"Accountability" is a term heard frequently today in education. Whether in the media, schools, or government, individuals are engaged in conversations about the status of education. There is a significant amount of public attention focused on how responsible schools are in working toward important goals set by their constituents (McLaughlin & Warren, 1994). Accountability programs have been put into place to make certain that desired changes and practices are occurring.
There are a number of programs, policies, and initiatives that have been implemented to support this educational accountability. At the local and state level, the public demand for information has resulted most often in assessment and testing programs. Annual reports provide the community with data about "how well" schools are doing. This section of our website will give you additional information about accountability assessment and students with disabilities. You can read about these topics:
Accountability and Schools
A number or programs and policies have been implemented to support systems of accountability in the schools. The use of incentive systems or sanctions, rigorous teacher licensure/relicensure requirements, school voucher programs, and compliance or audit reviews are some of the approaches used in accountability systems (The Commission on Inclusive School Practices, 1996). The purpose of statewide and accountability assessment systems is to collect and report evidences of student and school progress and achievement. Data such as student teacher ratio, school attendance, and graduation rate are also measures that give a broad picture of school outcomes.
The assessment system can drive education reform programs when some outcomes or stakes are attached to these. If there are consequences, rewards, or sanctions tied to the assessment, a high level of visibility and scrutiny occur. Educational practices that occur because of information provided in these assessments are often designed to foster and reinforce successful programs. Students who do not participate in assessments tend to be left out of educational reforms and changes.
State and district-wide testing programs are not only a hot topic, they are also one of the more frequently used and reported measures of educational accountability. Usually this includes school-wide results on traditional or performance tests of achievement (Thurlow, Elliot, & Ysseldyke, 1998). In most states these assessments are tied to standards which have been set. Thus, educators and others are able to see if/how well their schools and states are performing in meeting successful indicators. Often referred to as "report cards," results of these assessments are reported by thirty-six states on individual school performance (Jerald & Boser, 1999).
Most importantly, however, accountability assessments should result in and impact effective instructional practices. Statewide practices and issues surrounding accountability tests are discussed next.
State Wide Accountability Assessments
- Current Practices
State education agencies and local school districts already gather some information about educational outcomes, quality or targets. This might include among other things data on student attendance, graduation rates or teacher certification. New standards for student and school achievement, however, have been identified. One way that states gauge the success of their education programs is to use statewide assessments or tests which measure how students and schools are performing on important standards. Standards may be set at each grade level, however, a number of states identify standards in three to four year increments outlining levels of achievement at specific grade levels (e.g., grades 4, 8, and 12) (O'Neill, 1999). These standards may be content driven or go across discipline areas in a broader context (Bigge & Stumpf, 1999).
(Click on Standards-Based Education and Students with Disabilities to read more about standards-based education reform).
The assessments which states use to evaluate student and school performance can include standardized tests or other types of performance assessments. Some states use combinations of both types or may integrate other sources of data into a more complex system of accountability. These systems most often monitor whole school progress and improvement. A few states have accountability systems that include an assessment tied to individual student outcomes. These states and school districts connect individual student performance on standards or other mandated assessments to promotion, graduation or diplomas. The American Federation of Teachers (1999) reports that at least 13 states link student promotion or graduation to meeting identified standards.
There are reports on the degree to which schools and students are meeting their identified state standards on annual or periodic assessments. Education Week (1999) in their annual Quality Counts report remarks that 48 states have accountability systems tied to student progress on identified standards Reward systems exist in 14 states for successful school performance of some kind. However only 4 states tie these rewards to performances on accountability assessments (Jerald & Boser, 1999).
States have also attached other consequences to performances on these assessments. Sixteen states now have sanctions and retain legal authority to act to "close, reorganize, or 'take over' failing schools". Only three states, however, have ever used these sanctions. Although, clearly identified procedures and policies (i.e. time limits for improvement or action plans) for poorly performing schools are rare (Jerald & Boser, 1999).
