Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Enhancing the Accessibility of High School Science Tests: A Multistate Experiment

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Enhancing the Accessibility of High School Science Tests: A Multistate Experiment

Article excerpt

The Obama Administration's Blueprint for the Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (the Blueprint), calls for all students to be "included in an accountability system that builds on college- and career-ready standards" (U.S. Department of Education, March 2010, p. 5). The Blueprint indicates that educators need to improve the quality of assessment systems by improving tests to meet the standards of Universal Design. According to the Assistive Technology Act of 1998 (P.L. 105-394), universal design is the concept that products and services should be accessible by people with the widest range of functional capabilities. A common theme throughout the Blueprint is increased access to education for all students. A necessary part of increasing access to education is increasing access to reliable and valid assessment, the focus of the current study. Inspired by the final regulations of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB; U.S. Department of Education, 2007a, 2007b), the current study features two sets of science items and tests enhanced to be more accessible for students with disabilities who would qualify for this type of alternate assessment. An experimental design was used to determine whether these enhancements had the intended effect of acting as accommodations for students who needed them, rather than as modifications to the construct being measured.

POLICY BACKGROUND

The Individuals With Disabilities Education Act of 1997, reauthorized in 2004, requires that all students, including those with disabilities, be included in state accountability programs. To help meet this need as part of the final regulations of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the U.S. Department of Education (2007a, 2007b) authorized the development of modified academic achievement standards for characterizing the adequate yearly progress (AYP) of a portion of the population of students with disabilities. This authorization extends the December 2003 regulations allowing the development of separate assessments for students with the most severe cognitive disabilities, which permitted states to develop alternate assessments based on alternate academic achievement standards (AA-AASs). The AA-AASs typically include performance tasks or portfolios and use teacher evaluation of performance; eligible students are identified by individualized education program (IEP) teams. Up to 1% of students who score as proficient by way of an AAAAS may count as proficient at the state and district levels.

The April 2007 regulations were enacted for students who did not qualify for an AA-AAS, but whose disabilities hindered their ability to show their achievement on grade-level content through the general state assessment. Under the 2007 regulations, states may develop alternate assessments based on modified academic achievement standards (AA-MASs) for students who receive on-grade-level instruction, but whose disabilities have precluded them from achieving grade-level proficiency within the school year covered by the IEP, and whose progress indicates they are not likely to achieve grade-level proficiency in the same timeframe as other students. States may count students achieving proficiency on an AA-MAS in their AYP calculation at a maximum proportion of 2% of the total number of proficient or above scores at the district and state level that may be included in AYP determinations. The rationale behind this legislation is that by constructing appropriate assessments for students with disabilities, those students can be included in policy decisions that will ultimately increase achievement among this group (Browder et al., 2003). Students qualifying for AA-AASs or AA-MASs may be from any disability category.

There are several methods to assess achievement among students with disabilities, including testing, performance assessments, observations, interviews or rating scales completed by individuals familiar with the students, examination of existing school records, and reviews of IEPs. …

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