Delaware is attributing a drop in state reading test scores to decisions to cut back on an accommodation that allowed teachers to read test materials aloud to some students. From an article in The News Journal:
A handful of Delaware's persistently low-achieving schools made great gains in this year's state assessment scores, but students statewide struggled in reading, continuing a downward trend in that subject area.
Delaware Department of Education officials said the decline in reading scores was caused in part by a change in the way some students were given the test. Fewer special-needs students were given an accommodation on the reading test this year, meaning they had to take the test the same way as their peers. The accommodation, called "read aloud," allowed educators to read printed text out loud to students taking the exam.
In 2009, 6,321 students had portions of the reading test read aloud to them. In 2010, 1,435 got that assistance during the test. State leaders asked districts to limit their use of this accommodation based on the advice of U.S. Department of Education officials, said Michael Stetter, the state Department of Education's director for curriculum and instruction and acting director of accountability.
"We suspected, and the federal government suspected, this was inflating some scores," Stetter told the State Board of Education Thursday.
Valid test accommodations should not result in changes to a student's score. The National Center on Educational Outcomes, which for 20 years has been studying issues related to test modifications and accommodations for students with disabilities, released a report about this issue in May that offered a snapshot of the current state of research into test accommodations.
Studies of "read-aloud" accommodations have produced quite mixed results, the NCEO report's authors wrote:
Two studies found that scores on tests were higher with the use of this accommodation. Three studies indicated that the accommodation provided a differential boost to students with disabilities. One study found that differential boost applied to students without disabilities rather than those with disabilities.
An additional study found that the read-aloud accommodation made the test easier (i.e., changed the difficulty level). Another study found that the read-aloud accommodation did not increase test scores as there was no significant difference in student performance between scores of students who used the read-aloud accommodation and those who participated in the assessment without the accommodation.
It also seems particularly challenging to assess students' reading skills without actually asking them to read. Reading the test aloud seems to me to be a fundamental change in the test.
School districts nationwide are wrestling with how to include students with disabilities on state assessments in a meaningful way. The situation in Delaware is just an example of how important it is to develop test accommodations that truly work.