Abstract Sometimes the general education program alone is not able to meet the needs of a child with disabilities, and he/she may be able to receive special education services. The evaluation process can be a very difficult task when trying to identify if the child qualifies for special education, schools often have a pre-referral intervention process. The most prominent approached used today is the “response-to-Intervention” or RTI. Special Education teachers face many challenges when trying to meet the needs of special needs students in their classrooms.
Methods of evaluation are a big concern and challenge for educators of special needs students today. In addition, meeting everyone’s needs is a difficult task to accomplish because of students’ diverse abilities in the classroom. This research paper will explore the different methods of assessment in special education programs and the best practices to help this children achieve their potential in an appropriate setting. Testing and assessment is an ongoing process with children in special education programs.
Some of these assessments include, developmental assessments, screening tests, individual intelligence tests, individual academic achievement tests, adaptive behavior scales, behavior rating scales, curriculum-based assessments, end-of-grade, end-of-course, and alternate assessments. Comprehensive assessment of individual students requires the use of multiple data sources. These sources may also include standardized tests, informal measures, observations, student self-reports, parent reports, and progress monitoring data from response-to-intervention (RTI) approaches (NJCLD, 2005).
The main purpose of a comprehensive assessment in the special education field is to accurately identify the strengths and needs of the students to help them be successful during their school years and there after. Legislation has played a big role in the shift towards functional assessment. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is also known as the Education for All Handicapped Children Act has played a big role in this matter. The IDEA legislation “needed to assure that students with disabilities receive free appropriate public education (FAPE) and the related services and support the need to achieve” (Jeffords 1).
IDEA was created to make sure that disabled children are receiving fair and equal education and support. This act has several parts to it which include providing grants, funds early intervention services, and supports research and professional development programs. The No Child Left Behind Act: Impact on the Assessment of Special Education Student. After the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) moved into our schools there is a great deal of controversy that questions whether the act implemented by President George W. Bush is helping or hurting an already suffering school system.
There are many dimensions of the NCLB act that have been questioned over the past decade; the fair assessment of students with disabilities is one of them. As the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (NCFOT) reported, the public relations aspect of this act is strong. Prior to the Individuals with Disability Education Act of 1997 (IDEA) students in special education were exempt from participating in the statewide testing. However, the IDEA advocated that all students including those with special learning difficulties should be able to participate in testing. (Cahalan, 2003).
Legislative Overview of Laws Protecting Special Education Students On January 8, 2002, President George W. Bush signed the NCLB act. In this act the federal government was for the first time in the history of the Department of Education putting an act into effect that would penalize schools that failed to meet adequate yearly progress (AYP). The AYP is a measuring system in which the federal government will look at the progress of the local government and school systems to decide whether or not that school, along with its teachers and students, has progressed and provided a high-quality education (Goldhaber, 2002).
Through the NCLB act schools are held accountable for failing test scores and failure to improve their class average from one year to the next. The longer the school fails to meet required scores, the more the school will be held accountable, and the greater the consequence. For instance, a school that is unable to make their desired AYP and has not improved a significant amount within five years will then be subject to reconstruction. This reconstruction could include the government completely taking over the school and hiring new teachers and teacher staff, leaving many teachers and staff unemployed (Goldhaber, 2002).
Teachers and students in the special education department do have some laws however that helps them make testing less stressful. The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 required that accommodations must be made for students with learning disabilities in order to be able to participate in the assessment (Cahalan, 2003). However, this leaves the question of what can be used as accommodations. Accommodations could include things such as test schedules and setting of the test, along with the format of the presentation.
Also used to help the special education students and teachers is the individualized education plan (IEP). The Individuals with Disabilities Educational Act (IDEA) of 1991 would set into effect the idea of an IEP. An IEP is a plan that is set by a group of individuals that work closely with the student to design the educational format that is most appropriate for him/her (Cahalan, 2003). This does not take into account the type of disorder the student has but simply the student themselves. The individualized attention that is given with this plan provides the student with the correct instruction needed to be successful in education.
These groups of individuals include the teacher, parent, school psychologist and anyone else that is closely related to the education of this student. The IEP members are, in most states, responsible in deciding which accommodations are important for each individual student (Cahalan, 2003). They, however, are not a part of deciding what accommodations will be provided for each student during the NCLB assessment. The laws described here were all implemented with the same goal in mind; to protect special education students and be sure their quality of education is the same as all other students.
However some of these laws, including the NCLB, must be altered in order to truly give special needs students the education and assessment they deserve. Best Practices in Assessment of Special Education Students Students in special education programs should be included in the statewide assessments, as the IDEA of 1997 states. The IDEA also states that accommodations should be made to be sure that the student is able to fully understand the materials they are asked (Cahalan, 2003).
There are four categories of test accommodations, presentation, response, timing, and setting (Cahalan, 2003). Presentation is simply visual aids that help the student fully understand the context. These do not alter the questions of the test; they simply make it accessible for the students.
