What types of accommodations are commonly used for students with disabilities?
Page 3: Instructional Versus Testing Accommodations
As explained previously, accommodations help students with disabilities to access instruction and to demonstrate their learning. These accommodations are included in a student’s individual education program (IEP) or 504 plan. As discussed below, these accommodations can be implemented during instruction and testing.
Examples of Instructional Accommodations
- Large print
- Assistive listening device
- Repeated or paraphrased instructions
- Pencil grip
Instructional accommodations are changes to the delivery of classroom instruction or the accompanying materials. Instructional accommodations change how students learn but do not change what they learn. In other words, they do not alter the scope or range of the grade-level academic content standards, nor do they change the complexity of the knowledge students are expected to learn. Students with disabilities who use instructional accommodations are required to learn the same content at the same level of proficiency as their peers who do not use instructional accommodations.
Rae, a student with a learning disability (LD), struggles to identify and remember important information. To address this barrier, any time her science teacher uses a handout (digital or hardcopy) in class, she provides one to Rae with the key information already highlighted.
Because students experience changing demands throughout the school day, accommodations are likely to differ from one class setting to another. For instance, just because Rae benefits from the accommodation outlined above in her science class does not mean that she will necessarily require it in algebra.
For Your Information
The implementation of certain kinds of technology as well as instructional practices or frameworks like differentiated instruction or Universal Design for Learning (UDL) not only allow teachers to enhance learning for all students, they also inherently address many of the learning barriers faced by students with disabilities.
Recall that Aliyah has muscular dystrophy. As a result, she struggles with handwriting and becomes fatigued if she is required to write for long periods of time. Compare how the teachers below, one of which uses traditional instruction and one who incorporates UDL, address Aliyah’s barriers.
|Accommodations in Language Arts (Traditional Instruction)
|Accommodations in Science (UDL)
|Allowing her to complete assignments on a computer
|Because her teacher incorporates UDL, all students have access to computers to complete assignments.
|Allowing frequent breaks during writing assignments
|Allowing frequent breaks during writing assignments
Because the language arts teacher requires students to handwrite in-class assignments, he must provide an accommodation to address Aliyah’s handwriting barrier. However, the science teacher has essentially already addressed this barrier by allowing students to complete in-class assignments using a computer. Additionally, because other students in the science class may choose to complete assignments on the computer, any stigma that might be attached to this accommodation is eliminated or minimized.
When educators implement current technology and practices that enhance learning for all students, the discussion regarding accommodations needed to meet the needs of individual students may change. Listen as Candace Cortiella discusses this further (time: 1:15).
Director, The Advocacy Institute
For more information on differentiated instruction and Universal Design for Learning view the following IRIS Modules:
Examples of Testing Accommodations
- Having test read aloud
- Extended time
- Permitting scribes or dictation
- Testing in a small-group setting
Testing accommodations are changes to the format of a test (e.g., providing a test in large print) or its administration procedures (e.g., permitting extended time to complete the test). Testing accommodations change how students are tested but do not change what a test measures. Students with disabilities who receive testing accommodations are required to take the same assessment and reach the same level of proficiency as students who do not use them.
When they administer tests, educators should understand the difference between target skills and access skills. Target skills refer to the knowledge or skills being assessed (e.g., mathematics computation, reading comprehension). Access skills are those skills needed to complete the assessment, although they are not specifically being measured. For example, to complete a written test in science (target skill), a student must know how to read (access skill). Although reading fluency is not being measured, this skill is necessary for the student to demonstrate his knowledge of the science content. By providing a testing accommodation for this student (e.g., a human reader), the teacher can more accurately assess the student’s skills or content knowledge.
Listen as Ryan Kettler discusses this issue in more detail. Further, he discusses that though testing accommodations provide a student with a disability better access to the curriculum, such access does not automatically equate to higher scores on tests or better grades on class assignments. Even with the help of accommodations, the student may not understand the content and successfully demonstrate his or her knowledge (time: 3:39).
Ryan Kettler, PhD
Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology
Let’s revisit the students from the previous page. For each student, identify the target skill being assessed and the access skill required to demonstrate the target skill. Type your answers in the provided field.
|Danica, a student with LD, struggles with organizing ideas and providing supporting details in writing assignments. To assess the class at the end of the unit on the solar system, her science teacher gives an exam consisting of five essay questions.
|Brody, a 6th-grade student with ADHD, has difficulty organizing his time. His social studies teacher is giving a chapter test on important battles of World War I and will allow the students 30 minutes to complete it.
|Aliyah, a middle school student with muscular dystrophy, often experiences physical fatigue. She has an upcoming test on Number the Stars in which she will be required to write a detailed analysis of the main character with supporting evidence from the text.
|Ahmed, a high school student with an intellectual disability, reads at a 2nd-grade level. The standardized assessment he will take in the spring will require him to read passages and identify key information.
Being able to differentiate between target skills and access skills is critical for determining the types of testing accommodations that will allow a student the opportunity to demonstrate his or her knowledge and skills. Recall that testing accommodations change how students are tested but do not change what a test measures. Read on to learn more about classroom and standardized assessment accommodations.
When it comes to tests and assessments, how teachers administer them will of course significantly affect the kinds of accommodations a student or students might require. For students taking a test on a computer, barriers may be addressed through common features such as the ability to enlarge onscreen text. For students completing paper-based assessments, teachers will need to provide the necessary accommodations (e.g., enlarged text). In either case, teachers need to be familiar with the testing accommodations listed in a student’s IEP or 504 plan and be diligent about providing them.
Recent years have seen a shift in the way standardized tests are administered, from a paper to an online format. This shift has allowed for universally designed assessments, which incorporate digital tools and features that increase accessibility for all students and eliminate obstacles often encountered by students with disabilities (as well as other students such as English language learners). A number of states now use a multi-tiered approach that allows students to access the content. Typically, this incorporates three levels of accessibility:
Universal features: Accessibility features available to all participating students. These supports may be embedded and provided digitally (e.g., zooming to enlarge text), or they may be non-embedded and provided at the local level (e.g., scratch paper).
Designated features: Accessibility features that any student can use as long as they are decided upon by an informed educator or team of educators prior to testing. Embedded digital supports at this accessibility level include color contrast, while non-embedded supports include magnification devices.
Accommodations: Accessibility supports that are limited to student with disabilities and, in some cases, ELLs. Embedded digital accommodations include text-to-speech, while a non-embedded accommodation would include a sign-language interpreter or scribe.
For Your Information
Across states there are significant differences in what constitute allowable accommodations for standardized tests. What is allowed in one state may not be permitted in others. To ensure compliance with state policies, educators should be aware of allowable accommodations in their states. This information is made available by the National Center on Educational Outcomes.
Whether for classroom assessments or standardized tests, students should ideally be familiar with an accommodation before having to use it in a testing situation. In fact, some states require that testing accommodations be made available to the student for a specified amount of time prior to the day of testing. Listen as Martha Thurlow discusses why this is important (time: 0:38).
Martha Thurlow, PhD
Director of the National Center on Educational Outcomes
University of Minnesota
For Your Information
For a small number of students with the most significant cognitive disabilities, testing accommodations might not offer sufficient support. In these cases, an alternate assessment can be used. These alternate assessments reflect the grade-level standards but are less complex and do not cover the content in as much depth or breadth (i.e., alternate academic achievement standards), while maintaining high expectations for these students.