Reports also underscore the lack of information available on educational achievement and accountability for students with disabilities in the state assessment programs. Few states for instance have included exceptional students in their results. In fact, only 11 states in 1997 included information about the performance of students with disabilities in reports of state and district assessments (Thurlow, Langenfeld, Nelson, Shin, & Coleman, 1998, cited in Ysseldyke, et al., 2000).
- Continued Challenges
Many challenges and issues surround the use of accountability assessments, particularly when high stakes such as rewards, sanctions, and graduation are attached. One issue centers on the decision of which standards or assessments to use (McLaughlin & Warren, 1994). Tests or assessments are often produced which measure progress specifically on standards. The measurement of progress toward standards that are not clearly stated or that do not address outcomes important for all students can produce results, which are difficult to use in improving school practices.
Because the use of rewards and sanctions is most often applied to school performance, the impact or practices of individual educators is not known. Exactly what happens when schools do not meet the mark is also unclear. Some professionals feel that state standards and assessments are meaningless unless there are some consequences attached. Yet others propose that with adequate resources, support and information, schools will improve, without the need for such high-level accountability assessments (Olsen, 1999). These issues will no doubt continue to drive educational dialogue, policies, and research agendas as we seek to provide the best possible school outcomes for all students.
You can access more in-depth information about statewide assessments by investigating the Resources on Accountability Assessment provided at the end of this section. A more thorough discussion of state practices and implications in school reform and accountability assessments, is available in the Houghton Mifflin text: Critical Issues in Special Education (3rd edition) authored by James Ysseldyke, Bob Algozzine, and Martha Thurlow.
- Examples of State-wide Assessment Systems
States are using a number of different assessments to gather additional information about student and school performance. For example, Washington uses assessments of student performance based on state standards of Essential Academic Learning Requirements in the content areas of reading, math, and language arts at three grade levels (State of Washington Superintendent of Public Instruction, 1997). Students in Alaska will take part in a variety of assessments including the Alaska Benchmark Examinations at grades 3, 6, and 8; the California Achievement Test-5 at grades 4 and 8; and the Alaska High School Graduation Qualifying Examination (Alaska Department of
Education and Early Development, 1999).
In comparison, Maryland has instituted the Maryland School Assessment Program (MSASP) a performance based measurement system designed to measure how well students solve problems, apply learning to real world problems and relate and use knowledge from different subject areas (Maryland State Department of Education, 1999). These assessments are administered in grades 3, 5, and 8. Results are reported at 5 levels of proficiency with specific performance standards for schools and local education agencies to meet. Individual students do not take the entire MSASP, but only specific portions in order to address administration and sampling logistics. Maryland has just begun field-test trials of a state High School Assessment. The graduating class of 2005 will need to pass this test in order to earn a high school diploma (Maryland State Department of Education, 2000)
In Indiana a combination of performance and norm-referenced measures are also used. The Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress (ISTEP+) assessments in Indiana occur in grades 3, 6, 8 and 10 in English and mathematics. These are assessments are established on state identified proficiencies and are standards-referenced. Tenth graders also take the Graduation Qualifying Exam (GQE) which must be successfully completed to receive a high school diploma. Alternate assessments are allowed for students who cannot participated in the standardized assessments in this state, however they do not lead to a high school diploma.
You can access links to state education agencies to seek information on their assessment system in Resources on Accountability Assessment. The Education Commission of the States devotes an entire section of their web site to state examples and the National Center for Educational Outcomes also provide extensive information and links.
Testing and Students with Exceptionalities
It's clear that education today is highly influenced by a "testing culture" designed to raise the academic achievement of students. Systematic programs and research that addresses appropriate representation and participation of all students in accountability systems is a recent phenomenon. This includes students who have Limited English Proficiency (LEP) as well as those with disabilities. For students with disabilities there are benefits, and mandates to consider as well as concerns to address.
