One common question I’m receiving from Sped teachers, “will Betsy Devos end OSEP (Office of Special Education Programs”?) To answer I’d need to write a complex series of blogs. Since I am trying to remain apolitical, I can tell you one thing. Even if that’s what she wants to do, at President Trump’s behest, it will take years to dismantle federal law that protects the services disabled children already receive. Defunding mandates has a nasty way of creating lawsuits that go on for years, so don’t fear losing your job any time soon. We’ll all need to stay alert and be prepared to advocate for our kids, though.
I remember in the late 90's when we were starting to embrace learning standards (CCSS) and develop new high stakes tests. There was an outcry from teachers and parents who were sure their special needs kids were going to be relegated to segregated environments, and required to take the same tests as "regular" kids. It seemed no one had really thought about this possibility, at least not very thoroughly.
These days educators realize that requiring special needs students to take and pass high stakes tests raises standards and expectations for all students, and provides the desired result of LRE (least restrictive environment). At the same time, we've developed accommodations for children who need extra support at test time. There are now alternate assessments for students who can’t be served with one or two accommodations.
The lawfor test accommodations says an assessment must not:
· be designed to change the test – accommodations vs. modifications
· provide an unfair advantage for any child
· administration of assessments in customized environments;
· changes in test presentation; and
· changes in the way students can respond.
The key is "in the IEP". We have found ways to include many accommodations for special needs children in their IEP's. There has been a struggle to find assessments that don't alter the test or invalidate the results.
The NCEO (National Center for Educational Outcomes) provides a helpful bibliography of research-tested accommodations for testing. There is a nice description of differences among accommodations and discussions on test validity and reliability. There is considerable variability among states for the development of accommodations. Over time, states have developed alternate assessments that align with alternate state standards. We have also struggled with providing support for ELL students who have special needs.
Where does technology step in to help us out with all these delicate balancing acts? There are many different ways technology can help manage special ed classrooms. Teachervision has been one of my favorite sites over the years, this article on assistive technology for students with mild disabilities is an example of that. Adaptive technologies may or may not be carried over into the testing environment. Remember the IEP? If may be allowed in the IEP, but here are some resources to help you sort this out.
PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career) provides some guidance on using approved adaptive technologies for testing. PARCC was created by states working to create a set of assessments to measure and compare student performance for college entrance.
There are as many organizations, companies and others who are interested in creating and providing testing materials and guidance as there are students who need support. I'll provide you with some resources to help districts with assistive technology decisions as they relate to testing.
· University of Texas at Austin (study)
· One Parent's Opinion (NY Times)
· Indiana University Assistive Technology and Assessment Center
Let me know how your district has evolved on the subject of testing and the use of assistive technologies.
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