Several important considerations need to be taken into account in using accommodations in testing or assessment. The accommodations (1) must be appropriate and meet the individual need of the student test taker, (2) should be used in a fair manner to all students, and (3) should not be provided in certain assessment situations. These considerations are discussed next.
Accommodations Should Be Appropriate and Individualized
Testing accommodations provided to students with disabilities or ELLs should be appropriate and meet the individual needs of these students. Depending on the disabilities or English language skills of a student, it may be suitable to make accommodations or modifications to the testing environment, administration procedures, format, and/or content of a test. For example, a Braille or large print version of a test may be used for students who are blind or have severe visual impairment. Modifications can be made to the test format to help make the test protocol less confusing to students with learning disabilities and enable them to concentrate better on the test questions. Similarly, a bilingual interpreter may be used in administering tests to ELLs. All of these, when used appropriately, allow the true ability and competency of the diverse learners to be assessed.
Testing accommodations should also be individualized in order to be effective. Each student who is labeled to have a disability or to be an ELL is unique from other students with disabilities or ELLs. Special testing accommodations need to be tailored to meet each student's unique needs. It is obvious that testing accommodations for one type of disability cannot be assumed to apply to other types of disabilities. Furthermore, accommodations suitable for one particular student with a disability cannot be assumed to apply to other students within the same disability category. For example, not all blind students would benefit from testing in Braille; not all ELLs would need an interpreter in taking a test. It is unrealistic to expect that all ELLs would require the same accommodations (Liu, Anderson, Swierzbin, & Thurlow, 1999).
Accommodations Should Be Used in a Fair Manner to All Students
A vital consideration in using testing accommodations is fairness. The purpose of using accommodations is to ensure an even playing field by providing students with disabilities or ELLs an equal opportunity to perform on tests as their general population peers. However, it is important that testing accommodations not be used in an excessive manner to provide these students an unfair advantage over other students who do not receive accommodations. Fairness requires that no specific groups of students are getting special treatment that presents an unfair disadvantage over other students (Bernstein, 1989; Heubert & Hauser, 1999; Hishinuma, 1995). Accordingly, testing accommodations must be provided only to those students with disabilities or ELLs who genuinely need them and in a manner not to exceed what they need.
When Not to Provide Accommodations in Assessment
Despite the need for using accommodations to offset the disadvantages students with disabilities or ELLs have in taking tests under standard administration, accommodations should not be used in certain situations. One such case is when tests are used to assess a specific ability or diagnose a disability or disorder. If a test is designed to measure a construct that requires the student to be functional in a particular area of ability, and if the test is used to assess whether the student is impaired in the ability or to assess the level of impairment, then testing accommodations should not be provided. For example, no accommodation should be made for a student with visual impairment if the test is designed to assess his or her ability to read regular print. Nor should accommodations be allowed for a student with hearing impairment if the test is intended to measure his or her ability to understand spoken language. In addition, when the purpose of a test is to diagnose a disability or disorder, it would be inappropriate to make modifications to that test if such modifications make it impossible to measure certain characteristics or skills that are required in the diagnostic criteria. The diagnosis of a sensory, learning, or psychological disorder is made on the basis that a student manifests deficiencies in particular skills or characteristics. Therefore, it is essential to assess these characteristics or skills during testing. Allowing testing accommodations may preclude the opportunity for the examiner to assess the presence or absence of the skills to be addressed and make it impossible to render an accurate diagnosis. For example, allowing extra time on timed tests would make it difficult to determine whether a processing difficulty indeed exists in a student with learning disability (AERA, APA, & NCME, 1999).