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December 2015 Vol. 23. No. 3 Focus on Standardized Tests

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Accommodations for special ed and ELL students

From an interview with Maura McInerney of the Education Law Center

By the Notebook on Nov 24, 2015 10:53 AM

“For both sets of parents, it’s important for them to know what their rights are: Students with disabilities and English language learners [ELLs] are entitled to accommodations on standardized tests. It’s important to discuss these issues with their schools well in advance of when the testing is taking place.

“For students with disabilities, the decision of what accommodations will be provided is made by the IEP team. That includes whether the child will take the test or not, and what type of test the child will take. For example, there’s a PSSA, but there’s also something called the PASA, which is available for students with disabilities.

“In the context of the IEP plan, there is a set of decisions about accommodations in respect to the testing itself and what will the environment look like for that student. There are many different types of accommodations.

“Many students with disabilities get minimal accommodations. The most popular one is probably extended time – when in fact, they have a right to many more.

“They can have the test read to them. Instead of writing answers, it can be audio- or videotaped. Those issues need to be discussed with families.

“With students who are ELL, many times the issue of accommodating standardized tests doesn’t even arise. You don’t have that meeting as you would with an IEP team to discuss it. Those issues need to be raised with the student’s teacher – particularly with the English as a Second Language teacher who often knows the children very well.

“For ELLs, allowable accommodations, for example, are qualified interpreters and sight translators for the Math PSSA and the Keystone Algebra 1 and the science tests – both the PSSA and the Biology.

“Unfortunately, due to budget cuts in the School District, accommodations are rarely available. Often, it doesn’t come up. All of these accommodations are voluntary, none of them are mandatory for ELL. It’s a significant issue that needs to be raised with families.”


Maura McInerney, senior staff attorney for the Education Law Center, was interviewed by Notebook intern Brianna Spause.

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