Jointly produced by: Assessing Special Education Students

Involving Students in Selecting, Using, and Evaluating Accommodations

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Involving Students in Selecting, Using, and Evaluating Accommodations
It is critical for ELLs with disabilities to understand their disabilities and English language limitations and learn self-advocacy strategies for success in school and throughout life. Some students have had limited experience expressing personal preferences and advocating for themselves. Speaking out about preferences, particularly in the presence of “authority figures,” may be a new role for students, one for which they need guidance and feedback. Teachers and other ELL/IEP or ELL/504 Plan Team members can play a key role in working with students to advocate for themselves in the context of selecting, using, and evaluating accommodations, making sure that the right number of accommodations is selected, and avoiding employing too many or too few accommodations.
The more students are involved in the selection process, the more likely the accommodations will be used, especially as students reach adolescence, and the desire to be more independent increases. Self-advocacy skills become critical here. Students need opportunities to learn which accommodations are most helpful for them, and then they need to learn how to make certain those accommodations are provided in all of their classes and wherever they need them outside of school.


Prior Accommodation Use
Students are most successful with testing accommodations when they have used them prior to the test. Educators are encouraged to implement accommodations in instruction to make sure these concerns are addressed before the state assessment is administered. Accommodations should not be used for the first time on a state test. Instead, it is important to make sure to address these concerns ahead of time:

  • Plan time for students to learn new accommodations.

  • mouse.pngWhen students are taking technology-based assessments, be sure that they know how to use the accommodation when it is provided as part of the platform. For online tests, there may be practice or sample items or tutorials for students to experience prior to test administration.

  • Plan for evaluation and improvement of accommodation use (see Step 5).

Accommodations for Instruction vs. Assessment
In some cases, the accommodations used in instruction may not be allowed on a test because they would invalidate the results of the test. This means that the performance no longer reflects what the test was designed to measure. In these instances, teachers should be sure to allow students ample opportunities to perform on classroom tasks and assessments without the use of the accommodation.
On some assessments, accommodations may be presented in a way that is different from their variations used during instruction. To facilitate effective assessment processes, teachers should make sure students become informed of these changes and have a chance to practice the different accommodations prior to the test.
If the accommodation is considered a necessary step in scaffolding grade-level content instruction, having some practice without the accommodation during classroom work would be an expected strategy to gauge student progress independent of the accommodation and would also provide students opportunities to practice not using an accommodation before the state assessment. If the instructional accommodation is more permanent in nature and is not permitted on a state assessment, decision makers should consider whether the accommodation alters what the test measures. If after considering these steps the appropriateness of using an accommodation is not clear, contact district or state personnel about its use.

Individual Test Characteristics: Questions to Guide Accommodations Selection
After considering student characteristics, it is important to look at the task students are being asked to do on the state or district assessment. The following questions may guide decision making:

  • What are the characteristics of the test my student needs to take? Are the test tasks similar to classroom assessment tasks or does the student need to have the opportunity to practice similar tasks prior to testing?

  • Does the student use an accommodation for a classroom task that is allowed for similar tasks on the state or district tests?

  • Are there other barriers that could be removed by using an accommodation that is not already offered or used by the student?

State Accommodations Policies: Maintaining Validity of Assessment Results
When selecting accommodations for state assessments, it is important to keep in mind both the accommodation policies set to maintain the validity of the results of an assessment and to know the consequences of the decisions. If the ELL/IEP or ELL/504 Plan Team determines that a student should use a certain accommodation during an assessment but the student refuses to use the accommodation, the validity of the assessment results is compromised.
Consideration for longer term consequences is important for ELL/IEP or ELL/504 Plan Teams as well. For example, as ELLs with disabilities begin to make post-secondary choices, these may factor into the nature of accommodation choices open to them. The ELL/IEP or ELL/504 Plan Team may want to discuss whether or how this affects decisions about accommodations for assessments. Educators should also be aware that validity implications are different for ELP assessments than for content assessments. Accommodations, therefore, should be selected in accordance to whether language proficiency or content area knowledge is being tested.
Plan how and when the student will learn to use each new accommodation. Be certain there is ample time to learn to use instructional and assessment accommodations before an assessment takes place. Finally, plan for the ongoing evaluation and improvement of the student’s use of accommodations.
Refer to Tools 5-10 for additional information in completing this step.


Accommodations During Instruction
The student must be provided the selected accommodations during instruction that necessitates their use. An accommodation should not be used solely during assessments. Accommodations should always be chosen based on the student’s individual characteristics in order to help the student overcome the language barrier due to his/her English language proficiency and meet the student’s disability needs.

mouse.pngAs states and consortia move to providing assessments on technology-based platforms, ELL/IEP or ELL/504 Plan Teams must make sure that students have opportunities to become familiar with the technological aspects of the assessment process. In addition to taking practice tests using the same testing platform, it is also important for educators to provide opportunities for all students to use technology for learning.
In some cases, teachers may use accommodations without realizing that they do equating these accommodations to instructional strategies. It is important that teachers be aware of the range of accommodations available for their ELLs with disabilities and use these accommodations appropriately and consistently in instruction and assessment.

