
from that of other students.
Presently, there is an effort in the states to quantify the number of
students who are exempted or excluded from participation in the assessment, and
to monitor closely the appropriateness of such exclusions.
SUGGESTIONS FOR INCREASING THE PARTICIPATION OF STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIES IN STATEWIDE ASSESSMENTS
As new performance-based approaches
are incorporated into state assessment programs, it is important to discern what
it will take to ensure high participation of students with disabilities. States
1. Include students with disabilities in pilot tests. Keep data according to
which students participated in the assessment, their category of disability, and
2. Plan accommodations and adaptations for use by students with disabilities
during the assessments.
the presentation format--e.g., use a Braille version of the assessment; use an
interpreter for a student with a significant hearing impairment.
the response format--e.g., allow the student to produce the answers orally
rather than in written form.
time and scheduling--e.g., give the student more time to complete the
the setting--e.g., have the student complete the assessment in a quiet area
apart from other students.
Refer to the student's IEP for specific accommodation strategies.
3. Consider equity issues (race, class, culture, gender biases) in crafting
the assessments. Equity can become an issue when the performance tasks are
within the experience of certain populations and not others. For example,
consider the following example that recognizes the complications of disability:
"Asking students to write about learning a sport, which is biased against those
students whose disabilities, geographic location, or economic status have
prevented them from learning a sport."
4. Monitor participation levels. Build in an accountability model that
investigates consistently high levels of exclusion.
5. Clarify guidelines for exclusion and inclusion. Determine how results will
At the very least, states can make a commitment to include students with
disabilities from the very start.
Although it is too early to tell if the use of performance assessments will
result in greater participation of students with disabilities in statewide
assessment programs, we can only hope that states will use this heightened
interest as an opportunity to improve the educational experience for these
students. REFSmDerived from Thurlow, M. L. (1994). National and State
Perspectives on Performance Assessment and Students with Disabilities. Reston,
VA: The Council for Exceptional Children. Product # P5060.