- Benefits for Students with Disabilities
A number of benefits can occur when all students are included in the accountability systems and testing practices of states and local districts. The table below outlines several reasons for including all students in these assessments.
|Reasons for Including Students with Disabilities in Accountability Assessments|
(Source: Adapted from Thurlow, Ysseldyke & Elliot, 1998)
- To provide an accurate picture of education which includes the 10% or more of the school-age population with identified disabilities
- To ensure that students with disabilities will benefit from the school reform efforts
- To make accurate comparisons
- To avoid the unintended consequences of exclusion and to address practices which may occur as a result of significant consequences attached to test results (e.g., retained in grades preceding one in which assessments are administered; increased referral to special education)
- To meet the legal requirements of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Act
- To provide a mechanism for program monitoring and evaluation
- To promote high expectations for all students
- Past Practices and Current Laws
Prior to the implementation of PL 105-17 The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Amendments of 1997 the issue of including students with disabilities in statewide accountability assessments was rarely addressed. Students with special needs either did not participate in these assessments or their scores were routinely excluded from reports about educational progress . Some states were not even aware if students with disabilities had participated in the assessments (Thurlow, Elliot, & Ysseldyke, 1998).
Unfortunately, these types of practices can ignore accountability in educational practices for up to 10% of the school-age population. Practitioners and policymakers are not provided with an accurate picture of how school programs are impacting all students. "A system is accountable for all students when it makes sure that all students count in the evaluation program of the education system" (Thurlow, et al., 1998, p. 3).
The IDEA Amendments of 1997 mandated changes. Revisions in the Individualized Education Program (IEP) process as well as in state and district-wide practices include:
- Documentation of participation in state and district-wide testing, including necessary modifications if appropriate on the Individualized Education Program beginning July 1, 1998.
- Reporting of state and district-wide assessment performance of students with disabilities in the same manner as for students without disabilities by state education agencies.
Click here to see the actual text of the law. You can also read more about this law in the Current Legislation section of our web site.
Issues in Accountability Assessment for Students with Disabilities
Currently only two states have identified fully inclusive participation policies in their statewide accountability systems: Kentucky and Maryland (OSEP, 1998). NCEO (1997) has published summary analyses of these programs. Other states have initiated various policies and initiatives to begin the process.
McLaughlin and Warren (1994) outline four major issues surrounding increased use of performance based measures of accountability. These include:
- Defining the outcomes to be assessed,
- Developing performance standards,
- Developing assessment accommodations, and
You can read about some of the issues and concerns in accountability testing and students with disabilities in the chart below.
|Selected Issues in Accountability Testing and Students with Disabilities
|Perceived & Actual Issues
||Concerns &/or Possible Impacts
- Standards or achievement targets are inappropriate for students with disabilities
- Some students, such as those with severe cognitive impairments may have a curricular focus, which addresses functional life skills. Assessments, which focus on academic achievement may not measure the progress or attainment of important outcomes for which this student is preparing.
- Students with moderate to severe intellectual impairments or others may hot have been exposed to the curriculum on which they would be tested
- Parents and educators interested and knowledgeable in the needs and education of students with disabilities have historically had little participation in standards and accountability assessment planning.
Few standards and assessment systems have considered important and viable standards for "all" students
- Traditional measures of compliance which monitor services and programs for students with special needs may be blended into general accountability state formats
- Significant and important information at the state level may not provide the type of data needed to ensure that students with disabilities are receiving all the services to which they are entitled in an appropriate manner. Some individuals are concerned about the motivation for integrating monitoring
- Standards or criteria for graduation requirements may negatively impact students
- Use of common accountability standards applied to individual students in situations such as graduation will place students who have not had access to the general education curricula throughout their school careers at a disadvantage
- Invalid Accommodation or adaptations on standardized exams for high school graduation will give some students an "edge"
- Consequences and sanctions applied to accountability assessments can promote the exclusion of students with disabilities either from the testing situation or from inclusion in district and state reports of assessment results
- When results and reports of assessments include the scores of students with disabilities, they can give an impression of ineffective teaching; overall results may be lowered.
