FAQ on testing children with disabilities this school year

The National Center on Educational Outcomes released “Frequently Asked Questions About Testing Children with Disabilities” in August, addressing common inquiries and providing corresponding resources for local educational agencies.

Published for the 2021–22 academic year, the brief delves into whether and how children with disabilities, including students who have significant cognitive disabilities and English learners with disabilities, should be taking tests.

The FAQ also covers topics such as which tests should be used, if schools are required to test students with the most significant cognitive disabilities and English learners with disabilities, and how to prepare children for testing, accommodations and how test results should be reported.

Testing can play a role in determining the extent of learning loss students have experienced during the public health crisis and inform educators on how to plan for instruction that accounts for it.

“Both formal and informal tests are important tools for gathering information,” the brief’s authors wrote. “To ensure appropriate participation and meaningful test results for children with disabilities, individualized education program (IEP) teams may need to revisit a child’s IEP before making test participation decisions. IEPs written before the COVID-19 pandemic may no longer address an individual child’s needs after the pandemic.”

IEP teams can determine if revisions are needed to meet a child’s current levels of academic achievement and functional performance and if goals are appropriate. They can also ensure that instructional and testing accommodations are identified as well as other programs, tools and services to help children advance toward IEP goals.

In accordance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, students are still required to participate in state and district assessment programs this school year, according to the document.

Though most students with disabilities will take the same general state summative test as their classmates, children with the most significant cognitive disabilities — including English learners — may take alternate assessments. They will also have to take part in districtwide assessment administrations including interim assessments. A child’s IEP team must determine how these children will participate in state and districtwide tests.

Ensuring accessibility and accommodations concerns are met is critical.

To best prepare students for tests, children and school staff should be familiarized with the online testing platform that will be used ahead of an assessment and so they know how to navigate it.

“Children also should have the opportunity to practice using accessibility features and accommodations. Prior to testing, school staff need to make sure that selected accessibility features and accommodations are available and activated,” the authors wrote. “Problems with the testing system, as well as issues with how the testing system interact with assistive technology devices, can make it difficult for some children to access the test; these should be resolved prior to test day.”

Along with giving parents and stakeholders clear information and context on how students are doing, test data for children with disabilities must be publicly reported with as much frequency and detail as results for children who do not have disabilities under IDEA.

View the FAQ to learn more and find resources.