Equal Access to Grade-level Content
Inclusion of ELLs with disabilities in large scale assessments and grade-level content standards is mandated by both federal and state laws. Similar to their general education counterparts, ELLs with disabilities face educational targets outlining what they are expected to learn at each grade level. Educators ensure that students work toward grade-level content standards by using a range of instructional strategies based on the varied strengths and needs of students. For ELLs with disabilities, accommodations are provided during instruction and assessments to guarantee equal access to grade-level content. To meet this goal of equal access, educators of ELLs with disabilities must be familiar with content standards and accountability systems at the state and district levels as well as locations of these standards and their updates. Additionally, to secure successful student access to grade-level content, ESL/bilingual educators and special educators must collaborate with their general education colleagues.
ELLs with disabilities can work toward grade-level academic content standards while they are improving their English proficiency. They will be able to achieve these standards when instruction is provided by teachers who are qualified to teach in the content areas addressed by state standards and who know how to differentiate instruction for diverse learners. Meaningful access of ELLs with disabilities to grade-level content is also made possible by appropriately selected accommodations.
Current Practice and Beyond
Supported by ongoing educational reform efforts, such as Race to the Top (RTTT) and other initiatives passed by states, the use of assessments for accountability purposes will likely continue in the future, informed by other legislative initiatives passed by states in their efforts to implement educational reform.
National Clearinghouse on English Language Acquisition (www.ncela.org)
Office of Civil Rights (www.ed.gov/ocr)
Individual with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004, P.L. 108-446. Retrieved November, 2010, from: http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/getdoc.cgi?dbname=108_cong_bills&docid=f:h1350enr.txt.pdf
U.S. Department of Education. (2002). Public Law 107–110—Jan. 8, 2002. Retrieved November, 2010, from: http://www2.ed.gov/policy/elsec/leg/esea02/107-110.pdf
CURRENT STATE REQUIREMENTS FOR STUDENTS TO MEET GRADE-LEVEL ACADEMIC CONTENT STANDARDS COULD BE INSERTED HERE.
CURRENT STATE WEBSITE FOR ALL CONTENT STANDARDS COULD BE INSERTED HERE.
CURRENT STATE-SPECIFIC POLICIES ABOUT THE PARTICIPATION OF ELLS WITH DISABILITIES IN STATE ASSESSMENT COULD BE INSERTED HERE.
LEARN ABOUT ACCOMMODATIONS FOR INSTRUCTION AND ASSESSMENT
What Are Accommodations?
Accommodations are procedures and materials that increase equitable access during instruction and assessments for ELLs with disabilities and generate valid assessment results that show what ELLs with disabilities know and can do. Accommodations are designed to support each student’s access to instructional or test content, interactions with content, and response to content. Oftentimes, teachers may provide instructional accommodations without necessarily calling them accommodations.
Current technology enables educators to introduce computer-based instruction and assessment accommodations that facilitate individualized educational processes. The purpose of accommodations, including those administered through the use of computers, is to reduce or eliminate the effects of a student’s limited knowledge of English language or disability-related barriers. ELLs with disabilities may be provided with instruction and assessment accommodations; the accommodations do not reduce expectations for learning.
Accommodations provided to a student during state assessments must also be provided during classroom instruction, classroom assessments, and district assessments; however, some instructional accommodations may not be appropriate for use on certain statewide assessments. It is critical that educators become familiar with state policies about the appropriate use of accommodations during assessments. In the age of technology-mediated educational practices, many computer-based accommodations facilitate instruction and assessment of ELLs with disabilities effectively if they are selected and used properly.
Typically, accommodation use may not begin and end in the school setting, but this may vary depending on the individual. As ELLs with disabilities become more proficient in English, their need for some accommodations may decrease. Accommodations for instruction and assessment are integrally intertwined.
Accommodations for ELLs with disabilities are described in Tool 1.
Who Is Involved in Accommodations Decisions?
ELL/IEP or ELL/504 Plan Teams must make assessment and accommodation decisions for students based on individual needs in accordance with state and federal guidelines. ELLs with IEPs and 504 Plans must be provided accommodations based on individual needs as long as the accommodations meet state accommodation guidelines and regulations and do not invalidate the assessment results. Accommodations should be documented in IEPs and 504 Plans.
