Using Testing Accommodations For Diverse Learners (page 3)
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.
Testing Accommodations Explained
Traditionally, testing accommodations have been used as a way of helping students with disabilities to perform on standardized tests. Thurlow, Scott, and Ysseldyke (1995) report that there has been great variability in the terminology used to describe changes made in the administration of standardized tests to students with disabilities. "Among the terms used to convey the concept of accommodations are: nonstandard administration, mediation, modification, alteration, and adaptation". Other terms have been used as well, such as accommodated tests, modified tests, nonstandard test administration, and alternating testing techniques. A review of the literature indicates the most commonly used terms are accommodation, modification, and adaptation, which are sometimes used interchangeably and at other times convey different meanings. For example, testing accommodations sometimes refers to changes made in the testing environment or facility, such as allowing a student to take a test in an alternative location or providing special lighting or special acoustics during testing. Testing modifications and adaptations, on the other hand, are associated with changes that are made to the actual test format or content (Thurlow et al., 1993). For example, a standardized test is changed into Braille or large print for administration to blind and visually impaired students. Or, an interpreter is used to help administering tests to an ELL in his or her native language. In addition to its use in special education, test adaptation is a common term used in cross-cultural assessment. It indicates that a test is translated from a source language into a target language and that necessary modifications are made to the test to make it better fit the target culture.
However, in most of the literature the terms accommodation, modification, and adaptation are used interchangeably. Collectively, they refer to any changes made to testing procedures or formats that provide students with disabilities equal opportunity to participate in testing situations (New York Education Department, 1995). The purpose is to make the test environment, content, or format more suitable and accessible to students with special needs. This broad concept of accommodation is also reflected in the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act's definition of "reasonable accommodation," which includes (1) making existing facilities readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities; and (2) appropriate adjustment or modifications of examinations, training materials or policies, the provision of qualified readers or interpreters, and other similar accommodations for individuals with disabilities. The Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing (AERA, APA, & NCME, 1999) describe testing accommodation as "any action taken in response to a determination that an individual's disability requires a departure from established testing protocol". We adopt this broad definition and expand it to include ELLs, in addition to students with disabilities. Furthermore, because there is no formal consensus on the use of the different terms, we choose to use testing accommodations as a generic term throughout this book, but use it interchangeably, occasionally as appropriate, with terms such as modified tests and nonstandard test administration in different contexts.
© ______ 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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