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Presentation 7: Test accommodations for IA children B. Gindis Ph.D.

Under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001, all public school students must participate in annual testing in academic areas outlined in the law. According to NCLB, students with disabilities who have educational handicapping conditions, are protected by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and must be provided with appropriate accommodations necessary to participate in these tests.

This provision of the federal law has specific value for children who not only have an educational handicapping condition, but also have "atypical" educational background being internationally adopted pos-institutionalized children. For those of them who were adopted at the school age (6 years and older), test taking is a culturally unknown territory: there was no such phenomenon in their native country. In this domain they compete with peers who grew up taking tests practically from kindergarten. Along with test accommodations, they have to be specifically taught how to perform, feel, and think during test taking activities. Even some children who were adopted as infants and toddlers and entered our school system at the appropriate age, these children along with educational disabilities may have elevated performance-related anxiety, limited self-regulation of goal-directed behavior, minimal tolerance to frustration in academic activities, and low self-esteem. The emotional component of their learning disabilities is particularly evident during test taking activities and is to be addressed by the appropriate testing accommodations.

Determination of the appropriate accommodations, which students with disabilities need in order to fully and equally participate in state-wide testing, is an important component of these students' Individualized Education Programs (IEP) or Sections 504 Plan.


Accommodations are the procedures, which provide equal access to testing for students with disabilities. They are provided to "level the playing field." Without accommodations, students with disabilities may not be able to participate fully in tests. Accommodations can be divided into four categories:

  • Presentation (e.g.: repeating the directions, reading aloud, using answer sheets). Presentation accommodations allow students to access information in ways that do not require them to visually read standard print. These alternate modes of access are auditory, multi-sensory, tactile and visual.
  • Response (e.g.: marking answers in the book, using reference aids, pointing, using computer). Response accommodations allow students to complete activities, assignments and tests in different ways to solve or organize problems using some type of assistive device or organizer.
  • Timing/Scheduling (e.g.: extended time, frequent breaks). Timing/scheduling accommodations increase the allowable length of time to complete a test or assignment and may also change the way the time is organized.
  • Setting (e.g.: study carrel, special lighting, separate room). Setting Accommodations change the location in which a test or assignment is given or the conditions of the assessment setting.

Please note that accommodations are not the same as modifications. Accommodations are intended to lessen the effects of a student's disability; they are not intended to reduce learning expectations. Changing, lowering or reducing learning expectations is usually referred to as modification or alteration. There is also a difference between <b> testing accommodations and instructional accommodations</b> (individualized instructions are a separate topic of discussion).

Here is an example of tests' modification that I recommended for a child who was diagnosed with ADHD:

1. Extended (possibly doubled) time is necessary to K. for test taking
2. K. will benefit from separate location/small group setting for test taking.
3. Test questions have to be read aloud to K. (math testing only).
4. Test instructions should be read and re-read for K. (both math and ELA).

Policies regarding testing accommodations vary by state; therefore, all IEP/504 team members need to be familiar with state's testing and state's accommodations guidelines. These guidelines should include information on whether accommodations are considered "standard" or "non-standard" procedures and if they may invalidate test scores.

Ms. Candace Cortiella, Director of the The Advocacy Institute, in her online article No Child Left Behind: Determining Appropriate Assessment Accommodations for Students with Disabilities, provides the following guide in choosing accommodations for students with educational disabilities:

Who can benefit
Questions to ask
Presentation accommodations
Students with print disabilities, defined as difficulty or inability to visually read standard print because of a physical, sensory or cognitive disability.
  • Can the student read and understand directions?
  • Does the student need directions repeated frequently?
  • Has the student been identified as having a reading disability?
  • Large Print
  • Magnification Devices
  • Human Reader
  • Audio Tapes
  • Screen Reader
  • Talking Materials (calculators; clocks, timers)
Response accommodations
Students with physical, sensory or learning disabilities (including difficulties with memory, sequencing, directionality, alignment and organization).
  • Can the student use a pencil or other writing instrument?
  • Does the student have a disability that affects his ability to spell?
  • Does the student have trouble with tracking from one page to another and maintaining her place?
  • Scribe
  • Note-takers
  • Tape Recorder
  • Respond on Test Booklet
  • Spelling and Grammar devices
  • Graphic Organizers
Timing & scheduling accommodations
Students who need more time, cannot concentrate for extended periods, have health-related disabilities, fatigue easily, special diet and/or medication needs.
  • Can student work continuously during the entire time allocated for test administration?
  • Does student tire easily because of health impairments?
  • Does student need shorter working periods and frequent breaks
  • Extended time
  • Frequent Breaks
  • Multiple testing sessions
Setting accommodations
Students who are easily distracted in large group settings, concentrate best in small groups.
  • Do others easily distract the student?
  • Does student have trouble staying on task?
  • Does student exhibit behaviors that would disrupt other students?
  • Change of room or location in room
  • Earphone or headphones
  • Study carrels

Testing accommodations must not lead to inappropriate testing practices such as coaching students during testing, editing student's work, allowing a student to answer fewer questions, giving clues to test answers in any way, reducing the number of responses required, changing the content by paraphrasing or offering additional information.

Please note: there are certain individual accommodations for instruction that just cannot be used for testing. If your child gets accustomed to using such accommodations, the IEP team needs to make certain that the child understands that a particular accommodation won't be available during testing; the team needs to find acceptable accommodations that can support the student during testing in a comparable manner.

Your child's IEP or 504 Plan should contain documentation for all accommodations that have been selected, both for instruction and testing. Once documented in the IEP or 504 Plan, accommodations must be provided: they become mandatory, not optional. Be sure your child understands, is willing to use, and uses the accommodations available to him/her during testing.

And the last but not the least: test accommodations are only as effective as their proper implementation. Unfortunately, administering individual student's accommodations can become difficult on testing days, when school staff is stretched. Advance planning for all accommodations, such as quiet space, readers, and alternative formats of tests is critical to their ethical administration.

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