CURRENT STATE POLICIES ABOUT WHERE ACCOMMODATIONS FOR ELLS WITH DISABILITIES SHOULD BE DOCUMENTED COULD BE INSERTED HERE.
States should encourage meaningful collaboration among classroom teachers, school administrators, assessment officials, parents, and students to guarantee beneficial instruction and assessment of ELLs with disabilities. In their turn, ELL/IEP or ELL/504 Plan Team members coordinate their accommodation approaches in the classroom through ongoing interaction and collaboration.
Accommodations and Universal Design
Universal design principles address policies and practices that are intended to improve access to learning and assessments for all students. Universal design principles are important to the development and review of assessments because some assessment designs pose barriers that make it difficult for ELLs with disabilities to show what they know. When universal design techniques are employed, educators can gain a more accurate understanding of what students know and can do. Universal design techniques should be applied from the beginning of test development through test administration.
Universally-designed general assessments may reduce the need for accommodations and for alternate assessments; however, universal design cannot completely eliminate the need for accommodations or for alternate assessments. Universal design CAN provide states with more cost-effective assessments, and universal design CAN provide educators with more valid inferences about the achievement levels of ELLs with disabilities as well as the achievement of their general education peers.
Universal design of assessments does not simply mean that tests are administered on computers. As assessments move toward becoming more consistently administered on computers, thinking about accommodations and universal design may change. Traditionally, we have thought of universal design as coming first, and accommodations being applied during instruction and assessment. With current technology, we can build some accommodations into the design of the test itself. Some of these features are accommodations (available to ELLs with disabilities) and others may be good testing practices (available to all students). Some ELLs with disabilities will have a need for accommodations beyond those that can be built into the testing platform.
Best Practices for Instruction and Assessment: Allowable Resources
For both instruction and assessment, some resources and strategies should be allowable for all students, and therefore not classified as accommodations. These best practices should be used whenever possible for all students. Allowable resources are those strategies and tools that may be used by all students for an instructional task or an assessment. Some of these instructional practices may not be allowed in all states. See Tool 2 for a list of Best Practices and Allowable Resources (e.g., use of sticky notes; access to a clock, watch, or timer; etc.). These practices should be available to all students, for both instruction and assessment (when determined to be appropriate for the assessment). Generally, their use should not be considered as employing an accommodation.
CURRENT STATE POLICY ABOUT ALLOWABLE RESOURCES COULD BE INSERTED HERE.
Accommodations and Modifications
Accommodations do not reduce learning expectations. They meet specific needs of ELLs with disabilities in instruction and assessment and enable educators to know that measures of a student’s work produce valid results.
Modifications (non-standard accommodations) refer to practices or materials that change, lower, or reduce learning expectations. Modifications may change the underlying construct of an assessment. Examples of modifications include:
requiring a student to learn less material (e.g., fewer objectives, shorter units or lessons, fewer pages or problems),
reducing assignments and assessments so a student only needs to complete the easiest problems or items,
using an accommodation that invalidates the intended construct,
revising assignments or assessments to make them easier (e.g., crossing out half of the response choices on a multiple-choice test so that a student only has to pick from two options instead of four), or
giving a student hints or clues to correct responses on assignments and tests.
Providing modifications to students during classroom instruction and/or classroom assessments may have the unintended consequence of reducing their opportunity to learn critical content. Nevertheless, modifications can be used in instruction as long as students do not expect that these modifications will be transferred into assessment. If students have not had access to critical, assessed content, they may be at risk for not meeting graduation requirements. Providing a student with a modification during a state accountability assessment may constitute a test irregularity and may result in an investigation into the school’s or district’s testing practices.
CURRENT STATE POLICY ON MODIFICATIONS AND/OR TEST IRREGULARITIES COULD BE INSERTED HERE.
ELL/IEP or ELL/504 Plan Team Considerations for Instructional Accommodations
To ensure that ELLs with disabilities are engaged in standards-based instruction, the ELL/IEP or ELL/504 Plan Team members should consider the intensity levels of language- and disability-related needs of each student (Figure 1). Accommodation decisions should be individualized based on the particular language- and disability-related challenges faced by ELLs with disabilities. Students with high English language needs and low disability-related needs will require more language-based accommodations while their counterparts with high disability-related needs and low English language needs will require more accommodations that remove disability-related barriers. At the same time, students with high English language needs and high disability-related needs will benefit from more intensive language- and disability-related accommodations while students with low English language needs and low disability-related needs will require fewer accommodations that alleviate linguistic and disability-related instructional challenges.
