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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Should special education students participate in standardized testing?

Should special education students participate in standardized testing?

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We differentiate instruction, teach the students at their proximal level of learning, and accept a variety of ways of demonstrating learning in our classrooms, but our students have to take standardized one-way-of-assessing tests. Is this fair? And if not, is it ethical? And if not, what do we do about it?

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Wendy Earl's picture
Wendy Earl
Special Ed. teacher in K-3 elementary; teach mostly 3rd graders

I work with students with mild/moderated disabilities in a K-3 setting. We have good success deliviering the grade standardized tests with accomodations. These accomodations are used all year long with the student in the regular ed and special ed. classrooms and are allowed on the CRT tests without negating the validity of the CRT tests. Our students can show what they know and do quite well.

Ken Coyle's picture

I do believe we have to be held accountable for what we teach our students. I also believe that our students should be taught at a level at which they individually can understand and comprehend. Otherwise, we are just complying with the State's mandatory standardized testing for all students. I agree it is not fair for our special ed. students to be expected to compete with general ed. students. Most of our kids are years, I mean years behind students of their same age.

Colleen Adams's picture

In Massachusetts we have to make AYP (Annual Yearly Progress) on our MCAS scores. The problem is - if a student is on an IEP they are performing two years or more below grade level. If they are taking the 10th grade MCAS in Math or English where they have their disability and are in tenth grade...they may not pass it the first time. There goes AYP! Then to make it worse, when they pass it the next fall on the retest, that doesn't count toward AYP at all! (And meanwhile everyone mumbles about the "sped kids" who are keeping us from making our AYP.) Something needs to be adjusted when looking at these standardized tests.

Tonya Essex's picture

I agree. The tests are not normed for kids in special education. There must be a better way to show AYP.

Tiffany's picture
Middle School CDC

K-3 mild to moderate is different when you are talking about testing. I teach severely disabled children and testing a child who cant remember his birthday on his grade level curriculum is ridiculous.

JB's picture
Intervention Specialist

It's wonderful that your students are being successful passing the 3rd grade state tests! (Wendy) It would be interesting to see if those same students will pass the 7th grade tests when they are 7th graders- when the discrepancy between age and functioning levels are more distinct.

JB's picture
Intervention Specialist

I agree that it is unfair to give special needs students grade level tests when they are functioning far below their peers. We are being pressured into getting "x" amount of students to pass, since we did not meet our AYP for our "subgroup" in years past. My students DO make progress according to their IEP's, however, sometimes it seems like I'm expected to perform miracles.

Patti-Jo Picinich's picture

I like hearing different perspectives to find solutions. We have two alternative state tests in CA. One is a very functional but standards-based, and the other is similar to the state test, but there are less words on the page, more pictures, and 3 choices for answers instead of 4. However, neither of these address students who fall in the middle ground. When a 4th grader reads at a 1st grade level, and yet takes a test that he can't even read, I don't feel that this shows what he can do.

I read district tests to the students(except the reading portion of the reading test)and even though we may have covered some of the information and they understood it in class, they still choose the wrong answers! This is very frustrating. I feel as though we are wasting valuable instructional time. I am still trying to figure out what to do with the students who don't take the district tests and are distracting to the ones who do. There are no easy answers.

Ally Miller's picture

Although I am not a special education teacher, rather a college student and k-12 tutor, I would really much like to share my view on this issue.

As a student who comes from a high school that was on academic probation my senior year and after multiple threats will now be run by the state, I find it very unfair that there is one version of the test, expected to be taken by every student. Although there were many factors involved in the low scores on the standarized tests, I feel that special education students being expected to take the same test played a role in it as well.

I know there is probably more to it than what I am aware, but my solution is this; why not construct a second standardized test, one that is structured around the material learned by special education students? This is probably easier said than done, by why does it have to be?

I realize I may be out of line commenting on this issue, but as a concerned student, I felt the need to speak my peace.

Rebecca Sebring's picture
Rebecca Sebring
Special Education Teacher Middle School from Louisiana

By basic definition of Special Education (student can't generalize) standarized testing is wrong because every standarized test I've ever seen asks the student to generalize information. I guess we are lucky in LA we have LAA1 and LAA2 for special education if a student has failed the LEAP (our standarized test) three times and is below grade level in two subjects they qualify for taking the LAA testing. With the LAA2 tests theys tudents can still earn a high school diploma as long as they earn the carnegie units. The LAA tests are also used to show progress in the subjects that the student is deficient in. Therefore holding the teachers accountable for teaching the students at their own rate. So far this has worked out to be a better assessment of the special education students. The LAA1 is for the severe or profound students and is based on functional skills students who take this test get a certificate of achievement instead of a diploma.

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