Rhode Island Assessment Accommodation Study: Research Summary

Rhode Island

Published by the National Center on Educational Outcomes
April 2003

Rhode Island Department of Education
Office of Special Needs and Office of Assessment, and
Paul V. Sherlock Center on Disabilities

Any or all portions of this document may be reproduced and distributed without prior permission, provided the source is cited as:

Rhode Island Department of Education. (2003). Rhode Island assessment accommodation study: Research summary. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, National Center on Educational Outcomes. Retrieved [today's date], from the World Wide Web: http://education.umn.edu/NCEO/TopicAreas/Accommodations/RhodeIsland.htm

Summary of Findings

We gained several insights as a result of studying current practices in assessment accommodations in Rhode Island schools. The following summarized findings present only a glimpse into the complex conditions that surround the decision-making and implementation process of accommodations for students with disabilities during the state assessments. However, because we studied a number of sites and employed a variety of data gathering methods, we believe that these data indicate trends worth investigating further, particularly in the areas of post-graduate training opportunities for school personnel and the essential difference between classroom and assessment accommodations for students with disabilities.

A. Issues of Education and Process

According to the Rhode Island educators who responded to our survey (N=246), it appears that graduate-level training may not sufficiently emphasize accommodations for assessments.

  • On average, 55% of the total sample reported that they either had not received graduate-level training or brief coverage at the graduate level in a professional's role and responsibility in developing IEPs and in developing accommodations in instruction and assessment.
  • By contrast, approximately 41% of the special educators (N=105) reported that they had had in-depth training in developing IEPs during graduate school. However, of this sub-sample, 57% said they had not gotten training in the State Assessment Program.

Our sample reported that many of them had taken advantage of IEP trainings from RIDE, but that the IEP Fellows Network had not taken hold in their schools. Respondents most frequently identified articles or memos as their source of information about the State Assessment Program specifically. For example:

  • Approximately 13% of the entire sample reported they had access to IEP fellows in their schools;
  • 47% reported that they had attended RIDE-sponsored IEP training;
  • Respondents most frequently reported that they had learned about the State Assessment Program from articles or memos (49.2%), with RIDE-sponsored trainings and in-house trainings run by school personnel tied for second (36.2%).

Regarding the process of developing and implementing accommodations among IEP team members, it seemed that the assessment accommodations were more frequently the responsibility of a school's special education staff. Although 85% of the sample noted that general education teachers were always present on IEP teams, especially high school general education teachers noted that they had very little knowledge or involvement in developing assessment accommodations. In addition:

  • Respondents most frequently identified a student's performance as what influenced decision-making in instructional accommodations (34%), followed by IEP discussions; whereas a student's assessment accommodation might be determined more by the IEP team's recommendations (23%), followed by classroom performance;
  • A majority of respondents reported that they were less influenced by a student's disability in determining the need for accommodations and more by the students' so-called “ability.” Further, a majority reported that they were influenced by the amount of time spent in mainstreamed classes.

This sample identified pulling out students with disabilities for assessment accommodations most frequently as the means by which accommodations were implemented (21%), whereas only 2.4% identified that "students are grouped by need during assessment."

However, our observations contradicted this latter response:

  • 22 of the 31 high school students were "pulled out" for the assessment (i.e., receiving an alternate location);
  • Similarly, of the 19 elementary students observed, 14 received "pull-out" assessment accommodations;
  • Among the students who were tested in alternate locations, every student received the same accommodations regardless of IEP directives.

B. Observed and Described Accommodation Practices

According to our observations, all of the participating schools tended to bundle accommodations for groups of students during the assessments, rather than strictly following individual IEP recommendations, seemingly in an effort to cover all bases for as many students as possible. These accommodations tended to be alternate location, extended time, oral administration of directions, clarification of directions, and frequent breaks. In our sample, it was only occasionally that students did not receive assessment accommodations specified in their IEPs.

Further, our sample of observed high school students seemed to benefit less from implemented assessment accommodations than elementary students. Some possible reasons included:

The considerably larger numbers of high school students that needed accommodations meant that the accommodations were sometimes less than ideal (for example, a noisier alternate location);

  • Proctoring staff was less likely to impose accommodations such as frequent breaks or clarified directions for high school students. Similarly, respondents noted that high school students could opt to completely forego accommodations (such as alternate location) or choose not to use them (e.g., extended time);
  • High school students may have been more indifferent to the results of their testing, and therefore made less use of the accommodations they were given.

Overall, it seemed evident that school staff tried to do the best possible job they could in accommodating students with disabilities during assessments. However, while more than half of the survey's respondents declined to comment on which accommodations were most difficult to use or least likely to be used, it was hard not to suspect a correlation between the difficulty of implementing particular accommodations with their infrequency of use. Assistive technology (such as computers) was an example of an accommodation that was frequently recommended in instruction but rarely seen during assessments, possibly because of described problems with disabling spell-checkers or the inadequate number of functional computers in a particular classroom.

However, issues of institutional capacity -- such as appropriate locations for testing and sufficient staffing -- posed problems for even the most basic accommodations. Accommodations like small group or alternate location were deemed "difficult" by some of our sampled educators because of the lack of resources:

Small group [is difficult to implement] due to the fact so many students qualify for small group - it's now too large to be considered "small."

Small group -- because of lack of teachers.

Oral presentation because of lack of space.

If there are a number of students requiring different accommodations, they may all be difficult. However, if requirements are similar, they may be more manageable.

Finally, there appeared to be a significant difference between daily instructional accommodations (and modifications) provided to students with disabilities and what could be offered as assessment accommodations. This difference was evident on the IEP documents, reported by respondents on their surveys, and noted during our rounds of observations in the two school districts. Students who are believed to benefit from instructional accommodations such as one-on-one reading assistance, lower grade-level reading materials, shorter assignments, or lifted penalties for sentence structure will not have assessment accommodations that are in any way comparable. Thus, such students may not be prepared for the state assessments, regardless of the accommodations provided.

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