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What are Testing Accommodations?

Are Testing Accommodations Helpful or Harmful?

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Testing accommodations are modifications are changes made in testing to prevent your child's disability from interfering with her ability to demonstrate her true skill levels. They can include:
  • Changes to the test such as multiple choice rather than short answer, or a reduced number of test items.
  • Changes in the administration of the tests such as extended time, having items read using a text-reader, or having someone write your child's answers as she says them aloud.

Decisions on Accommodations for Tests - What You Need to Know

Shortly after your child is formally diagnosed with a learning disability, the IEP team or Section 504 committee will likely discuss whether your child should have accommodations on his testing.

Testing accommodations are permitted under both Section 504 and IDEA. Further, in some cases, accommodations can apply to more than just classroom assessments. Under certain conditions, they can apply to high-stakes accountability testing in state-level assessments and with college entrance exams.

Are Accommodations Helpful or Harmful?

While testing accommodations can seem like a good idea to support your child, it is important to be aware of the possible negative affects they may have for him and for his school. Helpful aspects of accommodations include:
  • When carefully applied, accommodations enable teachers to get a more accurate assessment of your child's knowledge and skills.
  • Accommodations can help your child feel more comfortable with the testing process, knowing that his disability will not prevent him from succeeding.
  • Accommodations can potentially help your child receive better grades and possibly more academic recognition.
  • Accommodations may result in slightly higher scores on college entrance exams.

Conversely, there are potential negative affects of testing modifications that should be carefully considered before choosing to use them for your child. Possible harmful aspects of accommodations include:

  • Testing accommodations may be misused and misapplied. This can artificially increase your child's scores. This can cause teachers overestimate his skills and ultimately lead to frustration and failure.
  • Your child may not get extra help he needs because he appears to have higher skill levels than he really has.
  • In the worst cases, teachers may inadvertently focus less on your child, believing that the accommodations are all the support he needs.
  • When accommodations are over-used, children with disabilities have inflated scores. Such scores are used in instructional decisions and determining how to spend funds, place personnel, and provide professional development. As a result, students with disabilities can lose valuable support because they do not appear to need it.

Limitations on Testing Accommodations

Section 504 and IDEA allow for accommodation on testing, but they do not require schools to accommodate students to such a degree that they have advantages over other students.

While most schools allow IEP teams to determine classroom testing accommodations, there are typically strict guidelines for using accommodations during state-level accountability testing. In setting limits, states try to balance student need and fair access to testing with the need for school accountability for improvement.

The most significant reason for rigid regulation is that statewide assessment results reflect the quality of instruction children receive. Large numbers of modifications can artificially raise students' scores. This can prevent school improvement and mask serious instructional problems.

Another reason for regulation, and this is unfortunate but true, there are people who attempt to get modifications for their children when they are not really needed because they believe it will give their children advantages over other students. This is especially true among older students who are competing for scholarships and higher college entrance exam scores.

Making the Right Decision for Your Child

To make the best decision for your child, focus on:
  • Assessment Data - Accommodate only in the areas where his disability would prevent him from showing what he truly knows. For example, if his learning disability is in written language, a scribe to write his responses, only exactly as your child states them, is appropriate.
  • Develop your child's goals, objectives, and specially designed instruction on his IEP before discussing testing accommodations. This will enable the IEP team to think about accommodations while keeping in mind his total education program.
  • Clearly specify what the accommodation will be and how and when it will be used in the IEP.
  • Consider the supports your child needs in daily instruction. If he needs accommodations daily in his work, he will likely need them during testing.

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