High-Stakes Testing: Is It Inclusive to Special Needs Students?
High-Stakes Testing: Is It Inclusive to Special Needs Students?
PUBLISHED: Wednesday, April 18, 2018 by Andilynn Feddeler

Standardized testing has become the norm in recent years, especially in making sure that schools meet the 95% test participation mandate as required by federal law under the Every Student Succeeds Act. But the environments in which these tests are given are less than satisfactory, especially for special needs students. Inclusion efforts in testing often take priority over inclusion in the process of teaching material, which seems counterintuitive and places emphasis on numerical results rather than actual progress. Despite steps taken to ensure accessibility and accommodations, like extra time or breaks, students with disabilities often get overlooked in both the learning and testing stages; they are sometimes placed in separate learning environments than other students or experience a decrease in services during testing days.

These accommodations, in turn, can also be detrimental to the test-taking process for many students. For example, although students may benefit from extra time, it can lengthen the already hours-long process into a sort of marathon students dread participating in. Testing accommodations also raise the controversial question of fairness about which measures are taken to help students who need them, and how well those students will perform compared to those who do not receive accommodations. Many disagree about the legitimacy of the measures and advocate for tightening special accommodations in order to ensure that the “right” students are benefitting. But it’s never that simple.

The standardized tests commonly administered in schools can also be extremely flawed, and rarely make an accurate assessment of a student’s learning. Because one size doesn’t fit all, some students may succeed on these types of tests whereas others don’t. A student who fails a standardized test is often interpreted, by state standards, as someone who does not understand the material presented. But a numerical score should not be the only way a student’s ability is evaluated.

These high-stakes tests, meant to improve student achievement, more often than not have negative implications for students with disabilities. There is no easy solution to the problem, nor will there ever be an accurate way to measure every single student’s abilities and comprehension.

For more information on this subject, check out the following:

  • This article from fairtest.org summarizes in understandable terms the main points in standardized testing inclusion and the double-edged accommodations meant to help students.

  • This article from Vittana weighs both sides of the issue, pointing out advantages and disadvantages of standardized testing and what it means for different types of students.

  • You can check your students’ eligibility and types of common accommodations at College Board.