Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Using Objective Data Sources to Enhance Teacher Judgments about Test Accommodations

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Using Objective Data Sources to Enhance Teacher Judgments about Test Accommodations

Article excerpt

The 1997 amendments to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) require that students with disabilities be included in accountability programs. In fact, if schools are to consider the needs of these students in reform and improvement activities, their outcomes must be represented in public reports of student outcomes. The hope is that participation in these programs will hold schools accountable for the learning of students with disabilities and encourage schools to establish challenging goals and identify effective instructional approaches (McDonnell, McLaughlin, & Morison, 1997).

Unfortunately, the performance of students with disabilities has not always "counted" in accountability programs. As recently as 1995-96, when the National Assessment of Educational Progress conducted its first field tests of accommodations, only 45%-75% of students with disabilities participated. And, prior to 1998, statewide accountability programs excluded many students with disabilities (Ysseldyke, 1998). In addition, even when students with disabilities take assessments, some states or districts exclude these students' scores from public reports (Ysseldyke). Low participation rates, along with questionable reporting practices, are disappointing because most students with disabilities can participate in testing programs with or without accommodations (McDonnell et al., 1997).

Test accommodations are changes in standardized test conditions introduced to remove sources of measurement error created by disabilities. Valid accommodations produce scores for students with disabilities that measure the same constructs as standard assessments measure in nondisabled students. The purpose of identifying appropriate accommodations is to achieve valid, not optimal, scores. On one hand, disallowing valid accommodations prevents students with disabilities from demonstrating their competence. On the other hand, overly permissive accommodation policies inflate scores and thereby obscure the need for and reduce pressure on schools to work hard to increase learning for students with disabilities.

Unfortunately, there is disagreement about which accommodations preserve the meaningfulness of scores for students with disabilities. In fact, some states prohibit the very accommodations other states recommend (Council of Chief State School Officers, 1996). Moreover, individualized education program (IEP) teams typically formulate decisions for students with disabilities idiosyncratically (Erickson & Thurlow, 1996). These teams also use vague decision-making rules that often focus on superficial variables (Ysseldyke, Thurlow, McGrew, & Shriner, 1994). Without consensus on valid accommodations, comparisons between states and districts become unfair and meaningless. This is one reason why many students with disabilities historically have been excluded from public reports. With passage of the 1997 IDEA amendments, however, states and districts no longer have such latitude.

So, how should we conceptualize and what does research tell us about the validity of test accommodations? One important notion about the validity of test accommodations is differential boost (Phillips, 1994). With differential boost, an accommodation increases the performance of students with disabilities more than it increases the scores of nondisabled students. Differential boost is an empirical manifestation that the accommodation speaks to something essential about the disability--in much the same way that a Braille accommodation increases the scores of many students with visual disabilities, while decreasing the scores of nondisabled students.

Of course, for some disabilities, identifying accommodations that produce differential boost is not straightforward. This is true for students with learning disabilities (LD), who constitute more than half the population of students with disabilities. Identifying accommodations that produce differential boost for students with ID is challenging for two reasons. …

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