Development funded by the U.S. Office of Special Education Programs
Some Testing Accommodations Not Valid for Many Students with LD
Under IDEA '97, students with disabilities must be included in high-stakes assessments, but they are allowed certain accommodations to help them achieve valid scores on those tests. How does a teacher determine which accommodations are most beneficial? A Vanderbilt University study, funded by the U.S. Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), assessed the validity of some common accommodations in terms of how well they address deficits specifically caused by the disability. The study also identified an objective, data-based approach that helps teachers formulate better decisions about which test accommodations are valid for which students with LD.
It can be difficult for teachers to determine valid accommodations for students with LD because this group is dramatically heterogeneous and because of the nature of the cognitive problems they present. The most distinguishing characteristics of these students are reading and math deficits, and most large-scale assessments directly measure or rely heavily on these very skills.
The study found that certain popular accommodations, such as extended time, did not benefit students with LD any more than those accommodations benefited students without LD. Other accommodations, such as permitting students to read reading tests out loud, were valid because students with LD generally benefited from those accommodations more than their nondisabled peers. Of course, given the variation among students with LD, results also showed that some test accommodations that were not valid for students with LD, as a group, were indeed valid for use with specific children with LD.
To identify the appropriateness of accommodations for students with LD, the researchers adopted an approach in which brief tests are administered under standard and accommodated conditions. The improvement of each student with LD for each accommodation is compared to national norms showing how much nondisabled students typically benefit from those accommodations. When a student with LD performs better with a specific accommodation, compared to the improvement typically achieved by nondisabled students in the norms, then that accommodation is deemed appropriate for that student with LD.
In comparing the data-based system to teacher judgments about which accommodations are appropriate, the researchers found that data-based accommodations produced greater increases on statewide assessments. They concluded that objective diagnostic assessments can guide teachers and administrators toward appropriate accommodations for students with LD. In a recent, year-long implementation of the data-based accommodations tool, know as the Dynamic Assessment of Test Accommodations (DATA), teachers were enthusiastic. They found DATA to be manageable to use and very useful in formulating sound decisions about which accommodations were needed.
This research was supported by a grant from the Office of Special Education Programs, U.S. Department of Education, (Grant #H023F70010, directed by Lynn Fuchs). For more information, see Fuchs, L.S., Fuchs, D., Eaton, S.B., Hamlett, C., Binkley, E., & Crouch, R. (2000, Fall). Using objective data sources to enhance teacher judgments about test accommodations. Exceptional Children 67(1), pp. 67-81.
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