Changes on Testing ELLs, Special Education Students on the NAEP?

By Sean Cavanagh — August 07, 2009 2 min read
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The board that sets policy for the National Assessment of Educational Progress is considering a bunch of changes aimed at bringing more consistency and uniformity to how to test students with disabilities and English-language learners. As it stands now, one state might exclude, or give special testing accommodations to a much larger chunk of its special education population than another does. As a result, when the NAEP scores are released, some people wonder if a state’s propensity for excluding students is skewing its scores.

I attended a meeting to discuss that topic in Washington yesterday, and we’ll have a more detailed story on some of the proposals being considered by the National Assessment Governing Board later, on EdWeek’s homepage. Two task forces are studying the issue: one is focused on special education students, the other on ELLs.

A couple items that didn’t make it into that story:

—The task force on students with disabilities is recommending an intriguing change in how the NAEP reports scores for those students. The panel says the NAEP should report the scores of students with individualized education programs, or IEPs, and those with Section 504 plans separately. Those two programs refer to federally-designated academic plans, crafted at the local level, to provide services for individual students with different levels of disabilities. Students with IEPs must qualify in one of 13 federal classifications of disability; the definition of who qualifies under a 504 is broader.

Currently, the NAEP combines the scores of all of those students. In order to maintain the current “trend line” from past tests, the task force recommends keeping that reporting mechanism, while breaking out the separate IEP and 504 scores.

—A while ago I wrote that the governing board was exploring the idea of “targeted testing” or “adaptive testing.” That kind of testing involves tailoring tests to gain a more precise understanding of the performance of students at the highest and lowest ends of the scale. This kind of testing could potentially reduce the portion of students excluded on the tests.

It appears that those earlier discussions have planted a seed. Both the special education and ELL task forces see potential in targeted testing, and they recommend that federal officials look at its feasibility. With targeted testing, “standard errors would be reduced at the low end of the continuum,” a report of the ELL task force says, “and better information would be available about student performance and improvements over time.”

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.