High-Stakes Testing and Accommodations

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In this age of accountability, statewide student assessments have become a central focus every spring for students, teachers and families.  High-stakes testing requires the school community to invest significant amounts of time and attention in this process, and so we want to ensure that students with and without disabilities have the best possible outcomes.  For students with disabilities, it is important to make sure that testing accommodations are properly implemented so that they can fully demonstrate their knowledge and skills on these assessments.  Preparation is the key to success!

Teachers and school staff who administer assessments to students with disabilities need adequate preparation and training on how to implement testing accommodations.  In particular, staff members (such as general educators and support staff) who are not familiar with certain accommodations may benefit from seeing those same accommodations implemented in a classroom setting, and may need an opportunity to practice.  Also, types of accommodations and eligibility criteria vary from state to state, and can change from year to year, so it is important for test administrators to familiarize themselves with testing guidelines and procedures well before testing begins.  Here are some tips for testing coordinators and test administrators:

Develop a staffing plan early.  Certain accommodations, such as small group testing and extended time, require heavier staffing and more time than the general test administration.

Check your state’s department of education website for updates and advisories on testing accommodations.  Procedures and oversight guidelines may change from one year to the next.

Make sure that test administrators who will be providing a given accommodation have some prior experience with that accommodation.  Newer teachers may need to have certain accommodations modeled for them or may need a more-detailed explanation of how to implement those accommodations.

Consult testing guidelines well before testing begins so you know when certain accommodations are allowed, and when they are not.  For example, many states allow a read-aloud accommodation for most of the test, but restrict usage of that accommodation for reading comprehension and certain other language sections.

For students, it is important to ensure that the implementation of testing accommodations is closely aligned with the use of those accommodations in a classroom setting.  Common sense tells us that a student who is used to a certain accommodation in the classroom probably won’t perform well without that same accommodation in the testing environment.  However, we also need to remember that the introduction of an accommodation in the testing environment, when the student is not used to receiving that particular accommodation in the classroom, can be just as disruptive for the student.  To prepare students for standardized testing, make sure they understand their accommodations before testing so they know what to expect.  Here are some tips to help ensure that students are well prepared for the test:

  • Identify students who require accommodations early.  This will help you in grouping students for the test, and will help you in developing your staffing plan.
  • Make sure students’ testing accommodations align with their classroom accommodations as outlined in their IEPs.  It is important to explain to students how their accommodations will be implemented, and how those accommodations will help them perform on the test.
  • If an accommodation is allowed only for certain test sections (such as a read-aloud accommodation), make sure students understand when the accommodation will be used and why it shouldn’t be used for all test sections.  Knowing ahead of time what to expect will help students feel more comfortable in the testing environment.
  • Consider student-teacher relationships and whether a student’s familiarity with their test administrator will affect their performance.  Some states include a familiar test administrator as an allowable testing accommodation.
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