Accommodations During Assessment
Planning for Test Day
Once decisions have been made about providing accommodations to meet individual student needs, the logistics of providing the actual accommodations during state and district assessments must be mapped out. It is not uncommon for members of the ELL/IEP or ELL/504 Plan Team, most often special education teachers, to be given the responsibility for arranging, coordinating, and providing assessment accommodations for all students who may need them. Thus, it is essential for all ELL/IEP or ELL/504 Plan Team members to know and understand the requirements and consequences of district and state assessments, including the use of accommodations. It is important to engage the appropriate personnel to plan the logistics and provision of assessment accommodations on the test day.
mouse.pngCurrent designs of technology-based testing platforms may allow for accommodations to be provided on the testing platform itself. Through a process of creating a student profile, the ELL/IEP or ELL/504 Plan Team may be able to “program” the test to provide certain accommodations, such as a pop-up glossary or translated test items. Providing these accommodations through the testing platform can ensure that the provision of accommodations is standardized from student to student and district to district. However, it is important to monitor the provision of accommodations on test day to ensure that accommodations are delivered and the technology is working as it should. The ELL/IEP or ELL/504 Plan Team should be in communication with assessment coordinators in a timely manner to ensure that the assessment is property programmed and verified with the appropriate accommodations for a student.

Refer to Tools 11, 12, and 13.

Prior to the day of a test, be certain test administrators and proctors know what accommodations each student will be using and how to administer them properly. For example, test administrators and proctors should know whether a student needs to test in a separate location, so that plans can be made accordingly. Staff administering accommodations, such as reading to a student or writing student responses, must adhere to specific guidelines so that student scores are valid.

Administering Assessments and Accommodations
State and local laws and policies specify practices to ensure test security and the standardized and ethical administration of assessments. Test administrators, proctors, and all staff members involved in test administration must adhere to these policies. The Code of Professional Responsibilities in Educational Measurement (NCME, 2012) states that test administrators and others involved in assessments must:

    • take appropriate security precautions before, during, and after the administration of the assessment;

    • understand procedures needed to administer the assessment prior to administration;

    • administer standardized assessments according to prescribed procedures and conditions and notify appropriate persons if any nonstandard or delimiting conditions occur;

    • avoid any conditions in the conduct of the assessment that might invalidate the results;

    • provide for and document all reasonable and allowable accommodations for the administration of the assessment to persons with disabilities or special needs; and

    • avoid actions or conditions that would permit or encourage individuals or groups to receive scores that misrepresent their actual levels of attainment.

Failure to adhere to these practices may constitute a test irregularity or a breach of test security and must be reported and investigated according to state and local testing policies.

Ethical Testing Practices
Ethical testing practices must be maintained during the administration of a test. Unethical testing practices include inappropriate interactions between test administrators and students taking the test. They also include, but are not limited to, allowing a student to answer fewer questions, offering additional information, coaching students during testing, editing student responses, or giving clues in any way.

Standardization refers to adherence to uniform administration procedures and conditions during an assessment. Standardization is an essential feature of educational assessments and is necessary to produce comparable information about student learning. Strict adherence to guidelines detailing instructions and procedures for the administration of accommodations is necessary to ensure test results reflect actual student knowledge. State policies identifying steps to be taken when selected accommodations do not work well for a student should also be carefully adhered to.


Test Security
Test security involves maintaining the confidentiality of test questions and answers, and is critical in ensuring the integrity of a test and validity of test results. In a paper-and-pencil test, assessment security can become an issue when accessible test formats are used (e.g., braille, large print) or when someone other than the student is allowed to see the test (e.g., interpreter, reader, scribe). In order to ensure test security and confidentiality, test administrators need to (1) keep testing materials in a secure place to prevent unauthorized access, (2) keep all test content confidential and refrain from sharing information or revealing test content, and (3) return all materials as instructed.

mouse.pngSome of the same considerations for test security apply when students are taking a technology-based assessment. For example, ensuring that only authorized personnel have access to the test and that test materials are kept confidential is critical in technology-based assessments. In addition, it is important to guarantee that (1) students are seated in such a manner that they cannot see each other’s terminals, (2) students are not able to access any unauthorized programs or the Internet while they are taking the assessment, and (3) students are not able to access any saved data or computer shortcuts while taking the test. In most cases, any special required hardware devices and appropriate applications, such as switches, should be compatible with computer delivered assessments. Prior to testing, the ELL/IEP or ELL/504 Plan Team should check on device compatibility and make appropriate adjustments if necessary.

Refer to Tool 7 for additional considerations.

