Special Education

U.S., California Tussle Over Test Modifications

By Christina A. Samuels — December 13, 2005 1 min read

The Department of Education has told California that if students with disabilities use certain modifications on state tests, such as calculators on mathematics assessments, those students cannot be counted as participating in the test for the purposes of calculating adequate yearly progress under the No Child Left Behind Act.

The issue arose during an on-site review of the state’s assessment procedures, said William L. Padia, the director of policy and evaluation for the California Department of Education.

The state had allowed students with disabilities to use assistive devices like calculators on the tests required under the federal education law, and to be counted as having taken the test, said Mr. Padia. Students who used assistive devices would be graded as “below proficient,” he said.

During the September site visit, Education Department representatives said that California could not continue to count those students as having taken the test, Mr. Padia said.

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Chad Colby, a spokesman for the federal department, referred to August nonregulatory guidance on the topic of alternate assessments for children with disabilities.

The guidance indicates that certain accommodations can be used as long as they do not “invalidate” the test.

But, “if a student uses an accommodation that results in an invalid score, the student is considered to be a nonparticipant when calculating the participation rate for AYP purposes,” the guidance reads.

‘Appropriate Modifications’

Mr. Padia said he understands that students who use assistive devices shouldn’t have their scores be considered proficient. “But, they did take the test,” he said. “We just allowed them to have appropriate modifications.”

He did not know how many students might use such modifications, which could include calculators on math tests, dictated test questions, or the use of a dictionary. The decisions are made at the school level, he said.

But the change, which is effective for this school year’s tests, could result in some schools not making adequate yearly progress because their participation rates will change, he said. The No Child Left Behind law requires that 95 percent of a school’s population take the state assessments for a school to make AYP.

Mr. Padia said the department is brainstorming on potential solutions, “but there’s no guarantee any of them can be acceptable.”

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