Figure 1. English language- and disability-related needs affecting accommodation decisions
This approach of accounting for varying English language- and disability-related needs for ELLs with disabilities was developed to reinforce the idea that students in each of the four sections will require different instructional support. Moreover, variability within each section should be taken into account, and students’ individualized needs should be addressed on an individual basis. This approach also aims to reiterate that educators should fully account for the complexity of both language and disability implications during the instruction and assessment of ELLs with disabilities.
Refer to Tool 3 for sample student profiles and supplemental questions for each quadrant.
CURRENT STATE INFORMATION ON ENGLISH LANGUAGE PROFICIENCY LEVELS AND DISABILITY CLASSIFICATIONS AS WELL AS THEIR IMPLICATIONS FOR THE APPROACH HIGHLIGHTED IN FIGURE 1 COULD BE INSERTED HERE.
To optimize students’ educational experiences, all ELL/IEP or ELL/504 Plan Team members should hold regular meetings to coordinate their instructional approaches. Every member of the Team needs to be familiar with state policies. The Team should consider:
Student characteristics and needs;
Instructional tasks expected of students to demonstrate proficiency in grade-level content in state standards; and
Consistency between accommodations documented in the standards-based IEP that is used for classroom instruction and those used on assessments.
ELL/IEP or ELL/504 Plan Team members should ask: What are the student’s specific instruction and assessment needs? Does the student really need any accommodations? A student may not be receiving an accommodation he or she really needs or may be receiving too many. Research indicates that more is not necessarily better, and that providing students with accommodations that are not truly needed may have a negative impact on performance. The better approach is to focus on a student’s identified needs within the general education curriculum.
Accommodation criteria are highlighted in Tool 4.
SELECT ACCOMMODATIONS FOR INSTRUCTION AND
ASSESSMENT FOR INDIVIDUAL STUDENTS
To ensure that ELLs with disabilities are engaged in standards-based instruction and assessments, every ELL/IEP or ELL/504 Plan Team member must be knowledgeable about the state and district academic content standards and assessments. Effective decision making about the provision of appropriate accommodations begins with making good instructional decisions. In turn, appropriate instructional decision making is facilitated by gathering and reviewing good information about the student’s disability, English language proficiency, and present level of performance in relation to local and state academic standards.
Decisions should be based on individual characteristics and needs. Making blanket decisions for groups of students at particular language acquisition levels and with particular disabilities is not appropriate. When individualized accommodation decisions are made thoughtfully, they can advance equal opportunities for students to participate in the general education curriculum.
For ELLs, including those with disabilities, served under Title III of ESEA, determining appropriate instructional and assessment accommodations should not pose any particular problems when teachers and teams follow good educational practices. All ELLs should be held to the same expectations as other subgroups regarding participation and performance on state assessments. ELLs with disabilities must also make progress in learning English.
State and consortium policies generally delineate assessment policy criteria that should be used to identify students who may use accommodations. Language proficiency and disability needs are probably the most important criteria that should be considered when making ELL/IEP or ELL/504 Plan-responsive accommodation decisions. However, other academic-related criteria, such as English language proficiency test results, students’ oral proficiency in English and other languages, literacy levels in English and native language, implications of special education programs, the kind of education students received before coming to the U.S., (e.g., evidence of limited or interrupted formal education), the time students spent in English speaking schools, the time students spent in your state, students’ performance on other assessments, the resources available to students in their native languages, or students’ cultural backgrounds may also help ELL/IEP or ELL/504 Plan Team members to determine which accommodations should be used if any (see Tool 4).
Documenting Accommodations for ELLs with Disabilities Served under IDEA and ESEA
For ELL students with disabilities served under IDEA and Title III of ESEA, determining appropriate instructional and assessment accommodations should not pose any particular problems for ELL/IEP or ELL/504 Plan Teams that follow good educational practices. With information obtained from the required summary of the student’s Present Levels of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance (PLAAFP), the process of identifying and documenting accommodations should be a fairly straightforward event. The PLAAFP is a federal requirement in which collaborative team members must state “how the child’s disability affects the child’s involvement and progress in the general education curriculum—the same curriculum as non-disabled children” [Sec. 614 (d) (1) (A) (i) (I)].
