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Kentucky Postpones Ending Read-Aloud Accommodation on State Tests

Kentucky is putting off a change to its state testing program that would have cut back on the use of readers on reading tests for some students with disabilities.

The changes, approved by the state board of education last week, were to have taken effect in time for testing this spring, Rhonda L. Sims, the state director of support and research, said in an email Tuesday.

The changes would have banned the use of readers on state reading
comprehension tests, among other things. A reader can be another person or computer software that reads text aloud, and is an accommodation used by some students with disabilities, who may also use this kind of help in class every day. The switch was due to affect end-of-year state exams.

"Districts need to continue planning for the revised accommodation procedures in the new school year, particularly how districts will support teachers to ensure students become independent readers and are able to perform the required math computations without the aid of a calculator," Ms. Sims said.

The proposed change had alarmed some people, who worried about students' performance on the tests without an accommodation they are used to having in class. (The use of readers of any kind on tests is not universal. For example, the use of readers are prohibited on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which means many students with disabilities end up not taking that exam, often called the nation's report card.)

Although Ms. Sims said the changes will take effect next school year, those who oppose the change say they will use the time between now and then to persuade state board members and lawmakers to reinstate readers.

Other states have found ways to curb the use of readers but preserve them for students who really need them on state exams, Martha Thurlow, director of the Center on Education Outcomes at the University of Minnesota, writes.

In a paper she provided for those fighting the change in Kentucky, she points to Massachusetts as one example. She highlights the thought process that goes into deciding whether a student in that state should get a read-aloud accommodation.

"Does the student have a specific disability that severely limits or prevents him or her from decoding, calculating, writing, or spelling, even after varied and repeated attempts to teach the student the skill? The student must be virtually unable to perform the skill without the nonstandard accommodation and not simply performing the skill below grade level."

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