Assessment

Report: Students With Disabilities Widely Given Less-Rigorous Tests

By Christina A. Samuels — May 03, 2005 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

About half the states require exit tests for students to earn a standard high school diploma, but only a few have alternative assessments for students with disabilities that are as rigorous as the tests required of other students, according to a survey by the National Center on Educational Outcomes.

“Alternative Routes to the Standard Diploma,” is provided online by the National Center on Educational Outcomes. ()

By having separate standards for students with and without disabilities, the report concludes, states may be giving the impression that students with disabilities aren’t up to grade-level work.

“We believe [alternative assessments] should be based on the same beliefs and premises that the standard test is based on,” Martha Thurlow, the director of the NCEO and one of the report’s authors, said in an interview last week. The NCEO, based at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, promotes the participation of students in national and state tests.

The report, completed in 2003 and released in March, relied on public information about the availability of alternative assessments, both for students with and without disabilities. Of the 24 states studied that have exit-exam requirements, 16 had some type of alternative test available for students to earn a diploma by the end of the 2002-03school year.

Ten states had an alternative route for all students and another testing route for students with disabilities. Three states had an alternative test just for students with disabilities, and another three states had an alternative test for all students only.

When states developed alternative tests that all students could use, 71 percent of such tests were judged to be comparable to the standard exit exam. But for states that developed tests that were intended only for students with disabilities, just 35 percent were comparable to the standard test.

The tests studied for the report differ from the alternative assessments that are available for students who have significant cognitive disabilities. Under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, students with such disabilities are allowed to take tests based on lower grade-level standards. The alternative tests the NCEO tracked are intended to be based on the same grade-level expectations that the standard exams use, Ms. Thurlow said.

A Valid Comparison

The researchers intentionally decided to count an alternative exam as “comparable” to the standard test if it was specifically described by the state as so on a Web site or in other public information. Tests were determined not to be comparable if they were described in such terms as “lower,” “waiver” or “exemption.”

“We believed the first line of credibility had to be what was presented to the public—therefore, our insistence on using only the information that was publicly available and had at least face-value validity,” the authors wrote.

Ms. Thurlow said the NCEO did not further check the content of each state’s standard and alternative exams. But the information compiled still raises questions, the report concludes.

“Is it OK in the current context of accountability to essentially waive graduation requirements for students with disabilities in those states that have a graduation exam?” it says.

Deborah A. Ziegler, a spokeswoman for the Council for Exceptional Children, an advocacy group based in Arlington, Va., said she agrees that most students with disabilities should be evaluated on the same standards as their peers who are taking standard exit tests.

“There may be students who need an alternative achievement route,” said Ms. Ziegler. “But there are certainly students with disabilities who we can hold to high achievement standards.”

Events

School & District Management K-12 Essentials Forum Get a Strong Start to the New School Year
Get insights and actions from Education Week journalists and expert guests on how to start the new school year on strong footing.
Reading & Literacy Webinar A Roadmap to Multisensory Early Literacy Instruction: Accelerate Growth for All Students 
How can you develop key literacy skills with a diverse range of learners? Explore best practices and tips to meet the needs of all students. 
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
College & Workforce Readiness Webinar
Supporting 21st Century Skills with a Whole-Child Focus
What skills do students need to succeed in the 21st century? Explore the latest strategies to best prepare students for college, career, and life.
Content provided by Panorama Education

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Assessment Opinion Are There Better Ways Than Standardized Tests to Assess Students? Educators Think So
Student portfolios and school community surveys are but two of the many alternatives to standardized tests.
3 min read
Illustration of students in virus environment facing wave of test sheets.
Collage by Vanessa Solis/Education Week (Images: iStock/DigitalVision Vectors/Getty)
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Assessment Whitepaper
Empowering personalized instruction with a three-tiered approach to learning evidence
Navvy is the first classroom assessment system designed to empower personalized learning by providing granular, reliable, and proximal le...
Content provided by Pearson
Assessment Letter to the Editor We Need NAEP
The president and CEO of Knowledge Alliance responds to a recent opinion essay's criticism of the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
1 min read
Illustration of an open laptop receiving an email.
iStock/Getty
Assessment Letter to the Editor 2022 Assessment ‘Most Important’ Ever
The executive director of the National Assessment Governing Board responds to criticism of NAEP in this letter to the editor.
1 min read
Illustration of an open laptop receiving an email.
iStock/Getty