Assessing Students With Learning Disabilities Under No Child Left Behind
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By Candace Cortiella, The Advocacy Institute
Q: Do the assessments required by NCLB also carry student "stakes" such as promotion to the next grade or receipt of a regular diploma?
A: No. States have the option to add student "stakes" to their standards and assessment systems. In some states students are required to pass one or more high school assessments as a condition of receiving a diploma. Some states require students to achieve at certain levels on assessments to be promoted to subsequent grades. However, student "stakes" are not a requirement of NCLB. While NCLB requires that all students be assessed, the emphasis of such assessments is focused on group measures, rather than on one individual student. These group measures are used to evaluate the performance of entire schools, school districts, and states. Additionally, NCLB puts a strong focus on the performance of subgroups of students that have traditionally experienced poor academic achievement, such as minority students, students with limited English proficiency, and students with disabilities.
Q: How is the testing required by NCLB handled for children with learning disabilities?
A: All students with disabilities, including those with learning disabilities, must be tested. Students with LD who receive services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), generally referred to as "special education" services, can be assessed via one of four options. Which assessment option will be used is decided by the student's Individualized Education Program (IEP) team, which includes parents.
The options for assessing students with disabilities include:
- Regular grade-level assessment based on the state's academic content and achievement standards
- Regular grade-level assessment with accommodations
- Alternate assessment based on grade-level academic content and achievement standards
- Alternate assessment based on alternate academic standards
The IEP team may not exempt a student from participating in the assessments required by NCLB.
Q: What are assessment accommodations?
A: Accommodations are changes in testing materials or procedures that ensure that an assessment measures the student's knowledge and skills rather than the student's disabilities. Accommodations are generally grouped into the following categories:
- Presentation of the assessment, for example, repeating directions, reading aloud, or using larger answer sheet "bubbles."
- Response to the assessment, for example, marking answers in a book, using reference aids, or pointing.
- Setting of the assessment, for example, a study carrel, special lighting, or a separate room.
- Timing/scheduling of the assessment, for example extended time or frequent breaks.
Decisions about assessment accommodations are to be made on the basis of individual student characteristics and needs, not on the basis of labels (such as category of disability). The accommodations that students receive on state assessments should be similar to those routinely provided during classroom assessment.
While the IEP team is charged with making the decision regarding appropriate and necessary accommodations, it is important to keep in mind that some accommodations may invalidate a test. For example, reading a test to the student may invalidate a reading test. Some states have determined certain accommodations to be "standard" or "nonstandard" and may instruct IEP teams to only select accommodations that the state has determined will not invalidate the results of a particular test or portion of a test.
Parents should be certain that they fully understand the implications of each accommodation that may be considered for their student and should be aware of any and all state policies regarding assessment accommodations for students with disabilities. Each state's department of education website is a good place to look for such information.
To locate resources in your state, including the website of your state department of education, visit http://nichcy.org and click on your state.