Including Students with Disabilities in Large-Scale
Testing: Emerging Practices. ERIC Digest.
by Fitzsimmons, Mary K.
The 1997 Reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Act requires
that students with disabilities participate in large-scale assessments
and that a statement of individual modifications in the administration
of the assessments be included in the student's IEP. In response, most
districts and states are in the early stages of developing and implementing
assessment models that include all students. A large number are already
using testing accommodations and a few are developing alternate assessments.
But for the majority of state and local district practitioners, this new
mandate is raising questions and causing concerns.
Research and dissemination efforts sponsored by the U.S. Office of Special
Education Programs (OSEP) are providing information to address these questions.
One information source is the National Center on Educational Outcomes (NCEO)
whose major research focus has been on how to increase participation of
students with disabilities in large-scale assessments.
NCEO maintains a Web site (http://www.coled.umn.edu/NCEO) and publishes
various reports on assessment topics including:
1. Self-Study Guide for the Development of Statewide Assessments That
Include Students with Disabilities.
2. Issues and Considerations in Alternate Assessments.
3. Increasing the Participation of Students with Disabilities in State
and District Assessments.
4. Reporting Educational Results for Students with Disabilities.
Additional OSEP-funded studies address determining appropriate accommodations,
alternate assessments, and reporting results.
Many states allow for special testing conditions and accommodations,
but proper use of accommodations has become a major concern. Plus, accommodation
policies vary from district to district and state to state making it almost
impossible to compare student performance. There is also great variation
in the use of accommodations across disability groups. Accommodations for
students with physical or sensory disabilities are routinely approved,
which is not always the case for students with cognitive or behavioral
difficulties. The following represent a few of the researchers currently
working to standardize accommodations' use and fairness:
GERALD TINDAL, a University of Oregon professor, believes that testing
accommodations should take into account the learner's needs, the task demands,
and the purpose of the accommodation. He stresses the need to have in place
a sound decision-making process such as curriculum-based measurement (CBM).
He has been working with practitioners in Oregon to embed CBM in the IEP
process and relate a student's performance as measured by CBM to that attained
on large-scale assessments. A pilot group of teachers has been working
to consider standards in math and reading for their students, identify
benchmarks, determine the appropriate assessments and accommodations, and
write these into the IEP. Thus, the IEPs are written to reflect the student's
level of mastery.
STEPHEN ELLIOTT of the University of Wisconsin-Madison developed the
Assessment Accommodations Checklist (AAC), which contains 74 accommodations
organized into eight domains (e.g., motivation, scheduling, directions,
adaptive technology). Educators can use the AAC to rate the extent to which
they think that a particular accommodation will help the student.
LYNN FUCHS, Professor of Special Education at Vanderbilt University
in Tennessee, has funding from OSEP to create standardized methods for
determining which accommodations are valid for which students. The aim
is to reduce the variability of accommodations across districts and states.
To do this, she is developing, validating, and codifying the Dynamic Assessment
Tool for Accommodations (DATA).
While still in their infancy, alternate assessments offer promise for
ensuring that all students are included fully in the accountability process.
Kentucky's Alternative Portfolio Assessment (KAPA), for example, allows
accommodations for students with disabilities that are consistent with
the appropriate delivery of instruction for that individual. Examples of
learning outcomes include the abilities to communicate effectively, use
quantitative or numerical concepts in real-life problems, and effectively
use interpersonal skills.
Maryland, a state that has one of the highest participation rates in
its statewide assessment system, has recently piloted its alternate assessment.
The independence Mastery Assessment Program measures outcomes that are
life- skills oriented.
Reporting accurate information on students with disabilities ensures
that they are represented in the accountability system. Although there
is great variability in both state and local reporting practices, school
districts are seeking ways to report the progress of all students in meaningful
The Long Beach, California, Unified School District offers one example
of an innovative approach to the reporting issue. With consultation from
staff at NCEO, Long Beach educators set out to tie large-scale assessments
directly to school effectiveness policies. They also decided to include
all of their 5,000 special education students in the assessments.
The district generates two separate assessment reports: one for everyone
taking the standard assessment and a separate one for the approximately
300 students with severe disabilities who participate in the district's
alternate assessment. Schools are held accountable for both sets of scores.
Information is also kept regarding accommodations used by students.
The 1997 Reauthorization of IDEA stresses the importance of including
students with disabilities in all educational reform activities. Special
education researchers and practitioners are pioneering efforts to prepare
these students to take part in and succeed in large-scale assessments,
thus ensuring that the mandate is implemented in the best interests of
the students and their families.
For a fuller look at the research discussed in this digest, the reader
is referred to Research Connections, Spring 1998, published by the ERIC/OSEP
Council of Chief State School Officers and North Central Regional Educational
Laboratory. (1996). 1996 state student assessment programs database. Oak
Brook, IL: North Central Regional Educational Laboratory. http://www.ccsso.org/
Gronna, S. S., Jenkins, A., & Chin-Chance, S. A. (1998). Who are
we assessing? Determining participation rates for students with disabilities
in a norm referenced statewide testing program. Exceptional Children, 64(3),
Koretz, D. (July 1997). The assessment of students with disabilities
in Kentucky. (CSE Technical Report 431). Los Angeles, CA: National Center
for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing. http://www.cse.ucla.edu
Neill, Monty. (September 1997). Testing our children: A report card
on state assessment systems. Cambridge, MA: National Center for Fair and
Open Testing. http://[email protected]
Olson, J., & Goldstein, A. (July 1997). The inclusion of students
with disabilities and limited English proficient students in large-scale
assessments: A summary of recent progress. National Center for Education
Statistics, U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Research
Roach, V., Daily, D., & Goertz, M. (October 1997). Issue brief:
State accountability systems and students with disabilities. Alexandria,
VA: Center for Policy Research on the Impact of General and Special Education
Thurlow, M., Elliott, J., & Ysseldyke, J. (1998). Testing students
with disabilities: Practical strategies for complying with district and
state requirements. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Tindal, G., Heath, B., Hollenbeck, K., Almond, P., & Marniss, M.
(in press). Accommodating students with disabilities on large-scale tests:
An empirical study of student response and test administration demands.