- Data & research that validates the effectiveness, reliability and validity of various accommodations on different types of assessments is inadequate. Including these results in the overall report can distort outcomes.
|(Ysseldyke, et al., 2000)|
Testing and Assessment Accommodations
It is clear that we must include students with disabilities in our accountability systems. Federal legislators , however, did not specify appropriate accommodations. This has been left to local and state education agencies. These groups are now outlining testing policies and procedures to apply to students with disabilities in large-scale assessments. Test developers and agency members look at each assessment and determine which types of accommodations can be used while still providing reliable and valid data. Although, the range and type of accommodations can vary from state to state and test to test (ACES, 1998).
The purpose of accommodations should be to eliminate any testing bias that results from a disability. Imagine for instance a deaf student who is in a large group testing situation where directions are given orally. We are unsure if his performance on that test is influenced by his inability to hear directions on how to take or respond to test items. Perhaps his results, however, truly reflect his knowledge or skill in what is being tested. Without considering appropriate accommodations, we can not accurately know. Accommodations give access to the constructs or skills being tested but do not change what is tested (ACES, 1998). This is less controversial when physical or sensory accommodations are provided. Accommodations, which address cognitive or learning differences (e.g., reading ability), can be more contentious.
- Decisions on Student Participation
The research base in testing accommodations is only emerging (OSEP, 1998). States differ widely on the degree to which they specify and report the types of accommodations used on state-wide assessments. Only two states have currently use alternate assessments which are reported in the state-wide accountably system (e.g., Kentucky and Maryland) (NCEO, 1997). What follows are some recommended practices from professionals to consider in the decision-making process.
The determination of individual student participation in accountability assessments is left to the IEP team. The team should carefully consider the: (a) student's strengths and needs, (b) participation in the general education curriculum, and (c) the type and nature of the assessment. Four general options in testing participation are:
- The student participates in the assessment in the same, standardized, way as all other students.
- The student takes the assessment using accommodations in the administration of the test. These accommodations do not impact the concepts being tested
- The student takes the assessment with modifications, which make changes in the concept being measured.
- The student is assessed with an alternate assessment. The alternate assessment measures different skills and concepts.
An alternate assessment should be considered only when the student has not participated in the general education curriculum, which is being tested. Most often students who participate in alternate assessment systems are those who are engaged in lifeskills or functional curriculum This change of emphasis often occurs at the secondary level. Estimates are that approximately 10% of students with disabilities (i.e., 1% of the school population) will participate in these alternate assessments. Typically these students do not earn a standard diploma.
Thurlow and her colleagues (1998) also recommend an analysis of the district or state assessment prior to deciding if a child with a disability should participate. Parents and IEP team members should be knowledgeable and familiar about the assessment process and tool. When a decision is made that an alternate assessment is to be used, the reasons for this decision must be recorded on the IEP. The National Center on Educational Outcomes offers these recommendations:
- define the purpose of the alternate assessment and who qualifies to participate in it
- identify the common core of learning (i.e., what students need to know and do) for the alternate assessment
- develop participation guide lines for the alternate assessment system
- determine how results will be aggregate
- integrate results with the general assessment
- Decisions and Practices In Testing Accommodations
In considering appropriate accommodations for tests, the IEP team must be familiar with accommodations, which are effective for the student during instruction. It is critical that an accommodation applied in a testing situation is not used for the first time by any individual student. While instructional modifications and testing accommodations must be documented on a students IEP, few documents include either a consistent place or justification of their effectiveness.
Some of the most common accommodations involve those related to test administration in giving directions. Others that are often used, perhaps overused, are the use of frequent breaks and extended time (Thurlow, et al, 1998). The major types of accommodations occur in the areas of test setting or location, scheduling, presentation and expected student responses. You can look at options to consider in Accommodations ACCESS.
- Reporting Results on Accountability Assessments
The chart below outlines recommendations from the National Center on Educational Outcomes (as reported by OSEP, 1998) in reporting practices for accountability assessments.