Presentation accommodations include Braille, large-print, sign language interpreter, or reducing the number of questions per page (Cahalan, 2003). These simple accommodations make test taking less stressful, and therefore the material is better understandable by the student. However, no state has reported using them in their statewide assessments since the inception of the NCLB.
In a study of over one thousand students it was found that using a video presentation to help understand the test showed a significant increase in their achievement (Cahalan, 2003). So why is the educational department not using these modifications that help so much? Another form of accommodation used in special education testing is response. It may be as simple as giving an oral response instead of a written one or it may mean that the test is dictated to the student by a recorder. These accommodations in no way alters the response that is given or received, it is still the same question being asked.
Results have shown that by providing a reader special education students showed a significant improvement in their test score (Cahalan, 2003). The last two accommodations are setting and timing. The timing could include any extra time needed, breaks during the exam, or spreading the testing out through a few days instead of taking it all in one day. And the final accommodation is setting, which could include special furniture, lighting, or an individualized testing area (Cahalan, 2003).
Even though there was no evidence to prove that setting and timing are important accommodations, it is well known that many special education students are tested in private rooms with more time. These accommodations should be accessible for special education students that need them to better their test taking skills. However, many states do not allow such accommodations to be made due to the misconceived conception that they change the contents of the test when in actuality they do not in any way alter the questions asked.
BEST PRACTICES IN ASSESSMENT HANDOUT •Create a shared mission and goals statement that reflects an emphasis on student learning. •Focus on collaboration and teamwork. Faculty members must agree on assessment goals for planning to be meaningful. They may have to rise to a higher level of collaboration than may have been traditionally practiced in most departments. Collaboration within the department, across departments, and with higher administration will facilitate the best outcomes from assessment planning.
All constituents must recognize that assessment skills must be developed and that colleagues can assist each other by sharing practices and strategies. •Clarify the purpose of assessment. Assessment can serve dual purposes: Assessment can promote student learning or provide evidence for accountability requirements through an evaluation of strengths and weaknesses. Wherever possible, students should experience a direct, positive benefit from their participation in assessment activities. •Identify clear, measurable, and developmental student learning •OUTCOMES.
Explicit identification of learning expectations facilitates the department’s coherence about their GOALS. Sharing those expectations explicitly with students can provide an effective learning scaffold on which students can build their experiences and render effective performance. •Use multiple MEASURES and sources consistent with resources. Effective assessment planning can only occur when properly supported with appropriate time, money, and recognition for good work. The expansiveness of the assessment plan will depend on those resources.
As resources permit, additional MEASURES can be added to planning. These MEASURES address variations in learning style, differences in types of learning, and interests from varied stakeholders. •Implement continuous assessment with clear, manageable timelines. Better assessment practice involves spreading out assessment activity throughout the year and across years rather than conducting a marathon short-term assessment effort in a single year. Projecting a schedule of regular formal reviews can facilitate appropriate interim activity. •Help students succeed on assessment tasks.
Students will fare best in assessment activities when faculty make expectations explicit, provide detailed instructions, and offer samples or models of successful performance. They will benefit most with opportunities to practice prior to assessment and when given detailed feedback about the quality of their performance. •Interpret and use assessment results appropriately. Assessment should be a stimulus for growth, renewal, and improvement, not an action that generates data to ensure positive outcomes. Linking funding to assessment outcomes may encourage artificial results.
Assessment data should not be used for personnel decisions. If cross-institution comparisons are inevitable, care should be taken to ensure comparisons across comparable institutions (benchmarking). •Evaluate your assessment practices. Results from assessment activity should be evaluated to address their reliability, validity, and utility. Poor student performance can reflect limited learning or an ill-designed assessment process. Examining how effectively the assessment strategy meets departmental needs is a critical step in the evolution of the department plan.
(Retrieved from www. caspercollege. edu/assessment/downloads/best_practices. pdf) The Effect of NCLB Assessments on Special Education Programs When the Department of Education was asked how they intend to insure that special education students will not be forced to take tests that are above their intelligence level under the NCLB act, they could not give a real solution. They simply said that there are accommodations available, and if the student’s disability is severe to the point that the accommodations will not help, there are alternate tests they can take (Education Week, 2003).
However, the problem with this is that there is no clear definition as to who is able to receive these accommodations and who is able to receive the alternate assessment. Who decides this? And how handicapped must a student be in order to receive an alternate assessment? Even though special education students are not at the same intelligence level as their peers they are still placed in the same test group as them. The NCLB act does not include in its AYP percentage the failing percentage rate of special education students in each given population.
Therefore, teachers and school administration are trying to make up for the percentage loss in special education departments. Some teachers are now, for the first time, being held accountable for failing test scores. This, in effect, causes teachers to alter their curriculum and teach to the test? (Goldhaber, 2002). By teaching to the test students are missing out on important curriculum information that may be overlooked completely or presented in short educational lecture in the middle of teaching test taking skills and other information that may be found on the assessments. Possible Improvement to the Assessment and Accountability.
