Accommodations on Standardized Tests

If your state uses standardized tests to determine your child's eligibility to advance to another grade or to graduate from high school, you need to plan ahead to make sure that your child will have appropriate support and modifications. Make sure that your child's IEP contains goals that will meet the content requirement for such tests; your child cannot reasonably be expected to pass a test on material he has never been taught. If your child is in a resource or special ed class even for only part of the day, he may be missing instruction that is important to meet grade-level standards.

Dyslexia and Standardized Tests

Students with dyslexia tend to have difficulties particularly with standardized tests, and their scores often do not accurately reflect their level of achievement. One problem is simply that these tests are written, and your child has a disability affecting reading. Your child is likely to have more difficulty deciphering the questions and the set of answers given and is likely to read more slowly, or need to reread questions several times. Typically, the “right” answers to a multiple-choice question are dependent on very specific words in a question, often phrased in the negative. For example, the question may ask the child to choose the one answer that is “not” correct; the child who misreads the question or skips over the word “not” will be confronted with a list of several correct answers. Since other test questions may ask the child to choose the “best” answer, he may assume that he is again being asked to choose the “best” correct statement, rather than the one incorrect statement. Alternatively, he may compensate for his poor reading speed by adopting a strategy of choosing the first correct answer that he reads — again, resulting in an incorrect choice if there is more than one correct answer listed. If your child focuses on being extra careful in reading each question, his slower reading speed means that he is likely to run out of time and leave many questions unanswered.

FACT

Your child may also have perceptual and motor coordination problems that work against him. He may correctly see that the correct answer is choice “d,” but then mark “b” on his answer sheet. In filling in bubbles on a scantron form, he is more likely than other students to have difficulty lining up the row of answers with the number of the question, and thus may simply mark a series of answers on the wrong lines.

Finally, your child's intellectual strengths and her creativity may work against her. Children with dyslexia simply tend to have more unusual ideas and different reasoning strategies than children who are primarily left-brained, analytical thinkers. Given a set of five responses to choose from, where the fifth choice is “none of the above,” an imaginative child is likely to think of obscure or trivial reasons why each of the first four choices are flawed. If asked to choose the “best” of several flawed options, your child's definition of “best” is likely to be quite unconventional. In a classroom setting, your child's originality may delight her teachers, who recognize some of her ideas as being ingenious — on the standardized test, her novel approach will simply be deemed an incorrect response.

Arranging Testing Accommodations

It is important that your child's IEP specify the modifications and accommodations to be provided during administration of standardized tests. This may include extended time for testing or provision for oral administration of the tests. If your child does not qualify for an IEP, make sure that your child's 504 plan clearly specifies the accommodations that will be allowed during standardized testing. Many students have encountered unexpected barriers when they simply assumed they would be allowed the same accommodations that were usually provided in class.

ALERT!

Testing accommodations will not be allowed if they would invalidate the test, making the results meaningless. For example, if a test of reading comprehension is read aloud to your child, then it doesn't measure his ability to understand what he reads. Instead, it tests his understanding of what he hears.

Finally, make sure that your child's IEP provides for multiple or alternative forms of assessment in making any decisions about grade retention or advancement. Again, even if your child has met the educational objectives set forth in the IEP, the standardized test used by your state may not be an accurate or valid measure of his achievement. Your child should be afforded the opportunity to demonstrate progress through other means, such as teachers' assessments of classroom performance or a portfolio of his work.

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