NCEO Recommendations in Reporting Accountability Results
- Include data from all test takers in results
- Include rates of exclusion of student with disabilities and the reasons for exclusion
- Calculate participation and exclusion rates using consistent written guideline for the rates
- Maintain records so that data for students with distillers can be reported separately, overall, or in other breakdowns
- Keep records of the use of accommodations according to the type of accommodation
- Inform parents about the reporting policy for their child's data report academic performance of students with disabilities with the same regularity as is done for nondisabled students
Resources and References on Accountability Assessments
- Online Documents on Accountability Assessment
- Alaska Department of Education and Early Development (1999, February). Fast facts: Accommodations for students with disabilities [Online]. Available:
- Brown, R. S. (1999, November). Creating School Accountability Reports. School Administrator [Online]. Available:
- Burnette, J. (1998). Instructionally relevant assessment. ERIC EC Minibib EB22. [Online]. Reston, VA: The ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education. Available:
- The ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education (1993). Performance assessment. ERIC EC Minibib EB15. [Online]. Reston, VA: Author. Available:
- Hoff, D. J. (December 15, 1999). Education Week on the Web.
- Indiana Department of Education, Division of School Assessment (1999). The 1999-2000 ISTEP+ InfoCenter. [Online].
- Jerald, C. D., & Boser, U. (1999). Quality Counts '99: Indicators. Education Week on the Web, 18 (17) p. 81.
- Maryland State Department of Education (1999a, May). Maryland school performance assessment system. Fact Sheet 6. [Online]. Available:
- Maryland State Department of Education (2000, January 11). News release. [Online]. Available:
- McLaughlin, M. J., & Warren, S. H. (1995). Using performance assessment in outcomes-based accountability systems. ERIC Digest E533. [Online]. Reston, VA: Council for Exceptional Children, ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education (ERIC Document Reproduction Service ED 381987). Available:
- Navarette, C., & Gustke, C. (1996). A guide to performance assessment for linguistically diverse students. [Online]. EAC West, New Mexico Highlands University, Albuquerque, NM. Available:
- National Center on Educational Outcomes (1997). Reporting school performance in the Maryland and Kentucky Accountability Systems: What scores mean and how they are used. Maryland/Kentucky Report 2. [Online]. Author. Available:
- Olson, L. (1999). Shining a spotlight on results. Quality Counts '99. Education Week on the Web, 18(7). [Online]. Available:
- Roeber, E. (1995). Emerging student assessment systems for school reform. ERIC Digest. [Online]. Greensboro, NC: ERIC Clearinghouse on Counseling and Student Services. (ERIC Document Reproduction Services ED 389959). Available:
- Thurlow, J. (1995). National and state perspectives on performance assessment. ERIC Digest E532. [Online]. Reston, VA: The Council for Exceptional Children ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education (ERIC Document Reproduction Service ED 381986). Available:
- Tindal, G. (1998). Models for understanding task comparability in accommodated testing. [Online]. State Collaborative on Assessment and Student Standards (SCASS) Assessing Special Education Students (ASES). Available:
- U.S. Office of Special Education Programs. (1998, Spring). Research Connections in Special Education. (Number 2). Statewide Assessment Programs. [Online]. Available:
- Web Resources on Accountability Assessments
- CRESST: National Center for Research on Evaluation Standards and Student Testing.
- This site offers a number of resources centered on school reform, standards, and accountability. CRESST is funded by the U.S. Office of Education, The Office of Educational Research. Users can browse technical report and policy briefs on many issues, including assessment accommodation and inclusion of special populations such as those with disabilities or Limited English Proficiency in assessment systems.
- The Educational Testing Services (ETS)
- The ETS site offers a number of resources about educational testing. There are policy statements available from the Office of Disability Policy link which cover information about testing accommodations and other policy statements regarding documentation of a disability.
- ERIC Clearinghouse on Assessment and Evaluation: Ericae.net.
- This web site sponsored by the ERIC Clearinghouse of Assessment and Evaluation provides access to a broad area of information, articles, and links on topics of educational assessment. A new on-line journal Practical Assessment Research and Evaluation, is available on-line. Full text articles on educational quality, including accountability are available in the ERIC/AI Full text internet library.
