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Why do we give test accommodations?
by Ellen Hoffenberg-Serfaty, J.D.


In this issue, the writer introduces the EASI website, and some findings from an on-line EASI podcast on standardized testing and accommodations, discussing what happens when accommodations are not provided, and what happens when they are!

Results of recent eavesdropping season between a high school student and graduate:
HS student: My tutor thinks I'm having problems because I have an LD. Do you think I should have an evaluation.
HS graduate: Definitely! You'll be guaranteed more time on tests. And depending on who you go to and how much you pay, you can get all kinds of stuff. You probably don't need it, but you can pick! And I bet you can add a lot of points to your tests.
HS student: But it costs a lot. And they say it's pretty mild.
HS grad: yeah, but listen, tell yourself you are paying a couple of thousand to someone to get you into university. That's what it's all about. You pay this tester, and they will give you time and maybe even getting things read to you. Why work so hard?
HS student: but I did OK on the first part of the bagrut. It feels good to do it on my own.
HS grad: up to you. But don't be a frier. You can use what you want. Just have it in your file. Everyone does it.

My conclusion: If you have the $$ you can buy grades!

We all know that this is the situation. We all know that the "rules" are simply promoting an imperfect situation. We "think" we don't have a better solution-not true, but that will be the subject of a later column: how to rewrite test questions, and which accommodations are really meaningful for SEN students.

As a result of some on-line courses that I have taken over the years, I thought I would write this time about WHY we give accommodations. We know that for the short term if we don't do SOMETHING, some kids will drive us nuts and / or flunk tests because the way in which we expect students to do tests is simply not feasible for SOME students. And we know that SOME students will not be able to pass bagrut tests with great success-some can pass, but not with high grades; and others might have to do lots and lots of rehab and remediation work to be able to develop strategies to cope. And we know our system simply isn't set up for that.

Anything I have learned about SEN students-with the exception of what I have learned from the students themselves!-I have learned on-line.

And one of my on-line "hero" organizations is EASI, Equal Access to Software and Information:
In addition to the many resources available through EASI, they have been offering short and long-term on-line courses for many years, and subjects relevant to learning for those with disabilities-what they are, how to accommodate them, especially using assistive tech and adaptive techniques.

Standardized Testing and Students with Disabilities
Recently, I listened to the archived session for Standardized Testing and Students with Disabilites, with Joanne Simon from University of Georgia Learning Center. (I had planned to "attend"-these sessions broadcast from the US, are usually in the late evening-but my learning on-line session was preempted by a niece's wedding.)

What happens to SEN students who don't get accommodations?
Simon talked about some interesting data-something I haven't considered for quite awhile, since I work almost exclusively in an environment where accommodations are necessary for my disabled and impaired students to succeed, I don't ask "what will happen" anymore.

Simon reviewed what happens to students with disabilities who don't get accommodations? Based upon quite a bit of research that she relied on:

  1. Students with LD less likely to attend postsecondary (PS or beyond high school) schools - less than half their peers. Only half of LD students going on to college, university or technical school.

  2. Students with LD that do attend PS more frequently attending training programs and community colleges (less then 4 year universities in the US, 3 years here in Israel). 75% of LD students begin their post high school education in Community Colleges and most don't go on to 4 year colleges and universities.

  3. Students with LD are less likely to graduate from Post secondary schools, particularly 4-year institutions. Just because a students gets into a community college, doesn't mean they will graduate with degree because they might have difficulties maintaining requisite requirements. In other words: Getting into school is one thing, staying is another.

  4. Female students with LD have the lowest attendance and graduation record from psot-secondary instutions. In part Simon says this is due to fact that women with LD or ADD (attention deficit disorder) don't always get recognized. They might use strategies. Or teachers may have a harder time believing girls have LD perhaps because it is believed that men have more problems. Or perhaps they are more passive, or can mask their disabilities and behavior more than men. Regardless the conclusion is that women with disabilities tend to be overlooked!

Problems of LD Assessment

What Simon discussed as true for the US is probably true here as well: diagnoses according to clinical criteria, or a manual, may differ dramatically from what is accepted by the law or administrative standards. Part of the problem is what testers and clinicians use to decide if someone is indeed LD and needs accomodations.

In addition, the criteria used to accept students to post-secondary schools is problematic: In order to get into a post-secondardy institution in the US a student must meet the academic AND techical standards of institution where you are seeking a degree: e.g. (academic)--grade-point average and range of standardized admission test scores; (technical) well-rounded individual, can you do work that needs to be done; are you prevented by disability from attending and that would prevent you from completing requirements. However, very often admission is based just on standardized admission scores.

Thus, those that get into community college or techincal school may not be able to qualify for full requirements, and therefore continue to 4 year school, or graduate.

What are the real problems?

Simon discussed the problem that when you apply for accomodations on a standardized test (like the psychometric), this is not personal service-everything is usually done by paper, without personal communication.

And there is a prevalence of pseudo experts - many institutions invalidly reliance on experts in one area for advice in another. A person is doing documentation for standardized testing doesn't always have experience with LD students-examples are those that are really just handling paperwork or administering tests, without the requisite background actually working with or teaching students.

According to Simon, the standardized testing industry may have good motives, but don't always make good decisions, perhaps because they don't have the right background, including types of disabilities, ages, circumstances, etc. or no background at all.


Simon discussed the issue of validity of these tests, meaning whether tests measure what they purport to measure. Very often, these tests attempt to measure for example language ability by testing the very mechanics that are impaired (e.g. reading, writing)! Simon made the point that assessment is more than testing. Assessment should be broad assessment of the nature of the disability. But assessment is often used to narrow the group of people who get services, when we use testing as primary method.

Predicting success

One of the points that I found the most interesting: Tests are usually not very predictive of success. Only 20% of those tested are actually accurate when measure on whether they end up being successful in post-secondardy schools. Research shows that use of grade-point-average to determine success is usually much better.

And a couple of interesting facts:

  • Tests can't measure effect of distractibility in a testing environment during assessment in a clinical environment.
  • Tests can't assess difficulties of reading over time-even the longest of diagnostic tests is 20 minutes, and students may be OK for the short-term but start "flagging" at 45 minutes, or longer.
  • Success on previous standardized tests is not very helpful. Students are usually heavily tutored to take these tests-and the results are often misused.

And finally! Everybody wants some extra time!?

The standardized industry thinks-"After all, everybody wants a disability for the perk of extended time, don't they? So, students will try to go out and buy a diagnosis."

The research shows otherwise. Students with LD do significantly better with extra time but only if they know the material!


In addition to EASI


University of Georgia Regents Center for Learning Disorders

especially their research and publications:

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