Skip Navigation
Skip to main content

topInclusion of Special-Needs Students


Current Policy

It is important for NAEP to assess as many students selected to participate as possible. Assessing representative samples of students, including students with disabilities (SD) and English language learners (ELL), helps to ensure that NAEP results accurately reflect the educational performance of all students in the target population, and can continue to serve as a meaningful measure of U.S. students’ academic achievement over time.

The National Assessment Governing Board, which sets policy for NAEP, has been exploring ways to ensure that NAEP continues to appropriately include as many students as possible and to do so in a consistent manner for all jurisdictions assessed and reported. In March 2010, the Governing Board adopted a new policy, NAEP Testing and Reporting on Students with Disabilities and English Language LearnersPDF File (67 KB). This policy was the culmination of work with experts in testing and curriculum, and those who work with exceptional children and students learning to speak English. The policy aims to

  • maximize participation of sampled students in NAEP,
  • reduce variation in exclusion rates for SD and ELL students across states and districts,
  • develop uniform national rules for including students in NAEP, and
  • ensure that NAEP is fully representative of SD and ELL students.

The policy defines specific inclusion goals for NAEP samples. At the national, state, and district levels, the goal is to include 95 percent of all students selected for the NAEP samples, and 85 percent of those in the NAEP sample who are identified as SD or ELL.

Students are selected to participate in NAEP based on a sampling procedure designed to yield a sample of students that is representative of students in all schools nationwide and in public schools within each state. First, schools are selected, and then students are sampled from within those schools without regard to disability or English language proficiency. Once students are selected, those previously identified as SD or ELL may be offered accommodations or excluded.

States and jurisdictions vary in their proportions of special-needs students and in their policies on inclusion and the use of accommodations. Despite the increasing identification of SD and ELL students in some states, in particular of ELL students at grade 4, NAEP inclusion rates have generally remained steady or increased since 2003. Only a small number of states included a smaller percentage of students in the 2011 NAEP mathematics assessments than in 2009. Inclusion rates decreased by more than 1 percentage point for 3 of 52 jurisdictions at each grade. This reflects efforts on the part of states and jurisdictions to include all students who can meaningfully participate in the NAEP assessments. The new NAEP inclusion policy is an effort to ensure that this trend continues.

Determining whether each jurisdiction has met the NAEP inclusion goals involves looking at three different inclusion rates—an overall inclusion rate, an inclusion rate for SD students, and an inclusion rate for ELL students. Each inclusion rate is calculated as the percentage of sampled students who were included in the assessment (i.e., were not excluded).

Inclusion rate percentages are estimates because they are based on representative samples of students rather than on the entire population of students. As such, the inclusion rates are associated with a margin of error. The margin of error for each jurisdiction’s inclusion rate was taken into account when comparing it to the corresponding inclusion goal. For example, if the point estimate of a state’s overall inclusion rate was 93 percent and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points, the state was considered to have met the 95 percent inclusion goal because the 95 percent goal falls within the margin of error, which ranges from 90 percent to 96 percent. Refer to the Technical Notes for more details about how the margin of error was used in these calculations, and read more about inclusion in the most recent study, Measuring Status and Change in NAEP Inclusion Rates of Students with Disabilities.

See inclusion rates for mathematics and reading, and note that jurisdictions having inclusion rates higher than or not significantly different than the goal of 95% are identified with footnote 1. See the Exclusion Rate section below for more information about exclusion rates for all NAEP subjects over the years.



History of NAEP Inclusion Policy

Although NAEP has always endeavored to assess as high a proportion of sampled students as is possible, prior to 1996 NAEP did not allow accommodations for SD or ELL students. This resulted in exclusion of some students who could not meaningfully participate in the assessment without accommodations.

The passage of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), as amended in 1997, led states and districts to identify increasing numbers of students as requiring accommodations in assessments in order to fairly and accurately show their abilities. It was important for NAEP to be as consistent as possible with testing practices in most states and districts while maintaining the ability to compare more recent NAEP results to those from 1990, 1992, and 1994.

