Published Online: April 2, 2013
Published in Print: April 3, 2013, as Access to Common Exams Probed

Test Groups Weigh Unified Accommodations Policies

A patchwork of testing accommodations is used in the nation's public schools to help students with disabilities and those still learning English show their command of academic content, just as their general education peers do.

The list of accommodations—providing extra time, allowing the use of dictionaries, and reading test directions aloud, to name a few—has ballooned in the No Child Left Behind Act era. Schools have been under pressure to demonstrate how well they are educating all students, including those with special needs. Some researchers estimate as many as 100 different accommodations are used for students with disabilities and English-language learners in states and local districts.

But that may be changing as two groups of states labor to design new assessments for the Common Core State Standards to replace the wide variety of standardized reading and mathematics tests used now. With a rollout of the new assessments expected in 2014-15, test developers are aiming not only to streamline the types of testing supports offered to special education students and English-language learners, but also to make sure the tests are designed to be as broadly accessible as possible to all students, regardless of their profiles.

Opening Doors

"We are in deep conversations about what we can do to increase accessibility in a way that benefits any student, including English-language learners and students with disabilities," said Danielle Griswold, a program associate for policy, research, and design at the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, the consortium of 22 states known as PARCC.

The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, composed of 24 states, is striving to do the same.

This is no lightweight undertaking.

Related Blog

States do not have widely consistent rules on testing accommodations. Some states allow test items to be read aloud, particularly for certain students with disabilities, while others do not. Some allow for test directions and even test items to be translated into other languages for English-learners, while others forbid it.

Officials with PARCC and Smarter Balanced agree that building consensus among the member states is a challenge.

Federal education officials who oversee policy for the National Assessment of Educational Progress have been wrestling with similar issues as they seek to include more students with disabilities and ELL students in the "nation's report card" and more accurately allow for state-by-state comparisons of student achievement.

Exactly what the new landscape of testing accommodations looks like will start to become clearer to educators and the public in the coming weeks and months when PARCC and Smarter Balanced release more details about their policies. In navigating this vexing territory, both groups are zeroing in on what research has found about the impacts of accommodations on students and identifying where more research is needed.

Vol. 32, Issue 27, Pages 1,16

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