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Keeping Score for All: The Effects of Inclusion and Accommodation Policies on Large-Scale Educational Assessments
The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 has established the goal for states of including all of their students with disabilities and English language learners in their assessments.2 At the same time, the sponsors of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) hope to increase the participation of these groups of students in NAEP assessments. The use of accommodations provides an important means for increasing inclusion rates for these groups. In identifying appropriate accommodations, policy makers must consider the specific characteristics of the test-takers and the nature of the skills and knowledge (referred to as “constructs”) to be tested. Effective accommodations should not materially alter the nature of the task or the required response, and they should yield scores that are valid indicators of the constructs being assessed. Both state assessment programs and the sponsors of NAEP have set policies regarding the accommodations they will allow. NAEP also has policies for identifying students who cannot meaningfully participate, even with accommodations, and excluding them from the assessment.
However, the existing base of research about the effects of accommodations on test performance and the comparability of scores obtained under standard and accommodated conditions is insufficient to provide empirical support for many of the decisions that must be made regarding the testing of these students. Thus it has been difficult for both state and NAEP officials to make these decisions, and the result has been considerable variation in what is allowed, both from state to state and between NAEP and the state assessments.3 These kinds of variations in policy, combined with an insufficient research base, create significant impediments to the interpretation of assessment results for both students with disabilities and English language learners.
At the request of the U.S. Department of Education, the National Research Council formed the Committee on the Participation of Students with Disabilities and English Language Learners in NAEP and Other Large-Scale Assessments. The charge to the committee was to (1) synthesize research findings about the effects of accommodations on test performance, (2) review the procedures used for making inclusion and accommodation decisions for large-scale assessment programs, and (3) determine the implications of these findings for NAEP inclusion and accommodation policies.
The No Child Left Behind Act requires that “not less than 95 percent” of students in each identified subgroup who are enrolled in the school be required to take the assessments used to meet its provisions (P.L. 107-110, Jan. 8, 2002, 115 STAT 1448-1449).
It is important to note that some of this variation can be accounted for by differences in assessment goals, particularly constructs measured, from program to program.