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PARCC Adopts Spec. Ed. Testing Policy For Common Core

UPDATE: PARCC has posted online the materials on accommodations for special education students and common-core testing that it made available to its governing board. Please see memo to the board that outlines the contents of the policy; a PowerPoint presentation on the manual, and a draft of the final policy. An edited version is planned for release in late July.

Students with disabilities will be able to use read-aloud accommodations on the English/language arts portion of the common core tests, with no requirement that they be virtually unable to read printed text or be at the beginning stages of learning to decode, according an accommodations manual approved today by the governing board of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for Colleges and Careers.

In addition to read-aloud accommodations, the manual will also allow students who use American Sign Language to have the English/language arts portion of the test interpreted for them.

However, in the case of the read-aloud and ASL accommodations, students will have a notation on their score report indicating that no claims can be made about the student's ability to demonstrate foundational print skills such as decoding and fluency.

Some students with disabilities will also be allowed to dictate their responses. As with the read-aloud accommodation, a notation will be made on their score report that no claims can be made about that student's written language skills.

The final manual also allows students with disabilities to use calculators on certain parts of the math test where students without disabilities would not be able to. That accommodation would be available to students with a disability that severely limits their ability to perform basic calculations, but the final draft of the manual does away with language that says such students should be "unable to calculate single-digit numbers without a calculation device."

Of the 17 state leaders present at the meeting of the governing board, all voted to approve the manual except for those from Colorado. Leaders in that state said that allowing a read-aloud accommodation on the English/language arts portion of the test is not a true measurement of reading.

The policy discussion surrounding read-aloud has been, by far, the most controversial aspect of the accommodations manual and dominated the discussion among the state education leaders. Currently, only three PARCC states—Georgia, Maryland, and Massachusetts—allow read-aloud accommodation of text passages in state tests.

Supporters of read-aloud say that such an accommodation is necessary for some students in order for them to demonstrate what they know, and that it is appropriate in portions of the test that are not measuring text decoding.

Joyce Zurkowski, the executive director of assessment for Colorado, told the gathered state education leaders that the state went back to the original drafters of the standards, who said "if kids can't access that text independently, they can't be considered proficient readers."

Janet Barresi, the superintendent of education in Oklahoma, also offered reservations about ASL interpretation. "Unless the signing is literally word-for-word, and these students are having support on this leading up to this exam, it would be difficult to compare their scores," she said. "These students do struggle with reading and developing reading skills."

However, Bob Bickerton, the senior associate commissioner at the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, said that his state has been able to manage read-aloud accommodations while limiting their use to a little over 1 percent of all of the state's students, equal to about 6.5 percent of Massachusetts students with disabilities, he said. The tests are not just measuring reading, but also "can you actually do something with the information that is being transmitted to you?"

The tests are set to be implemented by the 2014-15 school year, and leaders from the testing consortium said that it's important to get feedback from field testing. The manual can be changed if the field tests identify problems.

Lillian Lowery, the Maryland superintendent of schools, concurred with that plan. "We can have a more dynamic conversation about comparability after we see how it performs," she said.

The final document is slated to be released July 25, to allow time for editing and the development of accompanying tools.

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