This chapter has presented background information designed to illustrate several key points about the participation of students with disabilities and English language learners in large-scale assessments. First, students with disabilities and English language learners are an extremely diverse group. Including them in large-scale assessments so that their educational status and their needs will be addressed along with those of other students is not only important but a legal mandate for states. However, their diverse needs call for assessment approaches that are both flexible enough to evaluate what they know and can do and rigorous enough that the results can be safely compared with those from other assessments.
Second, the legal requirements and professional standards regarding the assessment of these two groups of students provide considerable guidance to those responsible for setting assessment policy and developing assessment tools. They have established both the necessity for testing students with disabilities and English language learners and the key questions of fairness that arise when they are tested. These sources, however, offer relatively little guidance with regard to the practical difficulties associated with testing these two groups. As a consequence, there is considerable variation around the country in the way these students are assessed.
Finally, a key tool used in assessing students in these two groups is accommodation. These measures, designed to overcome obstacles to testing that are irrelevant to the constructs being measured, have the potential to make it possible to obtain accurate results for students who could not be reliably assessed without them. Many different accommodations are in use around the country. The ways in which they are used, the variety in the ways they are applied, and the knowledge base about their effects on testing results are the focus of the remainder of the report.