- Education Week. Quality Counts '99.
- This online report provides the results of a 50-state study conducted by Education Week. The study used document review and interviews with state officials as a basis of their report on the status of school reform and accountability efforts. Information is synthesized in an easy to access format including
- The National Center for Fair and Open Testing (FairTest)
- The focus of this site is to provide information on testing practices, which are fair and equitable for all students and workers. The organization places emphasis on eliminating practices in standardized testing, which promote racial, class, gender, and cultural barriers to equal opportunity. FairTest is an advocacy organization. The site includes publications and access to additional links. FairTest also provides an analysis of their statewide assessment practices in their state-by-state survey.
- National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP): The National's Report Card.
- NAEP is a mandated national system of assessment conducted in subject areas such as math, science, writing, geography, and the arts. Information is provided to evaluate the condition and progress of education at the national, state and local levels. The program is managed by the National Center for Education Statistics, which is part of the U. S. Department of Education. The site offers access to background information about NAEP, the schedule of assessments through 2010, sample questions, and publications.
- National Center on Educational Outcomes (NCEO).
- The NCEO provides national focus on leadership in the participation of students with disabilities and Limited English Proficient students in state and local standards reform and assessments programs. Online reports and publications on accommodations and alternate assessment for students with disabilities as well as others can be accessed. A publication catalog is available and a link to technical assistance is provided.
- RAND:A nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decision-making through research and analysis.
- Rand provides a number of documents that address standards reform initiates and accountability assessments. Costs may be associated with some of these documents. On-line ordering is available. Abstracts of the documents are provided.
- Print Resources on Accountability Assessment
Education Commission of the States (ECS). (1997). So you have standards…now what? Denver, CO: Author.
Elliot, S. N. (1994). Creating meaningful performance assessments: Fundamental concepts. CEC Mini-library: Performance assessment. Reston, VA: The Council for Exceptional Children.
Koretz, D. (1996). The assessment of students with disabilities in Kentucky. CSE Technical Report No. 431. Los Angeles, CA: CRESST/Rand Institute on Education and Training.
McLaughlin, M. J., & Warren, S. H. (1994). Performance assessment and students with disabilities: Usage in outcomes-based accountability systems.
CEC Mini-library: Performance assessment. Reston, VA: The Council for Exceptional Children.
Roach, V., Dailey, D., & Goertz, M. (1997). State accountability systems and students with disabilities (Issue Brief). Alexandria, VA: Center for Policy Research.
State of Washington, Superintendent of Public Instruction (1997). Assessment sampler: Grade 4. Washington State Commission on Student Learns. Riverside Publishing.
Thurlow, M. L., Elliott, J. L., & Ysseldyke, J. E. (1998). Testing students with disabilities: Practical strategies for complying with district and state requirements. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, Inc.
Thurlow, M. L., Ysseldyke, J. E., & Silverstein, B. (1995). Testing accommodations for students with disabilities. Remedial and Special Education, 16(5), 260-270.
- Organizations and Professional Resources
Education Commission of the States [ECS] Distribution Center
707 17th Street, Suite 2700
Denver, CO, 80202
ERIC Clearinghouse on Assessment and Evaluation
O'Boyle Hall, Department of Education
Catholic University of America
Washington, D.C. 20064
1-800-464-3742 FAX 202-319-6692
National Center for Education Statistics
555 New Jersey Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20208
National Center for Educational Outcomes (NCEO)
University of Minnesota
350 Elliot Hall
75 E. River Rd.
Minneapolis, MN 55455
(612) 626-1530 FAX: 612-624-0879
National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards and Student Testing (CRESST).
405 Hilgard Avenue
145 Moore Hall
Los Angeles, CA 90024
(310) 206-1532 FAX (310) 825-3883
U.S. Department of Education
Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI)
555 New Jersey Avenue Northwest
Washington, DC 20208
(202)219-2135 FAX: 202-219-2135