National Council on Measurement in Education. (2012). Testing and data integrity in the administration of statewide student assessment programs.



Accommodations must be selected on the basis of the individual student’s needs and must be used consistently for instruction and assessment. Collecting and analyzing data on the use and effectiveness of accommodations are necessary to ensure the meaningful participation of ELLs with disabilities in state- and district-wide assessments. Data on the use and impact of accommodations during assessments may reveal questionable patterns of accommodations use, as well as support the continued use of some accommodations or the rethinking of others.
Examination of the data may also indicate areas in which the ELL/IEP or ELL/504 Plan Team and test administrators need additional training and support. In addition to collecting information about the use of accommodations within the classroom, information needs to be gathered on the implementation of accommodations during assessment. Observations conducted during test administration, interviews with test administrators, and talking with students after testing sessions will likely yield data that can be used to guide the formative evaluation process at the school or district level and at the student level.
mouse.pngGathering information on accommodations may be easier in a technology-based assessment platform, when the accommodations are “programmed” into the system. However, just because information can be collected does not automatically indicate that it is meaningful. ELL/IEP or ELL/504 Plan Teams, schools, and districts should decide in advance what questions should be answered by the collection of accommodation data in order to apply resources efficiently.
Information on the use of accommodations can be feasible to collect when it is coded on the test form with other student information.

Questions to Guide Evaluation of Accommodation Use at the School or District Level
Accommodation information can be analyzed in different ways. Here are some questions to guide data analysis at the school and district level.
1. Are there policies to ensure ethical testing practices, the standardized administration of assessments, and that test security practices are followed before, during, and after the day of the test?

2. Are there procedures in place to ensure test administration procedures are not compromised with the provision of accommodations?

3. Are students receiving accommodations as documented in their IEP and 504 plans?

4. Are there procedures in place to ensure that test administrators adhere to directions for the implementation of accommodations?

5. How many ELLs with IEPs or 504 plans are receiving accommodations?

6. What types of accommodations are provided and are some used more than others?

7. How well do students who receive accommodations perform on state and local assessments? If students are not meeting the expected level of performance, is it due to the student not having had access to the necessary instruction, not receiving the accommodation, or using the accommodations that were not effective?


Questions to Guide Evaluation at the Student Level
The following questions can be used to formatively evaluate the accommodations used at the student level.
1. What accommodations are used by the student during instruction and assessments?

2. What are the results of classroom assignments and assessments when accommodations are used versus when accommodations are not used? If a student did not meet the expected level of performance, is it due to not having access to the necessary instruction, not receiving the accommodations, or using accommodations was ineffective?

3. What is the student’s perception of how well the accommodation worked?

4. What combinations of accommodations seem to be effective?

5. What are the difficulties encountered in the use of accommodations?

6. What are the perceptions of teachers and others about how the accommodation appears to be working?

7. How have the characteristics of the students changed over time to warrant a plan or accommodation change?
School- and district-level questions can be addressed by a committee responsible for continuous improvement efforts, while the student level questions need to be considered by the ELL/IEP or ELL/504 Plan Team. It is critical to stress that formative evaluation is not the responsibility of just one individual. The entire ELL/IEP or ELL/504 Plan Team should contribute to the information gathering and decision-making processes.
Refer to Tools 14-15.

Post-secondary Implications
College and career readiness is an important educational outcome for all students. As ELLs with disabilities plan for their transition to post-secondary settings, it is important for ELL/IEP or ELL/504 Plan Teams to have documented students’ use of accommodations so that students can continue to use them as needed in their college and career settings. Colleges and universities may allow fewer accommodations than are available in K-12 settings, so it is important for students to document their need to use accommodations. This may also be true for students who transition into vocational and other workplace settings. ELLs with disabilities should be encouraged to research their accommodation needs within the context of each particular education institution or place of employment.
In some instances, standardized assessments are used in states for accountability purposes. These tests may be viewed differently by higher education institutions for college entrance. The same accommodations may not be available in some cases. Schools and ELL/IEP or ELL/504 Plan Teams should communicate with the test vendors to ensure that appropriate guidelines are followed.

Refer to Tools 9 and 13.

A Note to States about Tool 1 and Tool 2
State policies should establish clear guidelines to distinguish among good practices, resources that may be available to all students, and accommodations. Each state must make its own decision about what adaptations will or will not violate the construct being measured by the assessment.
States should customize Tool 1 and Tool 2 to fit current state guidelines. States may want to add items to the Adaptations Grid in Tool 1. States may also want to add items to the list of Good Practices and Resources included in Tool 2.
States should plan to adjust the column headings in Tool 1 to fit individual state needs in presenting accommodation policies. For example, some states may prefer to list only those allowed accommodations, with a check in the relevant boxes. Other states may, for example, want to describe each item as Allowed or Prohibited, depending on state policies.
States should remove any items from Tool 1 and Tool 2 that are not relevant to that state’s policies.

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