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Professional Development on Assessment Systems

What special educators need to know about measurement

Special educators involved in state planning for how students with disabilities participate in large-scale assessments need a thorough knowledge of current federal laws and regulations (Federal Register, Dec. 9, 2003; IDEA 2004; NCLB; and new guidelines as they appear). Because policies and regulations about this participation evolve rapidly, ongoing professional development is particularly critical for this group. In addition to information about policy and regulations, they need copies of new policies and regulations in hand as they develop guidelines for participation and new alternate assessments for use in individual states. Helpful resources are available from the National Center on Educational Outcomes (http://education.umn.edu/NCEO).

In 2000, Nolet and McLaughlin pointed out that access of students with disabilities to the general curriculum was a new topic for many special educators. This may have created some confusion as to how the participation of students with disabilities is planned and carried out. Just as special educators expect measurement experts to be current in their knowledge of standards for assessment, measurement professionals expect special educators to have the most current information on access to the general curriculum to plan how to assess students' achievement of state academic content standards. Professional development on access to the general curriculum can begin with Web site summaries of the issues and preferred practices (http://www.k8accesscenter.org and http://www.naacpartners.org). However, professional development also should include more detailed information on how to promote this access (Agran, Alper, & Wehmeyer, 2002; Browder & Spooner, in press; King-Sears, 2001; Wehmeyer, Lattin, & Agran, 2001).

Special educators also need a thorough understanding of accommodations and how they affect participation in large-scale assessments. The Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing (American Educational Research Association et al., 1999) defines "accommodations" as any actions taken in response to a determination that an individual's disability requires a departure from established testing protocol. Koretz and Barton (2003) acknowledge that, although there is limited research on the selection of appropriate accommodations for students with disabilities, a key to devising those accommodations is understanding which biases may be caused by the disability and which alterations of the test might alleviate those biases without producing an unfair advantage.

Because special educators are aware of the needs of students and the range of available accommodations, they may be better able to perform the difficult task of selecting appropriate accommodations, which should be made for individual students and not applied uniformly to all students with disabilities. But before special educators can do that effectively, they must be familiar with the extent to which accommodations may influence the construct being measured, the state and local guidelines related to accommodations and assessment, and the ways in which an accommodation may manifest itself within the assessment format (Elliott, McKevitt, & Kettler, 2002; Thurlow, House, Boys, Scott, & Ysseldyke, 2000).

However, approved accommodations typically vary by state. Special educators must be aware of which accommodations in their state are approved and nonapproved and what the use of those accommodations means in terms of test scores and accountability for students. Bielinski, Sheinker, and Ysseldyke (2003) discuss states' disaggregation of student test scores according to the use of accommodations. States may report all test scores in the aggregate, report accommodated scores separately, or report both. These reporting differences can reflect intended and unintended consequences for students and schools.

To be effective partners in planning, administering, and interpreting appropriate statewide assessments for students with disabilities, special educators should be much more familiar with acceptable standards for assessment, scoring, and reporting of scores. Few special educators—whether they are teachers in the field or administrative personnel working in a state department of education—have solid foundations in measurement either in general or as it applies to assessment of students with disabilities in particular. Special educators need more knowledge about the major considerations required in making a validity argument: (a) achievement constructs and how they are measured; (b) reliability; (c) test scores and the importance of a validity argument; (d) validity evidence, both procedural and empirical; and (e) construct misrepresentation and construct-irrelevant variance. They should have a general understanding of how inferences are validated with the use of an assessment. In the context of statewide assessments, they must have a thorough understanding of the differences between content and performance standards (or, in the language of NCLB, achievement standards). Special educators need information from the Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing (American Educational Research Association et al., 1999). Additional resources may also be useful to develop this understanding (see Tindal and Haladyna, 2002).

Table 2 summarizes the content that might be addressed in ongoing professional development for special educators whose students with disabilities will be included in the statewide assessment and accountability systems.

Table 2

Summary: What Special Educators Need to Know About Measurement of Students with Disabilities Who Will Be Included in Statewide Assessment and Accountability Systems

Federal regulations
  • All students participate
  • Not assigned to assessment method based on disability
  • AYP and students with disabilities
IDEA , 2004

Federal Register, Dec. 9, 2004 http://www.ed.gov/policy/speced/ guid/nclb/index.html
Standards for testing application to students with disabilities
  • Definition of terms
  • Standards for validity
  • Applications to students with disabilities
Tindal & Haladyna (2002)
Access to general curriculum
  • How to promote access
  • How relates to assessing achievement of state standards
Browder & Spooner (in press)
Kleinert & Kearns (2001)
Nolet & McLaughlin (2000)
Agran, Alper, & Wehmeyer (2002)
King-Sears (2001)
Wehmeyer, Lattin, & Agran (2001)
Impact of accommodations on inferences
  • Research on accommodations
  • Appropriate inferences
Bilenski, Sheniker, & Ysseldyke (2003)
Elliott, McKevitt, & Kettler (2002)
Koretz & Barton (2003)
Thompson, Blount, & Thurlow (2002)

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