Recently in accommodations Category

The Issue: Accommodations in the Age of Computer-based Assessment

This new era of computer-based assessment brings with it opportunities to address issues for all students in ways that testing has not previously been able to. For example, some elements of the way the test is presented can be more dynamic than in a paper-and-pencil test. Consider these examples:

  1. A student with a disability may need a large-print version of a paper test, but with a computer-based test, this adjustment may simply be asking the test to display a larger font size.
  2. For a student who needs the test read aloud, the computer based test may have a built in screen reading program.
  3. A student who requires a sign language interpreter may be able to access sign language on a computer based assessment through an avatar who is able to sign the test for the student
  4. Screen contrast colors may be able to be set by the student
  5. A student may be able to access calming music or white noise through the testing platform

If these are features of the test, do they become aspects of universal design because they were developed at the front of the testing process? Are accommodations limited only to those elements that must be considered AFTER the test is developed?

I think the answer is no.

Accommodations are the supports a student needs to access the test. In all of the examples above, I believe an educator still has a responsibility to ensure that the student receives the accommodations that he or she needs.

It is important to have these components built-in to the test. Having a read aloud accommodation delivered via synthesized text may ensure that there is consistency in how this accommodations is administered from student to student. This is something we worry about--we worry that teachers may inadvertently prompt a student with a tone of voice or a certain emphasis on a word. Computerized delivery of this accommodation can standardize the experience of the accommodation. But, it does not change the fact that it is an accommodation.

Furthermore, as is explained in other sections of this website, the accommodation remains a legal right of a student with a disability. Furthermore, it may be that a student with a disability still needs an accommodation beyond what is built into a computer platform. For example, a student with a visual impairment may still require magnification equipment beyond what is available on the test.

What universal design is NOT

Universal design can do a lot to improve access to instruction or an assessment for a student, but it has its limitations. Universal design is not:

1. Individualized instruction
2. A replacement for a needed accommodation
3. A support that is required by law for a person with a disability who needs it

Universal design for learning and assessment is a good start, but students may still need accommodations.

Goals of accommodations

For both instruction and assessment, the primary goal of accommodations is to provide access to grade-level content for the student. In instruction, accommodations allow the student to participate fully in instruction. For an assessment, accommodations make sure that the student is able to show what he or she knows and can do. Accommodations make sure that the student's test score is valid--that the score is an accurate measure of what the student can do, not a measure of some aspect of the student's disability.

It is important to document a student's use of accommodations. In Minnesota, the MCA tests are not timed, so a student would not need an accommodation of extra time on an MCA test. But, if a student needs extra time to take classroom assessments, it is important for the student to have that accommodation documented on their IEP or 504 plan. This documentation is important for transition purposes. When the student takes a college entrance exam, such as the ACT, for example, he or she may not be able to have extra time if the accommodation has not been previously documented. When the student goes to college, he or she may need extra time, and again, it will be easier to substantiate this need if it has been previously documented.

There may be other aspects of new technologies that can be built-in to a student's learning in an online environment, such as large print, additional white space, color contrast, and even a read aloud or sign interpreting avatar. Because these features are built-in, they may be considered universally designed components. Yet, this does not diminish the student's need to use them, and they still must be documented on an IEP or 504 plan. In addition to transition planning, it is important to ensure that the student gets these accommodations every time they need them.

Finally, accommodations are a legal right of students. Providing accommodations is meeting the letter of the law--the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Individuals with Disabilities Educational Improvement Act, and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

What kinds of accommodations do students with learning disabilities need?

I'm not sure what I think about the synthesized speech here, but I do think this video provides some good examples of what kinds of accommodations a student with a learning disability might need in a classroom. However, it's important to note that the educators in this video are talking about traditional kinds of classroom assignments, not so much technology-enhanced learning. The more we teach and learn with the internet, the more we'll have educators sharing their tips and techniques for providing accommodations in these settings, too.

Video: Getting accommodations at a college or university

I've included this video here because this shows an example of a student advocating for herself for accommodations in a postsecondary setting. It is important for students to know how to advocate for themselves, and in order to do this effectively, they must have been familiar with using accommodations in K-12 settings.

Instructional Accommodations

Most educators think of accommodations when it comes to taking a test. They want to make sure that students can show what they know and can do on the test. Testing accommodations are important, but in fact, it is also important to make sure that students are using accommodations regularly in the classroom.

In fact, for many students, the process of being diagnosed with a learning disability will involve the Response to Intervention model (RTI). This model can vary depending on how it is implemented, but the basic idea here is that all students should receive a certain level of intervention in the classroom. This is usually some degree of individualized attention and differentiated instruction. When a student still is not performing well in the classroom, the student would receive some additional interventions that are not available to all students, but to that group of students who need them. This might be a pull out reading group, for example. Finally, if the student is still struggling, then a school may want to assess the student for special education services and if the student qualifies, he or she will get another level of support. But, throughout all of this, teachers and parents may be providing some level of accommodation to the student. In fact, the law says that students do not need to have an IEP to receive accommodations, but that teachers must provide them if a disability is suspected or perceived.

Accommodations for Assessment

Here's some information from the National Center on Educational Outcomes (NCEO) about accommodations:

Assessment accommodations are changes in testing materials or procedures that enable students to participate in assessments in a way that assesses abilities rather than disabilities. Without accommodations, the assessment may not accurately measure the student's knowledge and skills.

Assessment accommodations are generally grouped into the following categories:

Presentation (e.g., repeat directions, read aloud, large print, braille, etc.)
Equipment and material (e.g., calculator, amplification equipment, manipulatives, etc.)
Response (e.g., mark answers in book, scribe records response, point, etc.)
Setting (e.g., study carrel, student's home, separate room, etc.)
Timing/Scheduling (e.g., extended time, frequent breaks, etc.)

Some test changes affect item or test validity. These test changes are often called modifications, or non-standard accommodations.

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