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National Federation of Blind Sues PARCC Over Field Test

The Washington-based National Federation of the Blind says that the lack of Braille access on the common core field tests to be given in 18 states and the District of Columbia represents a violation of the American With Disabilities Act. 

The tests are under development by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. In a statement, Marc Maurer, the president of the federation, said that PARCC's assurance that the final tests aligned to the Common Core State Standards will be available to Braille users by the time they are officially administered in 2014-15 are insufficient.

"The lack of accessibility during field testing will put blind students at a significant disadvantage, because accessibility issues that may arise will not be identified until PARCC's assessments are being deployed throughout the states in the consortium," he said. "Blind Americans, and the parents of blind children, cannot and will not tolerate blind students being forced to wait for likely inferior accessibility to the tests that will measure their academic performance, simply because the students happen to live in states that are part of a consortium that does not take its stated commitment to accessibility seriously."

PARCC plans to give its common-core aligned tests in reading and math to about a million students, or 10 percent of the students in member states, said David Connerty-Marin, the director of communications for the Washington-based test consortium. The test will have several accessibility features built in, but PARCC has said that not all of those features will be available during the field test.  Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, the other group creating common core tests, has said that all its accessibility features will be available during field testing. (PARCC has created a list of which accommodations and accessibility features will be available for field tests.)

PARCC is reviewing the legal action, said Connerty-Marin. The organization "remains committed to accessibility for all students," he said.

The federation's lawsuit was filed on behalf of a New Jersey high school student identified as S.H., whose high school is the one of the field-test sites. In addition to the lack of Braille access, the field tests will not have text-to-speech functions built in, either. 

In addition to built-in technology, both PARCC and  Smarter Balanced are working out a process for students to use their own devices during testing. That issue has been challenging, test creators say, because they have to balance open access with test security

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