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National and State Perspectives on Performance Assessment
This document has been retired from the active collection
of the ERIC Clearinghouse
on Disabilities and Gifted Education.
It contains references or resources that may
no longer be valid or up to date.
The ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education
The Council for Exceptional Children
1110 N. Glebe Rd.
Arlington, VA 22201-5704
Toll Free: 1.800.328.0272
ERIC EC Digest #E532
Author: Martha Thurlow
As a result of educational reform efforts over the past 2 decades,
large scale assessment is being reconfigured with an emphasis on
performance approaches. Unlike traditional multiple choice tests,
performance assessments require students to create an answer or
product that demonstrates their knowledge and skills. For students
receiving special education services, issues involving inclusion and
the provision of adequate accommodations emerge when national and
state authorities use performance assessments to monitor the
Infusing Performance Assessment Into National Programs
The United States has a comprehensive assessment program at the
federal level that tracks students' knowledge and skills over time.
Performance based items are finding their way into national assessment
- National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Known as
the U.S.'s national "report card," the NAEP surveys students'
educational achievement across time. In 1992, NAEP began
experimenting with constructed-response items--a type of performance
assessment--in the subject areas of mathematics and reading. For
Grade 8: (Student reads and uses an actual bus schedule that includes
tables, maps, and text.) Monthly bus passes are not valid on which
Grade 8: (Student reads two passages from the Oregon Trail, one an
informational account of the Trail and the other a narrative piece
based on a diary entry.) Pretend that you are a young adult of the
1840s who has caught a case of "Oregon fever." Use information from
both passages and from your own knowledge to explain what you would do
about Oregon fever and why.
- National Adult Literacy Survey (NALS). As administered in
1992, NALS assessed adult literacy skills. Literacy tasks involving
materials that adults typically encounter in their daily activities
were built into the assessment.
How Have Students Receiving Special Education Services Fared on the
NAEP and NALS?
Inclusion in the national data collection programs as a whole will
enable students to be included in national assessments that use
performance-based measures. Unfortunately, about 50% of students
with disabilities are typically excluded from participating in
national assessments. Why is this so?
- * Guidelines are exclusive: It is questionable whether the
guidelines themselves result in high exclusion rates. For example,
NAEP guidelines allow students to be excluded if the student is
mainstreamed less than 50% of the time in academic subjects and is
judged to be incapable of taking part in the assessment.
- * Accommodations are not available: Neither the NAEP or the NALS
allow any accommodations or adaptations to be made for individuals who
need them in order to participate meaningfully in the assessment.
Overall, school officials hesitate to include students with
disabilities into high-stakes testing situations for obvious reasons.
Without a guarantee that all districts are using the same guidelines
to make exclusion/inclusion decisions, and without sensitivity to the
individual needs of students that impede their success in testing
situations, it is questionable whether districts will actively insist
on including all students. However, at this time, a number of special
educators are calling for national officials to study the best way
that students with disabilities might be included in such assessments.
Suggestions for Increasing the Participation of Students with
Disabilities in National Assessments
The use of performance assessments in national data-collection
programs has been relatively narrow in scope; however, there is some
evidence that assessment programs that have been inclusive of
students with disabilities in the past (i.e., traditional
assessments), tend to be inclusive of students in performance
assessments. Key aspects to promoting participation of students with
disabilities in large-scale assessments include
- * Clarification of guidelines for exclusion/inclusion, covering
guidelines related to test development, testing, and reporting of
- * Use of reasonable accommodations, adaptations, and other
modifications in assessment procedures (i.e., ones that would not
threaten the technical adequacy of an assessment, such as using an
interpreter for a student with a significant hearing impairment to
give directions that are typically given orally).
- * Monitoring of participation levels.
- * Research on the effects of various modifications in
assessments (including the use of different types of performance
assessments) on the performance of students with disabilities and on
the technical characteristics of the instruments.
Infusing Performance Assessment into State Programs
Some 38 states are currently using or considering using some form of
performance assessment in their statewide testing programs.
Categories of assessment items include:
- * Enhanced multiple-choice.
- * Short-answer open-ended.
- * Extended-response open-ended.
- * Interview.
- * Observation.
- * Individual performance assessment.
- * Group performance assessment.
- * Portfolio or learning record.
- * Project, exhibition, demonstration.
The content areas most typically targeted for performance assessment
are writing, mathematics, and reading.
How Have Students Receiving Special Education Services Fared on
The same problems found at the national level of excluding students
with disabilities are also apparent at the state level. Complicating
this situation is the fact that many states have no formal means in
place for determining the extent to which students with disabilities
were included in assessments or for isolating the data of students
with disabilities from that of other students.
Presently, there is an effort in the states to quantify the number of
students who are exempted or excluded from participation in the
assessment, and to monitor closely the appropriateness of such
Suggestions for Increasing the Participation of Students with
Disabilities in Statewide Assessments
As new performance-based approaches are incorporated into state
assessment programs, it is important to discern what it will take to
ensure high participation of students with disabilities.
- Include students with disabilities in pilot tests. Keep data
according to which students participated in the assessment, their
category of disability, and their success.
- Plan accommodations and adaptations for use by students with
disabilities during the assessments.
- * Modify the presentation format--e.g., use a Braille version of
the assessment; use an interpreter for a student with a significant
- * Modify the response format--e.g., allow the student to produce
the answers orally rather than in written form.
- * Modify time and scheduling--e.g., give the student more time to
complete the assessment.
- * Modify the setting--e.g., have the student complete the
assessment in a quiet area apart from other students.
Refer to the student's IEP for specific accommodation strategies.
- Consider equity issues--race, class, culture, gender biases --in
crafting the assessments. Equity can become an issue when the
performance tasks are within the experience of certain populations and
not others. For example, consider the following example that
recognizes the complications of disability: "Asking students to write
about learning a sport, which is biased against those students whose
disabilities, geographic location, or economic status have prevented
them from learning a sport."
- Monitor participation levels. Build in an accountability
model that investigates consistently high levels of exclusion.
- Clarify guidelines for exclusion and inclusion. Determine how
results will be reported.
At the very least, states can make a commitment to include students
with disabilities from the very start.
Although it is too early to tell if the use of performance
assessments will result in greater participation of students with
disabilities in statewide assessment programs, we can only hope that
states will use this heightened interest as an opportunity to improve
the educational experience for these students.
Derived from Thurlow, M. L. (1994). "National and State Perspectives
on Performance Assessment and Students with Disabilities." Reston, VA:
The Council for Exceptional Children. Product # P5060.
ERIC Digests are in the public domain and may be freely reproduced and
This publication was prepared with funding from the Office of Educational
Research and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education, under contract no.
RR93002005. The opinions expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect
the positions or policies of OERI or the Department of Education.
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