"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

"There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all." - Dr. Gerald Bracey author of Rotten Apples in Education

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Saturday, June 4, 2011

Common Core Tests For Special Needs Students

If you've been worried that your special needs child will be left out of the Common Core Assessments, fear not. Nirvi Shah from EdWeek reported today,

"The two groups tasked with developing the common-core assessments have been thinking about students with disabilities from the time they first won the grants from the U.S. Department of Education to design the tests. That’s a sharp departure from what’s been the norm in standardized testing, which has been to consider accommodations for students with disabilities as an afterthought."

The two consortia are working to minimize or eliminate any school to school inconsistencies that currently exist in giving standardized tests to children with IEP's. Carol André, the special education director at Exeter High School in Exeter, N.H. said,

"In particular, when teachers or proctors are allowed to read portions of a test aloud for students, the way that information is read can vary widely... We had to all but police our own people to be sure they were not giving the kids an unfair advantage or leg up. It was really hard, especially for our younger kids. The adults desperately want them to do well. Suddenly, without even being conscious of it, you may have an adult who’s reading the question and the four answers but they’re doing a little more emphasis on choice C, or the kid is reading the adult’s expression.”

Michael Hock, co-chair of the accessibility and accommodations work group for the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium, boasted that the new generation of computerized tests will be able to read words aloud in the same way, in the same voice, from state to state. He added,

We’re not trying to provide anyone with any kind of advantage—that’s what we’re trying to avoid.”

Accommodations available on the test include:

  • Portions of the test can be magnified right on the screen. No more oversized type on paper tests. Such features also can be turned on and off, so only students for whom they are allowed may access them.
  • Individual students will have the ability to highlight or obscure words on the screen (for the science test only)
  • Background music or sounds may be played to keep the students calm or focused, (a feature intended for students with attention disorders.)
  • Changing the color of the text or allowing students to change the contrast of what they are reading. (for students with visual impairments and some types of reading-based learning disabilities)
  • Future tests may be translated into different languages.

“The idea of making tests accessible, it’s a social-justice issue,” Mr. Hock said. “And we want to accurately measure every kid’s skills.”
The consortia are charged with creating exams for 99 percent of students. For the remaining 1 percent of students with significant cognitive disabilities, separate exams are being designed.


  1. The cost impact on schools for the necessary technology upgrades to meet the requirements for computer-based assessment is under reported. With assisted-technologies that are suitable for special needs students, there will be increased costs. While it is a good sign that special needs students are included in the national assessment development, the public is still under informed as to the advantages of such a massive and expensive test delivery system during a time when schools are operating on shoe-string budgets.

  2. I guess it should be no surprise that DEA’s goal seems to be testing accuracy rather than learning.

    My sister was a teacher for kids with learning disabilities in a public school system. Almost all of them also had physical disabilities and because of this, many of the kids don’t live very long (she’s been to many funerals). As teaching became increasingly regimented, she left. She often described her time – with great help from her assistants – as changing diapers, toilet training, teaching to brush teeth and tie shoes, learning to make sandwiches, attending to their physical needs and generally trying to provide a positive and constructive school experience. Some of these kids were in their teens but had trouble mastering basic functions. She tried to teach skills that would offer some self-sufficiency. If hers is a typical classroom, then testing kids with disabilities seems to offer little benefit to the student, parents or society.

  3. On "testing accuracy rather than learning" there's a great post here on the data issue:


    (although I don't consider myself a "grumpy educator" this is excellent information)


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