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NAEP Will Defer Special Accommodations for the Disabled

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Washington

Efforts to include more special-needs students in large-scale testing programs ran into a setback this month, when the governing board that oversees the "nation's report card" voted not to allow any nonstandard administrations of the exam.

The board also decided to make it possible to report results of the test, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, for particular districts or schools.

The assessment provides one of the primary barometers of student achievement in the United States. The federally financed program tests as many as 20,000 students in key academic subjects each year based on a national sample.

In previous assessments, some 5 percent to 8 percent of students selected for the sample were not tested because of their limited ability to speak English or because they had disabilities requiring accommodations that were not consistent with how NAEP is administered.

This year, for the first time, NAEP piloted a Spanish-language version of its mathematics test in grades 4 and 8.

It also experimented with various accommodations for disabled students, such as providing more time, offering Braille versions, and allowing oral test directions and answers. (See Education Week, 3/15/95.)

But at its quarterly meeting this month, the National Assessment Governing Board, which sets policy for the program, decided it was premature to allow such accommodations on a routine basis. The board also concluded that any separate reporting for disabled or limited-English-proficient students was unrealistic in 1996.

According to federal officials, the field-tests, which cost $1.4 million, revealed serious technical and reporting problems.

The board voted to conduct another study on the nonstandard administration of NAEP to language-minority and disabled students as part of the 1996 math assessment. Results of the study will be used to see if some of the cost and validity issues can be resolved.

Increasing Access

In other ways, however, the board voted at the meeting here to make NAEP more accessible in the future.

It adopted guidelines that would enable interested schools and school districts to obtain school-level results from NAEP. Under the policy, districts could augment the state or national assessment sample in one or more subjects or grades to yield NAEP-comparable results. The guidelines and standards are designed to protect the integrity of NAEP.

The service would be available to schools or groups of schools at their option and expense. The results would not be reported nationally. The Education Department is now seeking requests from districts that wish to participate in a pilot program next year.

In the past, federal law forbade comparisons below the state level, but the law that reauthorized federal K-12 programs last year removed the prohibition.

At the meeting this month, the governing board also adopted a policy on public access to NAEP questions.

The policy reiterates that test items that will be reused within the next 10 years are temporarily off limits to parents and other members of the public. All other test items and background questions will be made available to parents before and after any administration of the exam.

The board asked the National Center for Education Statistics, which has primary responsibility for NAEP, to prepare detailed guidelines and procedures for implementing the policy in time for the board's August meeting.

"We will be judged not by what we say here but what we do," warned Richard P. Mills, the state commissioner of education in Vermont and a member of the governing board. "We will have to take the wraps off this."

Background Questions

In addition, the board will set up an ad hoc committee to review all background questions for the 1996 assessment. In March, prompted by parental complaints, the board adopted a new policy regarding the type of background questions that can be asked about students and their families as part of the assessment.

The policy reiterates that NAEP should only collect data that is directly related to appraising educational performance and achievement or the reporting of demographic variables.

The provision is intended to prevent intrusive, inappropriate, or unnecessary questions from being asked about students and their families.

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