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Using Performance Assessment in Outcomes-Based Accountability SystemsThis 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 #E533
Authors: Margaret J. McLaughlin and Sandra Hopfengardner Warren
Outcomes-based accountability ensures that the educational system is
responsible for student attainment of specific learner outcomes.
Increasingly, outcomes-based accountability systems are using results
of both traditional assessments, such as norm-referenced tests, and
authentic or performance assessments in an effort to measure broad
domains of student knowledge.
Performance Assessment and Students with Disabilities
Performance assessments can offer a number of benefits over the use of
traditional standardized assessments for students with disabilities.
The most important benefit is the potential for linking instruction
and assessment: As the student completes the assessment task, the
teacher uses the data to improve instruction.
To ensure success of performance assessments in an outcomes-based
system, the following issues must be addressed for students with
- Defining the Outcomes. Assessment programs are constructed
to measure progress toward valued educational goals. When outcome
frameworks are defined too narrowly (e.g., academic content domains)
and neglect other valued areas (e.g., vocational skills, personal
management, social skills, and communication), the outcomes may not
reflect all of the skills that are valued for students with
disabilities. Assessment tasks need to be relevant to the students'
- Developing Performance Standards. Standards are benchmarks
against which student performance may be compared. A critical
decision in designing an assessment system is whether students will
be compared to themselves to determine change in their performance
over time, or whether they will be compared to fixed standards of
performance. Many students with disabilities cannot meet absolute
standards, particularly in academic areas. When participation in the
assessment program is linked to high school diplomas, students with
disabilities may be at a particular disadvantage.
- Assessment Accommodations. Students with disabilities may
benefit from accommodations made during assessment:
- * Additional time to complete the task.
- * Alternative testing locations.
- * Alternative means of administration (e.g., reading,
- * Alternative supplies or equipment (e.g., computers).
- * Alternative forms of assessment.
- Scoring. When assessment results must be reported in the
aggregate and when results matter, such as for diplomas, scoring
reliability becomes critical. Rigorous scoring is as necessary in
alternative assessments as in traditional assessments.
Performance Assessments in Action: Descriptions of Selected States and
A number of states and local school districts have adopted
performance assessments in their outcomes-based systems. Many of
these sites have included students with disabilities in the
Kentucky: The Kentucky Educational Reform Act outlines six performance
goals that all students are expected to attain upon graduation from
- * Communication and math.
- * Core concepts from the sciences, arts, humanities, social
studies, and practical living studies.
- * Self-sufficiency.
- * Membership in family, work group, or community.
- * Thinking and problem-solving.
- * Connecting and integrating knowledge.
Students are also expected to have mastered 75 outcomes in specific
academic content areas.
Performance assessments include:
From these, students select 5 to 7 "best pieces" to be scored.
- * Portfolios in writing and mathematics for all students in
grades 4, 8, and 12.
- * Performance events for all students in grades 4, 8, and 12,
with focus on mathematics, science, social studies, arts and
humanities, and vocational education/practical living.
- * Transitional assessments (open-ended and multiple-choice
questions) for all students in grades 4, 8, and 12, with focus on
mathematics, science, social studies, arts and humanities, and
vocational education/practical living. Alternative portfolios are
developed by students with severe disabilities in grades 4, 8, and 12.
All students are required to participate in the transitional
assessments or alternative portfolios unless a physician provides a
statement documenting significant negative impact on the student's
health as a result of participating.
Maryland: The Maryland School Performance Program (MSPP) was developed
as a comprehensive student outcomes accountability system.
Reflecting state-level goals and strategies, student learning
outcomes have been developed in the areas of reading and writing,
mathematics, social studies, and science.
Assessment of student outcomes within the MSSP includes:
- * Norm-referenced tests (Comprehensive Tests of Basic Skills).
- * Criterion-referenced performance assessments (Maryland School
Performance Assessment Program).
- * Maryland Functional Tests, criterion-referenced minimal
An alternative performance assessment is currently being proposed for
students with significant cognitive disabilities.
Students with disabilities may be exempted by their IEP team from
participation in any of the three assessments.
Vermont: The Vermont Assessment Program was implemented statewide
during the 1991-1992 school year. The program employs both
standardized assessments and portfolios to collect information about
the performance of 4th and 8th graders in mathematics and writing:
- * The standardized assessment used is the Uniform Assessment,
which includes two 40-item multiple choice tests and a single
on-demand writing task that the student must complete independently.
- * Each student's portfolio is expected to include 10-20 items.
School-based staffing teams determine whether or not students with
disabilities are eligible for exemption from the portfolio
development and assessments. Exempted students may build portfolios
that do not conform to the state requirements for use in instruction.
What Are the Implications of Using Performance Assessments for
There are a number of issues that need to be addressed when using
performance assessment as part of large scale assessment programs:
- * Dealing with increased program costs.
- * Ensuring scoring reliability and establishing fair, yet
flexible, scoring rubrics.
- * Setting performance standards.
- * Specifying the outcomes and indicators.
- * Making certain that the assessments provide many opportunities
for students to demonstrate proficiency in an outcome area.
- * Using the assessment results to influence instruction either
individually or at the school level.
To address these issues, it is important to include both general and
special education teachers in designing and implementing the
What Are the Considerations for Including Students with Disabilities
in Outcomes-Based Accountability Systems?
Despite the strong impetus to include students with disabilities in
assessments, there are still major considerations that must be
- Outcomes-based systems present special educators with a
difficult conceptual switch from believing that each student with a
disability should have individualized outcomes to accepting the
notion of a common set of outcomes across students.
- There is still ambiguity among assessment experts regarding
how much accommodation should be provided within an assessment
- When one set of scoring standards is defined for all
students, with no modifications made for students with disabilities,
students with disabilities may be denied diplomas or otherwise
- When results are used for high stakes accountability, there
may be greater pressure to exempt students with disabilities. Once
the decision to exempt students with disabilities is made, there may
also be pressure to identify more students as having disabilities in
order to exempt more students from the assessments.
Strategies to Support Using Performance Assessment in Outcomes-Based
When using performance assessments in outcomes-based systems,
educators can increase the potential for success of students with
disabilities by considering the following:
- * Identify meaningful outcomes.
- * Define performance standards in sufficiently broad terms or in
ways that emphasize growth.
- * Create enough flexibility in the assessment system to
accommodate individual student needs.
- * Employ multiple data-gathering strategies including on-demand
assessments, examples of student work, and teacher judgments.
Derived from McLaughlin, M. J. & Warren, S. H. (1994). "Performance
Assessment and Students with Disabilities: Usage in Outcomes-Based
Accountability Systems." Reston, VA: The Council for Exceptional
Children. Product #P5061.
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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