In 1996, NAEP began efforts to study the effect of assessment accommodations on NAEP results, and initiated a transition in which NAEP official reporting samples would come to include students assessed with accommodations. NAEP national samples in science and mathematics assessments were split between settings in which testing accommodations were not allowed and settings in which they were. This enabled the program to accomplish three key goals: to maintain data trends to the past, to study the effects of providing assessment accommodations, and to begin new trend baselines in which accommodations were allowed. (NAEP's guidelines to schools for determining which students should participate in the assessment were also revised.) The program allowed almost all accommodations that students received in their usual classroom testing.

Before the 2005 assessment (when the selection process was detailed in a series of questions), guidelines were specified by NAEP. A student identified on the Administration Schedule as having a disability (SD), that is, a student with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or equivalent classification, should be included in the NAEP assessment unless:

  • The IEP team or equivalent group had determined that the student could not participate in assessments such as NAEP, or
  • The student's cognitive functioning was so severely impaired that he or she could not participate, or
  • The student's IEP required that the student be tested with an accommodation that NAEP did not permit, and the student could not demonstrate his or her knowledge of the subject without that accommodation.

A student who was identified as LEP or ELL and who was a native speaker of a language other than English should be included in the NAEP assessment unless:

  • The student had received reading or mathematics instruction primarily in English for less than 3 school years including the current year, and
  • The student could not demonstrate his or her knowledge of the subject in English even with an accommodation permitted by NAEP.

The phrase "less than 3 school years including the current year" meant 0, 1, or 2 school years. Therefore, the guidelines below were used:

  • Include without any accommodation all LEP or ELL students who had received instruction in the subject primarily in English for 3 years or more and those who were in their third year;
  • Include without any accommodation all other such students who could demonstrate their knowledge of the subject without an accommodation;
  • Include and provide accommodations permitted by NAEP to other such students who can demonstrate their knowledge of the subject only with those accommodations; and
  • Exclude LEP or ELL students only if they could not demonstrate their knowledge of the subject even with an accommodation permitted by NAEP.

The goal of all these activities was to ensure that NAEP samples would be as representative as possible, and that high percentages of sampled students would and could participate. Provision of accommodations was indeed found to result in higher levels of inclusion, with little effect on scale scores at the national level, but somewhat greater impact on average scores in some states.

In 1998, accommodations were allowed for all students in subjects in which new trend lines were being introduced (writing and civics). In reading, the split-sample design was continued (and expanded to the state NAEP samples) to allow comparability to the past and to ensure that a new trend line was started. Main reports were based on the "trend samples" in which accommodations were not allowed. Two reports reanalyze the 1998 reading data, including students with accommodations.

In the 2000 and 2001 results, data from both samples—that is, those in which accommodations were allowed, and those in which they were not—were reported. These results are in the Report Cards, and also may be seen on this site in the NAEP Data Explorer (NDE) by selecting the sample in which accommodations were not allowed (in addition to the accommodated sample that is selected by default for these years). Geography, mathematics, reading, science, and U.S. history have results with the split-sample design in the NDE.

In addition to the resources linked from the subject pages above (such as accommodations allowed, and percentages of SD and ELL students by state for mathematics and science assessments), the NDE contains average scores for students classified as LEP or ELL by their schools. Note that the results from this sample cannot be generalized to the total population of ELL students. To find the average scores for ELL or LEP students, type "English" into the keyword search window and select the variables of interest.

Beginning with the 2002 assessments, NAEP has offered accommodations to all students who need them to demonstrate their knowledge and ability, and thus no longer has non-accommodated samples.



Permitted NAEP Accommodations Tables

Accommodations in the testing environment or administration procedures are provided for SD and ELL students. Examples of accommodations permitted by NAEP are extra time, testing in small-group or one-on-one sessions, reading aloud to a student, and scribing a student's responses. Examples of testing accommodations not allowed are giving the reading assessment in a language other than English, or reading the reading passages aloud to the student. View the tables that show the accommodations used for the most recent NAEP assessments.



Rates of Use of Specific Accommodations

The links below provide the percentages of SD and LEP or ELL students assessed with the variety of available accommodations. It should be noted that students assessed with accommodations typically received some combination of accommodations. The numbers and percentages presented in the tables reflect only the primary accommodations provided.

