Academic journal article Exceptional Children

A Statewide Review of the Use of Accommodations in Large-Scale, High-Stakes Assessments

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

A Statewide Review of the Use of Accommodations in Large-Scale, High-Stakes Assessments

Article excerpt

The standards-based reform movement that is currently in place in nearly every state has placed an increased emphasis on the inclusion of all students. Together with the 1997 amendments to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), there exists a strong directive for students with disabilities to participate in statewide assessment systems and the curricular changes implemented to help all children achieve the new standards. Including students with disabilities in the new standards and accountability systems has been and continues to be one of the greatest challenges facing state educational agencies and local school districts (Thurlow, Ysseldyke, Erickson, & Elliot, 1997). To address these challenges, many states have implemented accommodations policies that allow students in special education the opportunity to participate in state level assessments.

However, the issue of accommodations presents many challenges, from legal to psychometric, that have caused serious debate over the defensibility of this practice (Phillips, 1993). Federal regulations provide a driving force for permitting accommodations on performance assessments, as evidenced by the following language: "The state must have on file with the Secretary information to demonstrate that--Children with disabilities are included in general state and district wide assessment programs, with appropriate accommodations, and modifications in administration, where necessary" [IDEA regulations, 34 CFR 300.138 (1999)]. Other documents, however, such as the American Psychological Association (APA) Standards for Measurement, pull a cautionary rein, forcing the issue of the technical soundness of this practice. The current APA standards state that unless an accommodation has been shown to not alter the meaning of the test, then the scores obtained under different testing conditions must be assumed to have a different meaning (Sharp, 1996). In order to be fair to students and to provide reliable and valid data, it is important that the research community learn all it can from the experience of states that have studied the effects of accommodations in their standards-based assessment systems. This article reports on what can be learned from one such state. First, however, it is useful to set the stage by reviewing briefly the policy and research contexts for accommodations in standards-based assessment.


Accountability is the essential element in driving education to meet the needs of all students (Thurlow, Erickson, Spicuzza, Vieburg, & Ruhland, 1996), and performance-based assessment systems have become the primary vehicle through which states determine student progress (Thurlow et al.; 1997). As a result, many states have instituted higher standards for student achievement. The new higher standards are intended for all students, not just those who are academically capable (Center for Policy Research, 1996). The intended result is that all students, even those with Limited English Proficiency (LEP) and students with disabilities, will achieve these higher standards (Fisher, Roach, & Kearns, 1998) and demonstrate their proficiency on state developed performance-based assessments.

Historically, students with disabilities have been excluded from state testing systems (Ysseldyke & Thurlow, 1994) for various reasons. Only recently with increased individual stakes tied to testing (i.e., graduation requirements) has this exclusion been recognized as a serious problem, threatening the quality of education for those excluded (Ysseldyke, Thurlow, & Geenan, 1994). Additionally, continued exclusion of these students is in direct opposition to Federal legislation, including Title I and the IDEA, which contain provisions stating that all students should benefit from state reform initiatives.

As noted by the Center for Policy Research (1996), "To date, special education has not played a major role in the development of either state content standards or specific curriculum frameworks. …

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