Inclusive & Innovative Assessments for Students With Learning Disabilities

Introduction and Summary

The COVID-19 pandemic sparked a national conversation about the role of public education, what should be taught, and what makes a high-quality education. The mental, emotional, and physical health of students was a pillar in the debate between remote or in-person schooling. Remote learning also disrupted instruction and assessment. As a result, measuring and addressing the “instructional loss” due to the pandemic became a priority for families, educators, and policymakers. The 2022 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results, often referred to as the Nation’s Report Card, showed a dramatic drop in proficiency scores across the board — but especially for students who are
historically marginalized, such as those with disabilities. The debate about how we measure student progress and how schools are supporting students is not a new one. The National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD), along with our disability and civil rights partners, have long advocated for including the performance of students with disabilities, students of color, English learners, and students impacted by poverty on statewide summative assessments when determining how well a school is meeting the needs of students. For our communities, these assessments have historically been viewed as a tool to identify opportunity gaps as they provide annual, comparative data on student progress. For others, though, the assessments are seen as taking away too much valuable instructional time and not providing actionable information. Because of the ongoing tension around the value of summative assessments, NCLD sought to discover what’s working and not working for students with disabilities in the current assessment system and to forge a path forward that’s more inclusive and equitable. NCLD surveyed and conducted focus groups with educators, caregivers, and students to understand their perceptions toward statewide summative assessments. In addition, NCLD interviewed various assessment and disability rights experts to identify trends in innovative assessments as well as the benefits and risks for all learners — especially students with disabilities. This paper includes principles that policymakers and assessment developers should consider when creating new assessments, an overview of current proposals, and policy
recommendations to realize equity within assessment systems for all learners.

The Road to Equity in and Access to Assessment
Due to hard-fought advocacy and many reauthorizations of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), federal law requires that all students take assessments to measure performance in math and English language arts (ELA).Students must be assessed yearly in grades 3–8 and once in high school. These standardized summative assessments and the federal requirement to report performance by student subgroups shed light on differences in performance among demographic profiles and allow stakeholders to compare how schools support various student subgroups. There are many types of assessments that serve many purposes . The tests we discuss here typically take place toward the end of the school year. Congress didn’t pass these requirements in one fell swoop. Rather, the current requirements for standardized summative assessments were slowly layered upon each other. These requirements have been put in place to ensure that all students receive a high-quality education and to prepare all students for college, career, and beyond. These data can be powerful in the aggregate to hold schools accountable and drive resources to schools in greatest need. Before these requirements were in place, some student subgroups especially students with disabilities were excluded from grade-level curriculum and, in some instances, their academic performance was
hidden from families and decision makers. Scores for individual students also can be important for families. Caregivers can compare their child’s individual performance on an assessment to grade-level
expectations and to their peers. Families with a child who has a disability can use these data to help
drive conversations about needed services and accommodations to help a child meet grade-level
expectations. While not required by federal law, some states link scores on statewide summative assessments to high-stakes decisions for individual students, including grade retention and high school graduation. This creates unnecessary stress on the students being assessed and can lead to negative consequences for individual students.


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