  • Civics assessment accommodations used in 1998, 2006, and in 2010.
  • Economics assessment accommodations used in 2006.
  • Geography assessment accommodations used in 2001 and in 2010.
  • Mathematics assessment accommodations used from 1996 to 2005, in 2007, in 2009, in 2011, and 2013PDF File(969 KB).
  • Reading assessment accommodations used from 1998 to 2005, in 2007, in 2009, in 2011, and 2013PDF File(890 KB).
  • Science assessment accommodations used from 1996 to 2005, in 2009, and 2011 (at grade 8 only)
  • U.S. history assessment accommodations used in 2001 and 2006, and in 2010.
  • Writing 2011 is computer-based and built on a new framework. See accommodations used in 2011.
  • Writing 2007 was a paper/pencil assessment: See accommodations used in 2007.



Exclusion Rates

Rates of identification of special-needs students and their inclusion or exclusion, for the nation and by state and selected districts in the Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA) for the mathematics, reading, science, and writing assessments. The pages linked below often contain links with additional information on students with disabilities (SD) and those classified as LEP or (beginning in 2005) as ELL.

To ensure that the samples in each state are representative, NAEP has established policies and procedures to maximize the inclusion of all students in the assessment. Every effort is made to ensure that all selected students who are capable of participating meaningfully in the assessment are assessed. While some students with disabilities (SD) and/or English language learners (ELL) students can be assessed without any special procedures, others require accommodations to participate in NAEP. Still other SD and/or ELL students selected by NAEP may not be able to participate. Local school authorities determine whether SD/ELL students require accommodations or shall be excluded because they cannot be assessed. The percentage of SD and/or ELL students who are excluded from NAEP assessments varies from one jurisdiction to another and within a jurisdiction over time. Read more about the relation of exclusion and accommodation rates to results.


Full Population Estimatesestimates

Several statistical scenarios have been proposed, based on different assumptions about how excluded students might have performed. Combined with the actual performance of students who were assessed, these scenarios produce results for the full population (that is, one that includes estimates for excluded students) in each jurisdiction and each assessment year. These techniques provide an indication as to which statements about trend gains or losses might be changed if exclusion rates were zero in both assessment years (and if the assumptions about the performance of missing students are correct).

  • The results of one of these scenarios are presented here. However, the methods used to construct the scenario are still under development. The results of this special analysis should not be interpreted as official results.

    The Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA) results are presented in the following tables. The first column of each of these tables presents the reported score gain (or loss) for each jurisdiction based on the sample of students who were included in the assessment. The second column shows the score gain (or loss) under the full population scenario. The third column reports the difference between the official gain and the gain under this scenario. Statistically significant score changes in columns one and two are marked with an asterisk. A footnote marks jurisdictions that show a trend that is statistically significant in the official results but not significant under the full population scenario or vice versa.

District Results

State Results


NAEP Research About Inclusionresearch

In order to study the effects on the assessment, NAEP collects information about accommodations needed for SD and ELL students by asking the school staff most familiar with each student to complete the appropriate SD or ELL questionnaire for each special-needs student selected in the sample. The information gathered in this way has informed research for several years.

Below are listed numerous publications and working papers from this area of research and related areas.

