p. 101), we define an accommodation as the general term for any action taken in response to a determination that an individual’s disability or lack of English language proficiency requires a departure from established testing protocol. An accommodation may involve a change in the characteristics of specific assessment tasks (e.g., simplified language, native language translation, large font, Braille) or in administrative procedures (e.g., additional time, oral reading of instructions, access to specific equipment). More detailed discussions of accommodations for students with disabilities and English language learners and issues related to their use appear later in the report.
Although the definition is relatively straightforward, identifying students to be included, determining which accommodations are appropriate, and ensuring that scores from accommodated assessments can be interpreted in the same way as scores from regular assessments turn out to be highly complex and problematic issues. To a degree that may surprise those who have not considered the question, the procedures for including both of these groups of students in testing, as well as for providing them with testing accommodations, are far from uniform around the country. Furthermore, research on the effects of various accommodations on performance, as well as on the validity of the inferences made on the basis of scores from accommodated assessments, is inconclusive.
It was in this context that, in 1996, the National Assessment Governing Board (NAGB) and the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the groups responsible for developing and implementing policy for NAEP, revised NAEP’s policies for including students with disabilities and English language learners in the assessment. They made the changes, the primary effect of which was to include more students in testing, in recognition of changing regulations regarding the testing of these two groups and because of increased appreciation of the value of testing these students. NAEP’s sponsors were guided by the importance of maintaining the integrity of NAEP data despite these policy changes, as well as by the importance of keeping NAEP’s policies and procedures in accord with those used in other large-scale testing programs administered by states.
In brief, the new policies call for the inclusion of most students with disabilities and most students who have been designated as limited English proficient, and for the exclusion, in general, only of those who cannot meaningfully participate with accommodations approved for NAEP. Under the old policies, far fewer students in these two categories had been included in testing.
We note here that several terms are used to refer to students who are not yet fluent in English, and these may reflect somewhat different understandings of these students and their needs. Although NAEP materials currently use the term LEP (limited English proficient), the committee prefers the more widely used term English language learners, which emphasizes these students’ developing English proficiency rather than their limitations.