Using Testing Accommodations For Diverse Learners
This article introduces the use of testing accommodations for students with disabilities and ELLs. We cover these two topics: why use testing accommodations and testing accommodations explained.
Why Use Testing Accommodations?
It would be ideal if a test could assure accurate measurement for all students, regardless of gender, ethnicity, linguistic or cultural background, or disability. Unfortunately, this has not been the case. Because tests are standardized primarily on the mainstream population, they provide a more adequate measure for mainstream students than for students who are not part of the mainstream population, such as students with disabilities or ELLs. In addition, although standardized tests are designed to assess each student in the same manner with the intent to provide a fair comparison among test takers, this is not always the case for students with disabilities or ELLs. In fact, for some students with disabilities or ELLs, standardized test administration does not provide an equal opportunity for them to demonstrate their abilities and skills as for their mainstream peers. This directly affects the validity of the test results and often produces an underestimation of the abilities measured for these students. There are several reasons for these results.
Taking standardized tests requires certain functional skills (e.g., physical, sensory, linguistic, etc.) to understand and respond to the test stimuli. Some students with disabilities or ELLs have a lack of such skills, which prevents them from performing optimally on the tests. For example, a blind student would be unable to take a test that requires vision. A hearing impaired student would be unable to understand auditorily presented test questions. A student with severe speech impairment would not do well on test items that require orally responses. Likewise, an ELL with little English skills would be unable to understand and respond to test items that require a high level of English proficiency. When standardized tests are used in each of these examples, the test results would reflect more of the effects of the test taker's disability or language barrier than of his or her true abilities.
The issue of lack of requisite functional skills is sometimes further complicated by some attendant characteristics that students with disabilities or ELLs have. Scruggs, Bennion, and Lifson (1985) report that many learning disabled students may not have the attentional, memory, organizational, reading, and/or writing skills to perform at their optimal levels on standardized tests. Culbertson and Jalongo (1999) also indicate that students with disabilities are likely to use poor test-taking skills and ineffective learning strategies on formal tests (e.g., they are less likely to attend carefully to specific format demands). Other similar issues exist with English language learners. For example, Lam (1993) reports that ELL test takers often do not have the "test sophistication" and motivation necessary to perform well on standardized tests. Also, many ELLs tend to work in a slower rate and do not pace themselves well during testing. Consequently, they are unable to complete all test items within the time limits allowed and would receive lower scores than that they might deserve (Scruggs, Bennion, & Lifson, 1985). Sometimes, it is difficult to determine whether the low score is due to the student's lack of knowledge required on the test or lack of effective test-taking skills.
An additional problem comes from the norms used to score standardized test results. Appropriate norms are essential when using standardized tests to assess any students. Unfortunately, few standardized tests are standardized on students with disabilities or ELLs. The validity of test scores obtained by students with disabilities or ELLs using mainstream norms is questionable.
From this discussion, it can be seen that standardized tests may be invalid and unfair measures in assessing students with disabilities and ELLs. The true abilities of these students may be shrouded under the difficulties they experience in taking the tests. To remedy these difficulties and to "level the playing field," appropriate testing accommodations should be used in standardized testing to offer an equal opportunity for these students to demonstrate their optimal performance as do mainstream students.
© ______ 2004, Merrill, an imprint of Pearson Education Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The reproduction, duplication, or distribution of this material by any means including but not limited to email and blogs is strictly prohibited without the explicit permission of the publisher.
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