ERIC Identifier: ED391984
Publication Date: 1995-00-00
Author: Geisinger, Kurt F. - Carlson, Janet F.
ERIC Clearinghouse on Counseling and Student Services Greensboro NC.
Testing Students with Disabilities. ERIC Digest.
The assessment of students with disabilities has taken on considerable
importance since the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of
1990, although most of the requirements for assessing students were previously
justified legally based upon Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
Generally, the best methods for assessing students with disabilities coincide
with legally defensible methods for this activity. Under ADA, a "disability is
defined as (a) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or
more life activities, (b) a record of such an impairment, or (c) being regarded
has having an impairment despite whether or not the impairment substantially
limits major life activities" (Geisinger, 1994, p. 123). ADA requires that
assessment of individuals with disabilities be performed with any reasonable
accommodations being made. The word, "reasonable," of course, is ambiguous and
differs depending upon the circumstances of the assessment.
The considerations involved in assessing students with disabilities are
presented below under three related activities: test selection, test
administration, and test interpretation. Additional considerations are noted at
the conclusion of this digest.
When counselors assess either an individual
with a disability or a group of individuals including those with disabilities,
we must consider test selection. We must ask questions regarding prospective
instruments that address the assessment's suitability for use with students with
disabilities. Most important, we should consider whether individuals with like
disabilities were included in the normative and validation samples. Whether
there are specialized administrative procedures and forms, such as large-type
test forms for individuals with visual disabilities or untimed administrations
for individuals with learning disabilities, is also important.
In some cases, where no measures of a given attribute are available with
adapted administrations, a counselor might consider how easily he or she can
adjust an instrument for use with test takers who have a disability. When
published instruments are adapted, however, interpretations of their results
should be tentative. Should there be planned test administrations or specialized
administrative procedures for those with common disabilities, we also need to
determine whether the testing instrument has norms available for those with
various common disabilities--or in specialized cases, for the specific
disability with which the counselor is concerned. Are there parallel
interpretive guides for evaluating the assessment results for those with
specific disabilities and for those who have taken specialized administrations
of the assessment? Finally, are these specialized interpretive guides, if
available, based upon empirical reliability and validation research?
If positive answers to the above questions are not found, a counselor should
consider whether the use of an unvalidated instrument is justified. When
counselors adapt a measure themselves (e.g., reading an assessment to a test
taker when normal administration calls for the test taker to read the test
questions), they are essentially using an unvalidated instrument. As such, we
must ask whether this instrument is likely to yield useful information over and
above that which is already available from non-test sources. The answer to this
question is likely to differ based upon the nature of the decision for which the
assessment is being used.
The most important question for a
counselor regarding test administration to a student with a disability is
whether the student can be appropriately and meaningfully assessed using the
conditions under which the instrument was standardized. We should consider
students' backgrounds, skills, abilities, and other characteristics if we are
unsure. If such an evaluation does not answer the question adequately, one
should seek advice from colleagues or the test publisher. Professionals who work
frequently with students with disabilities, such as special educators, may be
especially helpful, even if they are not experts on assessment. Ask such
individuals about the kinds of tasks students with the kinds of disabilities,
backgrounds, skills, abilities, and other characteristics are able to perform.
Then evaluate the test materials against these tasks. It may be especially
helpful to talk with professionals who know the student. When talking with
professionals who do not know the individual, provide an assessment of the
degree of severity of the disability.
Some assessments offer specialized administrations for individuals with
common types of disabilities. These assessments tend to be either those oriented
specifically for use with students with disabilities or those in widespread use,
such as frequently used college admissions measures. Some accommodations permit
continued administration in group settings; others require individual
administration. For example, assessments may be available in improved type,
large-type, Braille, and audiocassette versions for those with visual
disabilities. "Time limits can be enforced, extended, or waived altogether. Test
takers may be given extra rest pauses, a reader, an amanuensis (a recorder), a
sign language interpreter, a tape recorder to register answers, convenient test
taking locations and assessment times, and other accommodations as needed to
meet their particular requirements" (Geisinger, 1994, p. 124). Accessibility to
the assessment site also needs to be considered.
Under rare circumstances, it may be necessary for a counselor to adapt a
professionally developed assessment device for administration to a specific
student. Such procedures should be performed only when no valid measure exists
for the given assessment. If a counselor makes an adaptation, he or she must be
aware that the scoring, norms, and interpretation are compromised and cannot be
used validly. To the extent that the adaptation is extremely minor, of course,
it may fall within normal variation of test administrations. However, any
serious adaptation does jeopardize the value of using a published measure.
When interpreting the results of an
assessment of a student with a disability who nevertheless took the assessment
under standardized conditions, we can employ the normal judgment process,
although we also should follow any advice provided in the test manual. It is
particularly advisable to check whether any validation studies using populations
including students with the disability in question have been performed. Similar
caveats apply when employing a standardized adaptation, such as an untimed
administration or the use of a Braille version.
When a counselor has performed an adaptation of an assessment or uses a
locally derived adaptation, then extreme caution should rule, as far as test
interpretation is concerned. The modified assessment simply is not the same
measure as the original version for which norms and validation results exist. In
general, results from such a measure are best interpreted by developing
hypotheses as opposed to making decisions (Phillips, 1994).
The goal of any interpretation of a modified assessment should be an expected
result on the comparable standardized assessment. "We wish to know how the
person taking an adapted form of a test would have performed if he or she could
have taken the test under standardized conditions, assuming that the
disabilities did not exist" (Tenopyr, Angoff, Butcher, Geisinger, & Reilly,
1993, p. 2).
Several special issues related to the
assessment of students with disabilities deserve mention. First, some
information on the extent and severity of a student's disability should be
acquired before an assessment either is selected or administered. Such
information may help guide the counselor in making these decisions.
It also may be appropriate to choose and administer measures that assess
compensatory skills used by persons with disabilities. It makes little sense,
for example, to administer an assessment of graph-reading ability to a student
with a severe visual disability. It would be more useful to determine how such
students consider graphical information (e.g., via textual analysis with
material written in Braille) and provide a direct assessment thereof.
Those purchasing assessment instruments should carefully evaluate all
measures to determine the degree to which they have been used with and adapted
for students with disabilities. If one is disappointed with the robustness of a
measure (Geisinger, 1994) when it is used with students with disabilities, let
the publisher know. With enough input, they may become more interested in making
needed changes. Relatedly, when one discovers measures, administrative
modifications, or interpretive strategies that are well-suited for use with
students with disabilities, share the results. Such findings are too important
to keep secret.
Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, 42
U.S.C. 91 12101 et seq (1990).
Geisinger, K. F. (1994). Psychometric issues in testing students with
disabilities. Applied Measurement in Education, 7, 121-140.
Phillips, S. E. (1994). High-stakes testing accommodations: Validity versus
disabled rights. Applied Measurement in Education, 7, 93-120.
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. 91 701 et seq
Tenopyr, M. L., Angoff, W. H., Butcher, J. N., Geisinger, K. F., &
Reilly, R. R. (1993). Psychometric and assessment issues raised by the Americans
with Disabilities Act (ADA). The Score, 15(4), 1-2, 7-15.