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More Special-Ed. Students in Test Pools Urged

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Students with disabilities should be included in national, state, and local assessment programs to a far greater extent than they are now, a new report urges.

The report by the federally financed National Center on Educational Outcomes summarizes the results of a March conference that brought together experts on testing and disability issues.

In particular, the conference focused on the large numbers of students who are now excluded from the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The federal program tests national samples of students in core academic subjects.

The experts identified as a particular problem disparate state practices on which special-education students will take the test. States exclude from 33 percent to 87 percent of such students.

Such variations affect state rankings on NAEP and could result in inaccurate data about how students are performing, the report notes. Yet, experts say, the vast majority of the nation's nearly five million special-education students could be tested without substantially changing how NAEP is administered.

Changing the Guidelines

The report urges federal officials to change the guidelines on who should participate in NAEP. States can now exclude students with disabilities if they are "mainstreamed'' in regular classrooms less than 50 percent of the time and are judged incapable of participating meaningfully in the assessment. The team that develops the individualized education plan, or I.E.P., that is required for each special-education student can also decide that a child should not participate.

According to the report, such "vague'' guidelines encourage school administrators to exclude from NAEP many students who could be tested. Often, local officials assume that any student with an I.E.P. should be excluded.

The report suggests basing participation on whether students are, by and large, exposed to the academic content that the test measures. In addition, it advocates providing administrators with a checklist to determine who is tested, rather than leaving such decisions up to I.E.P. teams.

State exclusion rates should be carefully monitored, it argues, and the federal government should not report results for states where the rate is unacceptably high.

Pilot Studies Possible

The report also advocates that NAEP permit modifications in how it is administered that do not affect its validity, such as the use of a magnifying glass for children with vision problems or testing some students in a separate room.

Adaptations that could affect test results--such as allowing students to dictate responses or providing them with more time to answer test questions--should be carefully studied, the report says.

The report echoes recommendations presented in May to the National Assessment Governing Board, which sets NAEP policy. (See Education Week, May 25, 1994.)

Peggy Carr, the chief of operations and instrumentation for the National Center for Education Statistics, the Education Department agency that oversees NAEP, said the board is expected to revisit the issue next month.

Meanwhile, she said, the department is reviewing the recommendations in the report and is exploring the use of small-scale studies to try out changes in the NAEP guidelines and the way the test is given.

"We're really pleased with the efforts the federal government is making to think about how they can include more kids,'' said Martha Thurlow, the assistant director of the National Center on Educational Outcomes, which is based at the University of Minnesota.

The center's goal is to identify desirable educational outcomes for students with disabilities and to develop a system to monitor their performance.

Copies of the report, "Making Decisions About the Inclusion of Students With Disabilities in Large-Scale Assessments,'' are available for $10 each from the Publications Office, National Center on Educational Outcomes, 350 Elliott Hall, 75 East River Rd., University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minn. 55455.

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