1. What is the difference between an accommodation and a modification?
An accommodation generally refers to a change in the materials or procedures that does not change what is being measured. A modification generally refers to a change to the test that is thought to change what is being measured. It is important to remember that states may not have empirical evidence about accommodations and how their use maintains the validity of student scores, and that the distinctions between accommodations and modifications are often made by professional judgment.
2. When should accommodations be used?
Accommodations should be provided to ensure that an assessment measures the student's knowledge and skills rather than the student's disabilities. Most often, these accommodations are routinely provided during classroom instruction. Accommodations should not be introduced for the first time during an assessment. Decisions about assessment accommodations should be based on what students need to have an equal opportunity to show what they know without impediment of their disabilities.
3. Who makes the accommodation decision?
Most decisions about who needs assessment accommodations should be made by people who know the educational needs of the student. Federal law now requires that this be the Individualized Education Program (IEP) team. It is important, however, for a student's general education teachers to provide input to accommodations decisions—even if they are not attending the IEP team meeting.
4. How does the type of test (e.g., norm-referenced or criterion-referenced) affect assessment accommodation decisions?
Some states use norm-referenced tests (NRT), nearly all use criterion-referenced tests (CRT), and some use both. NRTs are used to allow comparisons to norms developed under standardized procedures; CRTs assess whether students can perform particular tasks, but do not compare a student's performance with the performance of a standardization group.
NRTs may create special challenges for providing accommodations because some of these tests have been standardized without accommodations or with only a limited number of accommodations. For accommodations not included in the standardization, states may need to report the scores separately.
CRTs are designed to measure performance in relation to content and achievement standards, and thus may offer more flexibility in the use of accommodations. Similarly, reporting results from accommodated assessments with non-accommodated assessments should be acceptable.
5. How are accommodated test scores reported?
Given that accommodations are intended to allow the measurement of a student's skill and not the effect of a disability, scores for accommodated assessments can be aggregated with non-accommodated tests to best capture the performance of all students. When the effects of particular accommodations are questioned, a reasonable approach is to both aggregate the data with the rest of the test scores and to disaggregate the scores of students receiving questionable accommodations. For large-scale assessments used for accountability purposes, state and federal policies affect how scores are reported.
6. What is the impact of assessment accommodations on score comparability?
With increased research on accommodations (see the NCEO Accommodations Bibliography), empirical evidence of the impact of accommodations is growing. Still, most states and districts use professional judgment to determine which accommodations affect score comparability. For example, even though the research on several specific accommodations is contradictory, states must set policy. To do so, a strong rationale is developed for an accommodation based on what the test is intending to measure, and whether the accommodation changes what is being measured.
7. How fair is it to provide assessment accommodations to some students, but not others?
When answering this question, it is important to remember that the intent of providing accommodations is to help ensure that the test is measuring the student's skills, not just the effects of disability. Some states have decided to extend availability of accommodations to all students, not just those with disabilities. Variability in policies on assessment accommodations often is due, in part, to differences in definitions and test characteristics, as well as to variations in which accommodations are counted in accountability systems.
8. What do federal laws say about providing accommodations?
Several federal laws have provisions for requiring the use of accommodations for students with disabilities.
The regulations for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1997 and 2004 address several key points with regard to accommodations:
1. 34 CFR § 300.320(a)(6)(i) of the regulations implementing Part B of the Act requires that the IEP state "any individual appropriate accommodations that are necessary to measure the academic achievement and functional performance of the child on State and districtwide assessments."
2. 34 CFR § 300.160(b)(1) of the regulations requires states to develop accommodations guidelines for state and district assessments.
3. 34 CFR § 300.160(b)(2)(i) of the regulations requires that the guidelines developed by states identify only those accommodations that do not invalidate scores.
4. 34 CFR § 300.160(b)(2)(ii) of the regulations requires instructs IEP teams to select only accommodations that do not invalidate scores.
5. 34 CFR § 300.160(f)(1) of the regulations requires states to report the number of students with disabilities who participated in statewide assessments using accommodations.
The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), reauthorized as the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, also addresses accommodations:
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 addresses accommodations by requiring that facilities be free of barriers and accessible to persons with disabilities. It was amended in 2008 to provide broader protections for workers with disabilities.
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 does not directly mention accommodations for elementary and secondary school students. However, the regulations and interpretation of this law have indicated that reasonable accommodations should be provided to students with disabilities.
9. What are some tools that can help with accommodations decisions?
The NCEO Data Viewer contains information regarding how states include accommodations for students with disabilities in their policies. It generates individualized reports based on various selectable criteria. It includes a major database on State Policies on Assessment Participation and Accommodations for Students with Disabilities.
The NCEO Accommodations Bibliography allows users to search a compilation of empirical research studies on the effects of various testing accommodations for students with disabilities.
Improving Accommodations Outcomes: Monitoring Instructional and Assessment Accommodations for Students with Disabilities is a tool that describes a 5-step process states, districts, and schools can use to improve the monitoring of accommodations. These materials were created through a collaborative effort between NCEO and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO).
The CCSSO Accommodations Manual provides a customizable format for states to use in developing their own materials on the accommodations decision-making process. One example of how a state has customized these materials is this example developed by the state of Minnesota.