In recent years there has been a boom of standardized testing within American schools. Students are being tested in reading, math, science, social studies for state and school district standards that are used to show compliance with No Child Left Behind, along with NCLB testing students are also being hit with graduation tests, testing to move forward in the school progression ( i.e. a student must pass this test before moving onto the next grade level).
With the increasing number of tests given to students where the results weigh heavily on the school, school districts, or individual students performance, where do students with disabilities fall into this mix? Where especially students with Assistive Technology or Augmentative Communication? Federal law requires states and school districts to include students with disabilities in large-scale assessments, and to report their scores publicly, in disaggregated form, as a way of determining how well schools are serving these students. This is a matter of system accountability. Federal law is silent, however, on whether states or schools districts should impose high-stakes consequences on individual students with disabilities who fail large-scale tests. In other words, while federal law mandates participation in large-scale tests and public reporting of disaggregated scores, it is for states to decide whether large-scale tests will result in individual high-stakes consequences and, if so, for which students (Heubert, 2002).
Accommodations are able to be granted to students with disabilities without losing the standardization of the test. An accommodation is considered, any change to the standard test format to assess an individual’s abilities, rather than his or her
disabilities. Although allowable accommodations vary, they general fall in one of four categories:
o Presentation (e.g., directions/questions read aloud, large print).
o Response (e.g., use of a scribe).
o Setting (small group or individual testing, study carrel).
o Timing/Scheduling (extended time, additional breaks; Wahburn-Moses, 2003)
IDEA requires that the IEP team documents any accommodations in the students Individualized Education Plan. As Washburn-Moses (2003) stated, “The IEP team
should focus on the student’s strengths, weaknesses, and individual learning characteristics, and refrain from basing their decision on the student’s disability
level or current placement. Team members should consider only those accommodations that the student uses during classroom instruction and testing, as opposed to introducing new accommodations specifically for use on the state test (Thurlow et al.). It is extremely
important to document on the IEP the team’s decision regarding accommodations, as well as the justification for that decision.”
Dunne (2002), stated in an Education World article, “In Wisconsin, students with disabilities are being allowed testing accommodations so that more can take the test. The accommodations include increased time to take a test, use of a scribe to write down answers, and use of a reader to read instructions and questions aloud. Those types of accommodations will allow about 85 percent of students with disabilities to participate in the Wisconsin State Assessment System, according to a study authored by Eva M. Kubinski at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for Education Research.
For those students unable to be tested, even with accommodations, the state developed an alternate performance indicator tied to the state’s standards for use by schools to assess the 2 percent of Wisconsin students with severe disabilities or limited English proficiency, Kubinski wrote in her paper.”
What does this mean for students with Assistive Technology or AAC? Based on the research found, having an Assistive Technology device would allow a IEP team to determine if accommodations on standardized tests were needed. Each student is as unique as their assistive technology device and therefore it can be said that each student is going to pose different circumstances when it comes to testing in the school setting. According to IDEA, as stated earlier, the IEP team must determine what accommodations must be made for the student to be successful on the test. These accommodations must be written in the students IEP.
Since the students using AT/AAC vary greatly and many have underlying issues as to why they have AAC devices, such as other confounding disabilities. It is important that the IEP determines whether the device the student uses for communication is going to be part of the accommodation for the Standardized test or if it is not needed. It will be important to determine that and then prepare the student that they will or will not be able to use the device during the test. This is especially important if the device can not be used during the test, since this is the students voice.
IEP teams must work to find the best accommodations for the student to be successful, there are various ways to do that, including the Dynamic Assessment of Testing
Accommodations (DATA), which helps teachers determine which students will
benefit from which accommodations.
Based on the information provided it can be concluded that each students case is going to be very different, but overall each student that qualifies for special education, including those who use assistive technology or augmentative communication devices can qualify for special accommodations of standardized testing which will allow those students to complete the tests with reasonable scores.
Dunne, D. (2000). Are high stakes tests punishing some students? Education Weekly 34(1) 32-35.
Heubert, J.P. (2002). Disability, race, and high-stakes testing of students. NCAC. 4(1) 38-45.
Sindelar, T., Hager, R., & Smith, D. (2003). High stakes testing standards for students with disabilities. Neighborhood Legal Services, Inc.
Washburn-Moses, L. (2003). What every special educator should know about high stakes testing. Teaching Exceptional Children 35(4) 12-15.