Depending on the design and overall format of a typical IEP, there are potentially three areas in which accommodations can be addressed:
1. “Consideration of Special Factors” [Sec. 614 (d) (3) (B)]. This is where communication and assistive technology supports are considered.
2. “Supplementary Aids and Services” [Sec. 602 (33) and Sec. 614 (d) (1) (A) (i)]. This area of the IEP includes “aids, services, and other supports that are provided in regular education classes or other education-related settings to enable children with disabilities to be educated with nondisabled children to the maximum extent appropriate.”
3. “Participation in Assessments” [Sec. 612 (a) (16)]. This section of the IEP documents accommodations needed to facilitate the participation of students with disabilities in general state and district-wide assessments.
CURRENT STATE POLICY ON DOCUMENTING ACCOMMODATIONS FOR ELLS WITH DISABILITIES SERVED UNDER IDEA COULD BE INSERTED HERE.
Documenting Accommodations for ELLs with Disabilities on a Student’s 504 Plan
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires public schools to provide accommodations to ELLs with disabilities even if they do not qualify for special education services under IDEA. The definition of a disability under Section 504 is much broader than the definition under IDEA. All IDEA students are also covered by Section 504, but not all Section 504 students are eligible for services under IDEA. Section 504 states:
No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance. [29 U.S.C. Sec. 794]
Examples of students who may receive assessment accommodations based on their 504 accommodation plan include students with:
allergies or asthma;
communicable diseases (e.g., hepatitis);
drug or alcoholic addictions, as long as they are not currently using illegal drugs;
environmental illnesses; or
temporary disabilities from accidents who may need short term hospitalization or homebound recovery.
CURRENT STATE POLICY ON DOCUMENTING ACCOMMODATIONS FOR ELLS WITH DISABILITIES ON A STUDENT’S 504 PLAN COULD BE INSERTED HERE.
The Decision-making Process
The decision-making process for state assessment accommodations should include consideration of at least these three factors (see Figure 2):
1. Student characteristics (e.g., disabilities, language proficiency, accommodations used in classroom instruction/assessments to access and perform in academic standards and state tests).
2. Classroom instruction and assessment tasks: knowledge about what tasks are required in instruction and on state assessments and ways to remove physical and other barriers to students’ ability to perform those tasks.
3. Accommodation policy: accommodation policy for the assessment or for part of an assessment and consequences of decisions.
If several accommodations are employed for one student, ELL/IEP or ELL/504 Plan Team members should also be cognizant of implications that may arise as a result of interactions of these accommodations.
Figure 2. Considerations when making decisions for assessment accommodations
Selecting accommodations for instruction and assessment is the role of a student’s ELL/IEP or ELL/504 Plan Team. Accommodations should be chosen based on the individual student’s characteristics and the student’s need for the accommodation (see Figure 3). After considering the student’s individual characteristics, the ELL/IEP or ELL/504 Plan Team should identify inclusion needs that require accommodations. When these accommodations are used according to the plan, the student will be able to demonstrate what he or she knows and can do on for both instruction and assessments.
Figure 3. Accommodation selection process
The following questions can be used to guide the selection of appropriate accommodations for ELLs with disabilities receiving assigned accommodations for the first time and for students currently using accommodations:
What are the student’s language learning strengths and areas of further improvement?
How do the student’s learning needs affect the achievement of grade-level content standards?
What specialized instruction (e.g., learning strategies, organizational skills, reading skills) does the student need to achieve grade-level content standards?
What accommodations will increase the student’s access to instruction and assessment by addressing the student’s learning needs and reducing the effect of the student’s language barrier? These may be new accommodations or accommodations the student is currently using.
What accommodations are regularly used by the student during instruction and assessments?
What are the results for assignments and assessments when accommodations are used and not used?
What is the student’s perception of how well an accommodation “worked”?
Are there effective combinations of accommodations?
What difficulties does the student experience when using accommodations?
What are the perceptions of parents, teachers, and other specialists about how the accommodation worked?
Should the student continue to use an accommodation, are changes needed, or should the use of the accommodation be discontinued?
When matching accommodations with students’ needs, ELL/IEP or ELL/504 Plan Team members should consider the following:
the student’s willingness to learn to use the accommodation,
opportunities to learn how to use the accommodation in classroom settings, and
conditions for use on state assessments.