  • SD/LEP Inclusions/Exclusions in NAEP: An Investigation of Factors Affecting SD/LEP Inclusions/Exclusions in NAEP
    An area of concern is the observed variation in the percentage of students excluded from testing due to their disability (SD) or English language learner (ELL) status. Because SD and ELL students tend to perform near the bottom of the achievement distribution, significant fluctuations in their participation can influence state scores disproportionately. Moreover, these variations have occurred despite NAEP’s efforts to standardize the inclusion and accommodation decision process. The motivation for the this study was to obtain more systematic information about how decisions are made at the local school level so as to better understand the causes of the observed variation and to suggest modifications in NAEP procedures that could reduce variation. The study was carried out in conjunction with the 2005 administration of NAEP, when many features of the inclusion decision process had been in place for a number of years. Importantly, local school staff remained responsible for making the inclusion decisions based on written criteria provided by NAEP. Inclusion was encouraged, and—as had been true from 2002 forward—a number of accommodations were available to make the NAEP assessment accessible to greater numbers of students. New in 2005 was a decision tree designed to direct the decision-maker to relevant questions on the SD/ELL questionnaire, and to appropriate inclusion/exclusion decisions based on the responses to these questions. In addition, the NAEP field staff worked with local school staff to apply the decision tree and review decisions for each SD and ELL child in the sample. This study focuses on several questions concerning which school personnel make inclusion/exclusion decisions; how school designees decide to include (with or without accommodations) or exclude SD and ELL students in NAEP; the sources of information they use in making these decisions; and the role of the NAEP field staff in the decision-making process.
  • Decision-Making Practices of Urban Districts for Including and Accommodating English Language Learners in NAEP—School-Based PerspectivesPDF File (620 KB).
    This report presents findings from a study to describe and analyze school-based decision-making practices relevant to the inclusion and accommodation of English language learners (ELLs) in the 2005 NAEP Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA). The study investigated how school personnel in four TUDA urban districts made decisions regarding the inclusion and accommodation of ELLs in NAEP.
  • Research-oriented papers commissioned for the National Assessment Governing Board Conference on Increasing the Participation of Special-Needs Students in the National Assessment of Educational Progress, Washington, DC, February 26-27, 2004.
  • pub467Including Special-Needs Students in the NAEP 1998 Reading Assessment, Part I: Comparison of Overall Results With and Without Accommodations
    NCES Number: 2003467
    This study presents recalculated data from the NAEP 1998 reading assessment that includes results from special-needs students who were tested with accommodations, but in order to preserve comparability with NAEP's trend reporting, were not included in the 1998 report card. The report also examines the relationship, by participating state or other jurisdiction, between reading performance and varying state exclusion rates for special-needs students.
  • Including Special-Needs Students in the NAEP 1998 Reading Assessment, Part II: Results for Students with Disabilities and Limited English Proficient Students (Published by Educational Testing Service in the Research section of their website and obtainable from them.)
  • The Validity of Oral Accommodation in Testing
    NCES Number: 200306
    This study examines the impact of oral presentation of a mathematics test on the performance of disabled and non-disabled students. It is an example of empirical research providing evidence for evaluating the validity and fairness of accommodations use. Both learning disabled and non-disabled students improved their performance under the accommodated conditions, although learning disabled students had greater gains. The presence of an effect for the regular classroom students suggests the possibility that irrelevant variance in the non-accommodated scores is overcome by the use of the accommodation for both groups of students.
  • The Effects of Accommodations on the Assessment of LEP Students in NAEP
    NCES Number: 200113
    This publication reports the results of a research study on the feasibility and validity of various accommodations in the context of mathematics assessment. It was found that some accommodations would actually benefit all students, while others were useful in removing barriers to participation of special-needs students.
  • Impact of Selected Background Variables on Students' NAEP Math Performance
    NCES Number: 200111
    This publication reports on a research study indicating that language background affects performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress mathematics assessment.
  • pub473Increasing the Participation of Special-Needs Students in NAEP: A Report on 1996 NAEP Research Activities
    NCES Number: 2000473
    This report presents in-depth analyses of the effects on inclusion rates of efforts to increase the participation of special-needs students in NAEP. It also contains an analysis of selected technical characteristics of students with disabilities and LEP students who participated in the NAEP 1996 national assessments in mathematics and science.
  • Increasing the Inclusion of Students with Disabilities and Limited English Proficient Students in Large-Scale Assessments: A Summary of Recent Progress
    NCES Number: 97482
    This report describes many of the recent efforts at national, state, and local levels to increase the participation of students with disabilities and limited English proficient students in large-scale assessments, including the efforts and progress made by NAEP.
  • Are Limited English Proficient (LEP) Students Being Taught by Teachers with LEP Training?
    NCES Number: 97907
    Are public-school teachers with LEP students in their classes trained in teaching LEP students? Are teachers with high percentages of LEP students in their classes more likely to have received LEP training than teachers with low percentages of LEP students? Since communication skills in English courses are so important, are teachers of English more likely to have received LEP training than teachers of other core subjects? Data from the 1993-1994 Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS), conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), are used to address these questions.
  • Focus on NAEP: Inclusion of Students from Special Populations
    NCES Number: 96894
    This is a short topical publication about how NAEP is trying to increase the number of students with disabilities or limited English proficiency who are assessed.
  • Proceedings of the Conference on Inclusion Guidelines and Accommodations for Limited English Proficient Students in the National Assessment of Educational Progress
    NCES Number: 96861
    This NCES document summarizes the results of a working meeting held December 5 and 6, 1994, to provide guidance to staff at NCES on inclusion guidelines and accommodations for limited-English-proficiency (LEP) students in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).


Last updated 06 April 2018 (GF)