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Testing Group Proposes Accommodations For Students With Disabilities

The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for Colleges and Careers, which had released pieces of its proposed accommodations policy for students with disabilities, has now put out a full draft of its accommodations manual for public comment. (The organization also has an explanatory Powerpoint presentation and a list of frequently asked questions linked to the release.)

PARCC is one of two groups of states working to create tests to accompany the Common Core State Standards. The tests are set to be implemented by the 2014-15 school year.

The manual also includes a draft accommodations policy for English-language learners, which my colleague Lesli Maxwell outlined in her blog Learning the Language.

The manual outlines five categories of accommodations available to students with disabilities intended to provide "equitable access" to the tests:

  • Presentation accommodations include allowable changes in the method or format in which the test or test questions are provided to the student. These may include, for example, the use of Braille or sign interpretation of test items.
  • Response accommodations include allowable changes in the method used by the student to provide responses to test questions. These may include dictating responses to a scribe or using a Braille note-taker.
  • Timing and scheduling accommodations include extending the duration of time allowed for testing, allowing a student to take frequent breaks, or [allowing a student] to take the test at a certain time of day.
  • Setting accommodations include changes to the location or conditions in which the test is administered, including separate location or group size.
  • Special-access accommodations include accommodations that expand access to the test for a small number of students with disabilities in the areas of reading, writing, and calculating who require additional supports and meet certain criteria, as noted by the IEP/504 plan teams.

There are a also a number of universal design elements and accessibility features that will be available to all students, either by the student's choice or at the discretion of a school. Those features include computerized pop-up glossaries, spell-checkers, or magnification.

Some aspects of the accommodations that may prove controversial include how PARCC might handle issues such as read-aloud accommodations on English and language arts tests, and the use of calculators. The consortium has proposed that read-aloud accommodations be provided to students who are blind and have not learned Braille, or students with "a disability that severely limits or prevents him/her from accessing printed text, even after varied and repeated attempts to teach the student to do so."

The use of calculators would be restricted to students with a disability that "severely limits or prevents the student from calculating, even after varied and repeated attempts to teach the student to do so." "

Some disability advocates have argued that rather than restricting accommodations by student, the testmakers should determine if an accommodation will cause a problem in assessment. For example, if part of a reading test is focused on comprehension rather than text decoding skills, a read-aloud accommodation could be appropriate in that case. The education task force of the Consortium of Citizens with Disabilities, an Washington-based advocacy group, made that point in a response to an earlier release of draft accommodations.

"All access features should be available to all students unless and until PARCC can provide evidence that use of that feature as an accommodation fundamentally alters what is intended to be assessed by the test item," the organization stated.

Those who would like to comment on the proposals can do so at this link until 5 p.m. May 13.

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