NCEO - National Center on Educational Outcomes

Participation and ELLs with Disabilities


Participation in large-scale assessments is now recognized by state and district policymakers, educators, and parents as a critical element of equal opportunity and access to education. Low expectations and lack of information on which to make programmatic decisions plague the programs of those English language learners who do not participate in state and district assessments. Assessments help to measure:

  • How successful schools are in including all students in standards-based reforms.
  • How successful instructional strategies are in helping all students achieve at high levels.
  • What specific curriculum and instructional areas need improvement for specific groups of students.

Participation in state and district assessment systems does not mean that all students take the same test. There are several ways in which students with disabilities can participate in assessments. These often are divided into three categories: (1) assessments taken in the same way as other students take them, (2) assessments taken with accommodations, and (3) alternate assessments. The question becomes not whether students will participate in assessments, but rather, how they will participate. Participation rates often are difficult to calculate, and sometimes require that states and districts revise their data management systems. These revisions have been worthwhile, and have pushed forward our knowledge about the participation of students in assessments. In most states, participation rates have increased for students who are learning English. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act now requires all students, including English language learners (ELLs) and ELLs with disabilities, to be included in statewide accountability testing.