Accommodations that don’t?

Many of us have probably heard anecdotes about accommodations that failed or even backfired. A summary of a state NEA survey of Washington state teachers indicated those teachers’ concern about students losing mandated IEP services because of administration of a Smarter Balanced Assessment, that state’s version of the Common Core.

A pair of two articles in the LA Times covers this topic, too. The lead one, “How new tools meant to help special education students take standardized tests actually made it harder” discussed one teacher’s experiences and some larger issues with references to Washington and Oregon. The second one summarized anecdotes from teachers about problems they encountered in administering California’s Common Core: “These are the problems some California teachers had when they tested students with disabilities.”

I encourage readers to be cautious about presuming that these stories and others like them indict the Common Core State Standards. There are many other players in the mix in these stories, too. Note how poorly designed or executed Universal Design for Learning might be at play in the representations of assessment materials, how the technologies themselves may be contributing to the difficulties, and of course, how these reports are only anecdotal. We have no idea how many other stories there are and how representative these may be of all the stories that could be told.

That does not mean educators should not try to address them, to fix them. Indeed, it’s important to examine problems carefully. Perhaps the National Center on Educational Outcomes, a respected US research and development group that provides technical assistance about the participation of students with disabilities and English language learners (and a collaborator with the Smarter Balanaced Assessment folks), is studying these issues.

One interesting way to study the problems might be to collect the anecdotes about problems in a systematic way…sort of crowd-source them into a data base: State test; student disability category; student age; testing area; accommodation…etc., problem encountered.

If there were a few 1000 examples, maybe some consistent patterns would be clear.

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