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State-Wide Assessment Programs
Research Connections
Spring 1998

Views from the Field

Support Teachers
Address Students with Limited English Proficiency
Consider the Student's Needs

"Including all students in district-wide and state-wide assessments has the potential to improve teaching."
--Kathy Morris
Staff Development Specialist
Beaumont, TX

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As educators begin including students with disabilities in large-scale assessments, implementation issues are emerging.
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Kathy Morris, a parent of twin boys who have disabilities and staff development specialist for Region V Educational Service Center in Beaumont, Texas, sees too much of the burden for including all children falling upon teachers. "Unless teachers have resources--including sufficient professional development--large-scale assessments can pose real drawbacks for children and teachers." For example, Morris sees a reluctance on the part of teachers to include students with low incidence disabilities in assessments that measure academic progress. "I understand why teachers are more comfortable assessing students' social goals than they are cognitive ones-after all, an increased instructional emphasis on social goals is often written into IEPs for many of these children-but there must also be some balance with other more academic skills."

Morris encourages districts to support the fair assessment of students with disabilities, offering their teachers professional development. Morris points out that even in schools where inclusion is practiced, many teachers are not trained in how to work with students with low incidence disabilities. "If a teacher feels unsure about how to teach a child, then a high-stakes assessment will only escalate stress and fear-assessments should be about responsibility and not about fear of losing."

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Address Students with Limited
English Proficiency

The 1997 report, The Inclusion of Students with Disabilities and Limited English Proficient Students in Large-Scale Assessments: A Summary of Recent Progress, from the National Center for Education Statistics estimates that there are approximately 3.2 million students with limited English proficiency (LEP) in the nation's schools.

Students with LEP and disabilities present a unique challenge to school districts engaged in creating fair testing practices. "Including these children in large-scale assessments is so new that there is a large gap between what students need and what educators know about addressing students' needs," points out California State University-Long Beach researcher, Jana Echevarria. "As a result, too often disability takes precedence over the LEP issues-which can affect the child's performance and ultimately the overall rankings."

Echevarria recommends that educators take a proactive approach by becoming sensitive to the language and cultural issues facing their students. "There is a need for increased training in how language and culture affects learning, as well as how limited language proficiency interacts with disabilities."

Dr. Echevarria's newest book, Sheltered Content Instruction: Teaching English Language Learners with Diverse Abilities (1998), puts into practice her research on the instructional and curricular needs of LEP students with disabilities. It is available from Allyn and Bacon.

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Consider the Students Needs School psychologists play a major role in coordinating IEP meetings where the majority of testing decisions typically take place. As a result, Susan Gorin, Executive Director of the National Association of School Psychologists, predicts that school psychologists will assume increasingly more responsibility for ensuring that decisions regarding testing accommodations are appropriate given the child's special needs. "The challenge is always to measure the child's abilities--and not his or her disabilities." Pat Howard, a school psychology state consultant in Florida, offers the following suggestions to ensure that assessment accommodations are appropriate:

  • Work with individuals who know the student best.
  • Explain possible accommodations thoroughly. For example, concretely define terms, such as "time on test" or "frequent breaks."
  • Define student outcomes clearly, state how the child will be expected to achieve them, and monitor progress.
  • List possible accommodations on the child's IEP.
  • Prepare the child to "take" the assessment, as many children have test anxiety and poor test-taking skills.
  • Train test monitors (e.g., paraprofessionals) in how to use specific accommodations, as well as in how to "read" any cues that the student may use to signal the need for a particular accommodation (e.g., need to take a break).
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