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American Annals of the Deaf

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Testing Deaf Students in an Age of Accountability

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Students learn differently and certainly bring different strengths to tasks in which they are asked to demonstrate what they know. However, systems tend to impose uniform conditions and materials in test situations that can prevent students from fully demonstrating their abilities. During instruction, accommodations can help students learn what we expect them to know as well as give students options for demonstrating that knowledge and skill. During assessments, accommodations assist us in measuring a student’s skills and abilities, not the student’s disability. In short, testing accommodations are intended to allow a student the opportunity to “show what he or she knows” both in the instructional setting and on assessments.

This provision exists within the Individuals With Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA 2004) but is implemented in varying degrees from state to state. In Delaware, testing accommodations are reviewed on an annual basis, and all changes are published annually by the Delaware Department of Education in the DSTP Guidelines for Inclusion of Students with Disabilities and Students with Limited English Proficiency (Delaware Department of Education, 2005).

The National Center on Education Outcomes Web site includes the following description of testing accommodations:

Accommodations are changes in testing materials or procedures that enable students to participate in assessments in a way that allows abilities to be assessed rather than disabilities. They are provided to “level the playing field.” Without accommodations, the assessment may not accurately measure the student’s knowledge and skills. Accommodations are generally grouped into the following categories: presentation (e.g., repeat directions, read aloud, large print, Braille, etc.); equipment and material (e.g., calculator, amplification equipment, manipulatives, etc.); response (e.g., mark answers in book, scribe records response, point, etc.); setting (e.g., study carrel, student’s home, separate room, etc.); timing/scheduling (e.g., extended time, frequent breaks, etc.). (Lehr & Thurlow, 2003)


Theoretically, testing accommodations should provide access and equity for deaf students. Phrases like “level the playing field” would indicate that students would have equal access to assessments and the opportunity to “show what they know.” However, there are some challenges that exist with respect to testing accommodations. The following areas represent some of the challenges and issues related to the provision of accommodations during instruction and assessment.

Decision-making process with respect to accommodations. The IEP team is responsible for making decisions about participation in assessments and for making decisions about which accommodations are appropriate for which students. However, there is often not consistency with respect to selecting accommodations to be used during instruction and assessment, and it is not clear whether the selection is always based on need. A lack of clear guidelines for making decisions with respect to accommodations may lead to “over-accommodating” students. Table 10.1 shows the average number of accommodations made for DSD students on a reading test.

Feasibility of accommodations. Appropriate accommodations that ensure equal access to the test and the opportunity for students to demonstrate what they know without interference from their disability are difficult to effectively implement and, in some cases, simply do not currently exist. For example, the following accommodation (see Example 10.1), excerpted from the 2005 DSTP Guidelines for Inclusion, (Delaware Department of Education, 2004), is nearly impossible to effectively implement given the resource demands associated with this accommodation.

Although this accommodation has great potential, it currently requires resources such as videotaping equipment, a television/VCR for playback, and additional faculty and staff members for students to be tested individually, which make it nearly impossible to implement.

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