To improve the NCLB act we must first know what is wrong with the act. While the idea of leaving no child behind in education is a good plan, there are still a few loop holes that the president’s act needs to clear up. The students that are placed in the special education setting are usually there because they have a disability or are below average in their cognitive abilities. In order to be fair to these students the government must be sure that they have the same quality education as all other students, but the government must also realize that the curriculum of the material they are learning may in some cases be drastically different.
With this knowledge, it must then be known that to accurately and fairly assess special education students the assessments must be built with the correct accommodations. In order for this to happen, those who design the tests must develop an exam that meets the needs of the student, and not the needs of the disorder. In other words, do not test a student as an autistic child but first look at their individual advantages and disadvantages according to each test taking skill.
Some students may simply need more time, while others will need more time along with a person to read to them and interpret some larger word usage. It is all based on the student’s individual needs (Cahalan, 2003). In other words the decisions of the accommodations should be made by people that know the student on a personal level, and know what accommodations are present in their current education setting. As stated before, with some assessments the IEP will meet to determine what accommodations will be made for the students in that assessment, However, this is not the case in the NCLB assessments; but it should be.
Those who are teaching and raising the child should be a part of the process of determining how the child is assessed and what accommodations are necessary (Washington, 2003). It is important for the education of future special education students that the Department of Education take into consideration the possible reforms that were suggested by many local government and teachers surrounding them. Improvements can be made to the assessment of special education, and should be made to be sure that all students are receiving a fair and adequate education.
Disproportionate identification of minorities in some special education categories: When speaking of the learning disabled, minorities, one must consider some dimensions to the issue of assessment within a particularly specialized light. This special population reflects both the learning disabled (LD) and the minority that they belong to. This is largely the case within a practical context, although as the literature points out, pre-considerations must be afforded for minority students. To begin with, it is important to look at the many variables that exist within the aforementioned components.
These components include English as a Second Language (ESL), socioeconomic level and finally the impact this has on teaching the learning disabled in a classroom setting and more specifically when employing the assistance of a translator. Curriculum-based assessment is hampered with some biases that can affect these students (Dolson, 1984). A child’s race and ethnicity significantly influence the child’s probability of being misidentified, misclassified, and inappropriately placed in special education programs. Research shows the relationship between race and ethnicity and other variables for students’ placement in special education classes.
Variables such as language, poverty, assessment practices, systemic issues, and professional development opportunities for teachers have been cited as factors that play a role in disproportionate representation (emstac. org). Children from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds should be able to receive an excellent and appropriate education. Some students are not included in special education programs, even though they have a disability that is affecting their ability to learn and they need special education help.
Some CLD populations are also significantly under-represented in programs for the gifted and/or talented. In these instances, CLD groups are considered under-represented because the proportion of students from certain ethnic or racial groups who receive special services are significantly less than the number of these same students in the overall school population (U. S. Department of Education, 2004). Facts: • Hispanics are under-identified within certain disability categories compared to their White peers (U. S. Department of Education, 2006).
• Asian/Pacific Islander students are actually less likely to be identified for special education services than other CLD populations (NABE, 2002). There are a number of possible action steps school personnel can take to ensure that individual assessments are conducted in a culturally responsive and nondiscriminatory manner (Klotz & Canter 2006). Recommendations include: •Allowing more time. Assessments of students from diverse backgrounds require more time to gather important background information and allow for alternative and flexible procedures.
•Gathering extensive background information. To provide a context for the evaluation, conduct a review of all available background information including: school attendance, family structure, household changes and moves, and medical, developmental, and educational histories. •Utilizing student progress monitoring data from Response-to-Intervention (RtI) or problem-solving processes. Data generated from a process that determines if the child responds to scientific evidence-based interventions should be included in a comprehensive evaluation.
The National Research Council on Minority Representation in Special Education recommended the use of data from a systematic problem-solving process measuring the student’s response to high quality interventions (National Research Council, 2002, pp. 7-8). •Addressing the role of language. Determining the need for and conducting dual language assessments are essential steps in an evaluation process. This includes determining the student’s language history (i. e. , ages that the student spoke and heard various languages), dominance (i. e. , greatest language proficiency), and preference (i. e. , the language the student prefers to speak).
• Using nonverbal and alternative assessment strategies. When assessing students from CLD backgrounds, use standardized nonverbal cognitive and translated tests (when available in the target language). Additional assessment techniques, including curriculum-based assessments, test-teach-test strategies and in-direct sources of data, such as teacher and parent reports, portfolios, work samples, teacher/student checklists, informal interviews and observations, and classroom test scores are also helpful in completing an accurate, comprehensive evaluation (NEA, 2007). Bibliography Bush, President George W.
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