Common Questions about Accommodations
- How does one determine whether a particular accommodation is “valid?”
- Should all students who are entitled to accommodations be offered a menu of accommodation options so they can choose from the ones they think will be most helpful?
- Must specific accommodations be itemized on an IEP or can decisions about which accommodations to offer be made “on the fly?”
- Can teachers provide accommodations to students during “high stakes” or standardized testing when these students did not make use of the same accommodations during regular classroom time?
- Can students opt to abstain from accepting accommodations on some occasions and then request these same accommodations at other times?
Answers to these questions and much more can be found in the transcript of an NCLD Talk titled, “Accommodations: More Than Just Extended Time!” NCLD's featured experts were Dr. James Shriner and Dr. Sheryl Lazarus, and their online discussion featured questions and answers about the appropriate application of accommodations for state and local assessments, our most current knowledge about accommodations and their impact on IEP decision making, and practical information and guidance to assist school-based IEP teams improve their current practices.
No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and Accommodations: Is There a Connection?
The answer to this question is a resounding “yes!” Under NCLB, all students who attend public school must participate in yearly testing in reading and math in grades three through eight and once in high school. One unique feature of this law is that all students, including those with disabilities, are required to participate in these state- and district-wide assessments as a way to ensure that individual schools, school districts and states are held accountable for the achievement of these students along with their non-disabled peers.
According to NCLB, students with disabilities must be provided accommodations necessary to enable them to participate in these types of tests. Students who are served under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (and have IEPs) or Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (and have 504 Plans) have equal footing under the law and must be included in these assessments. The underlying principle here is that accommodations are tools and procedures that “level the playing field” for students with disabilities. Without them, these students would be limited in their ability to demonstrate what they have learned, compromising our ability to know how they compare to their age and grade level peers and what specific instructional needs they have as they progress through the general education curriculum.
NCLD also commissioned a study, State Testing Accommodations: A Look at their Value and Validity to look at state assessment policies as they vary widely and have a resounding impact on IEP teams determining which accommodations students may have access to for both instruction and assessment. The policy recommendations in this report are guiding NCLD's work with key Members of Congress as we work on the reauthorization of NCLB.
A Guide for Parents
While there are many fine resources available to parents on the topic of accommodations, I want to draw your attention to one in particular, titled Determining Appropriate Assessment Accommodations for Students with Disabilities. It features easy-to-read narrative, a useful chart, and the most important things to understand and consider when making decisions about accommodations, such as:
Accommodation vs. Modification
The distinction between these two is important. Accommodations lessen the effects of a student's disability on a particular measure of progress while maintaining high expectations for achievement. Modifications change or reduce learning expectations--not always a desired outcome, especially for students with LD.
Assessment vs. InstructionIdeally, the same or similar accommodations would apply to classroom instruction, classroom tests and state/district tests. However, this is not always possible, and some accommodations cannot be used on state/district assessments.
Standard vs. Non-standard AccommodationStandard accommodations are those allowed for both testing and instruction that do not change the skill that is being tested. A non-standard accommodation is one that will change the nature of the task, or skill being targeted. For example, reading a reading test aloud to a student when the reading test is measuring decoding (the ability to sound out words) generally is considered a non-standard accommodation because it would not result in a true measure of the student's decoding ability. If, however, the test is measuring reading comprehension, reading the test aloud would not change the target skill (understanding the meaning of the printed text) and would allow the student to demonstrate comprehension skill without the interference of a reading disability.
Some Helpful Resources on Accommodations:
Sheldon H. Horowitz, Ed.D. is the Director of LD Resources & Essential Information at the National Center for Learning Disabilities.