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Common-Core Group Details Test Accommodations

By Christina A. Samuels & Lesli A. Maxwell — July 09, 2013 4 min read
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A group of states designing tests to measure how well students are mastering the common standards last week approved a slate of testing supports that includes read-aloud accommodations on the English/language arts assessment for students with disabilities and written word-to-word translations to some English-language learners’ native languages.

The 21-state Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, signed off on its first edition of an accommodations and accessibility manual for students with disabilities and English-learners. The testing supports—which also include interpreting the English/language arts assessment for students who use American Sign Language—will be field-tested in the 2013-14 school year, and adjusted as needed before the tests debut in 2014-15, PARCC officials said.

Expanding Access

Overall, PARCC’s policies are meant to expand access to tests beyond what may be currently available for students in some states. Some accommodations once linked to students with special needs—such as repeating instructions aloud or magnifying text—are now among the test’s “embedded supports” available to any student, even those who are not formally identified as ELLs or students in special education.

But allowing a read-aloud accommodation for students with disabilities will be a major shift in testing policy for most states in the PARCC consortium; only Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Tennessee currently allow text passages on language arts state tests to be read aloud, though read-aloud can be used for tests measuring other academic areas.

That prompted state leaders from Colorado—who said allowing the accommodation on the English/language arts test would not be a true measurement of reading—to vote against approving the manual. It was the only dissenting vote.

Students who use the read-aloud and American Sign Language accommodations will have notations on their score reports indicating that no claims can be made about their ability to demonstrate foundational print skills such as decoding and fluency.

Joyce Zurkowski, the executive director of assessment for Colorado, told her PARCC colleagues that she had talked with the original writers of the English/language arts standards, who said “if kids can’t access that text independently, they can’t be considered proficient readers.” Oklahoma’s schools chief, Janet Barresi, voiced reservations about allowing American Sign Language interpretation unless it can be “literally word-for-word” and said that students would have need to have already had that kind of support leading up to the test in order for their scores to be comparable.

The read-aloud portion of the accommodations manual had been one of the most-debated sections of the document, drawing thousands of responses to earlier policy drafts. Some special education advocacy groups argued in favor of a broad use of multiple ways of accessing text, including read-aloud, unless the test was specifically a measurement of decoding.

Among the groups taking that stance is the Center for Applied Special Technology, a Wakefield, Mass.-based research organization that promotes universal design in instruction and test development. Chuck Hitchcock, CAST’s chief officer of policy and technology, said the current manual is better, from his perspective, than earlier drafts that took a more restrictive approach to the use of read-aloud.

However, in an email to PARCC leaders, he said he still had concerns with the organization’s plan to put a notation on student score reports indicating that where read-aloud is used, no claims can be made about a student’s foundational print skills.

English-Learners

PARCC’s policy for ELLs calls for accommodations to be available, in large measure, by the level of an English-learner’s language proficiency. Students at beginning levels of proficiency, for example, can have test directions “clarified” by a test administrator in their native language for both the math and English/language arts exams, though that accommodation is not recommended for ELLs with advanced proficiency. Beginning ELLs will also be allowed to have their oral responses to math test items transcribed to text.

Written word-to-word translations from English to an ELL’s native language are recommended for those with intermediate and advanced proficiency levels. The manual states that students at the lowest proficiency levels generally benefit more from oral test supports than written ones.

Extended time will also be available to all English-learners, regardless of proficiency.

PARCC has not yet addressed the issue of native language translations of the assessments. With member states like Arizona, an “English-only” state, and New York, which provides assessments in multiple languages, PARCC staff members said that issue will take more time to resolve.

A version of this article appeared in the July 11, 2013 edition of Education Week as PARCC Gives Details On Testing Supports

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