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Research and Development Report:

The Inclusion of Students With Disabilities and Limited English Proficient Students in Large-Scale Assessments: A Summary of Recent Progress

July 1997

(NCES 97-482) Ordering information


The purpose of this report is to describe recent efforts to increase the participation of students with disabilities and of limited English proficient (LEP) students in large-scale assessments. Inclusive assessment systems are receiving increased attention at the federal, state, and local levels, with much activity occurring in recent years. These include the efforts being made by many state assessment programs, as well as those being made by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Gathered together in this report is a summary of the activities of many organizations, inside and outside the Federal government, devoted to promoting greater inclusion of students with disabilities and LEP students in large-scale assessments.

The report serves as a compendium of approaches to inclusion and describes criteria for including students with disabilities and LEP students, modifications to assessment conditions and to the assessments themselves (accommodations and adaptations) that make it possible for students with special needs to participate, and ongoing research. This volume may be viewed as an introduction to current developments in inclusion in large-scale assessment, and as a resource for further exploration of the topic. References to organizations active in the area of inclusion are provided within the text, and the report concludes with extensive lists of references and resources.

This is the first volume of a series of reports. The second volume, planned to be published by the (NCES) in late 1997, will contain information on the results of the studies currently underway that are examining NAEP data. The second volume will also provide recommendations for further research on the issues involved. More details on the plans for Volume II are presented in Chapter 5 of this report.

NAEP's main purpose is to provide key indicators of what the nation's students know and can do. This concept means that the NAEP results should represent all students in the nation. This is especially important because NAEP uses a sampling approach in which all students may be included, although, in actuality, some students with disabilities and LEP students do not participate in the assessment. Recent educational trends, reflected in the Goals 2000: Educate America Act and Improving America's Schools Act (IASA), and in proposals for the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), have called for assessments that are meaningful, challenging, and appropriate for all students. This call has led NCES to look closely at the procedures for assessing larger numbers of students with disabilities and LEP students.

One of the goals of this report is to describe the activities underway in NAEP toward increasing the numbers of students with disabilities or LEP students who participate in the assessment. In this report, information is provided on the changes made to the inclusion criteria, the types of accommodations now being offered, new procedures implemented in 1996, and ongoing research studies on inclusion issues.

However, as NCES staff implement new procedures for NAEP, they are also paying close attention to issues of accuracy and representativeness of the data that are collected. The process of implementing change requires a balancing of possible benefits and consequences to the assessment. Although there is a desire for inclusiveness, the consequences of a more inclusive approach in terms of its effects on validity or the personal toll on individual test takers must be evaluated carefully. In addition, as the psychometric characteristics of a more inclusive assessment are examined closely, NCES will need to balance the challenges of maintaining a valid and reliable assessment with the general goal of inclusiveness.

NCES is committed to increasing the representation of students with disabilities and limited English proficient students in its data bases. For NAEP this means, to the extent possible, maximizing participation of students with disabilities and LEP students in assessments. The NAEP sample has traditionally been drawn from lists that include all students who are in graded schools not specifically created to serve the needs of students with special needs (such as schools for individuals who are blind). Many students with disabilities and LEP students who were selected into the NAEP sample, however, were excluded from actually participating in the assessments.

There are a variety of reasons for their exclusion, such as the requirements of the Individualized Education Programs (IEP) of students with disabilities. The IEP is a legal document that reflects the decisions made by a committee concerning a student's performance level and the corresponding goals and objectives that address the areas of need. IEPs can dictate that students not be assessed at all, that they participate in only certain types of assessments, or that they only participate in assessments if certain accommodations are made. Another reason for the exclusion of a student from an assessment can be based on the judgments of school staff concerning the inability of limited English proficient students to read and understand the assessment and to be able to participate meaningfully in it.

A reason that reinforced the importance of improving the inclusion of LEP students in the assessment was highlighted with the advent of the NAEP Trial State Assessment in 1990 and continuing state-by-state assessments conducted in 1992 and 1994. Large differences in the inclusion rates of LEP students across the participating states were observed in the data. In the NAEP state-by-state comparisons, some states with high LEP populations had inclusion rates that were very different than other states with smaller LEP populations. It was likely that different rules for including LEP students in the assessment were being used, with some states using more stringent rules than others. As a result, the state-by-state comparisons may have been differentially affected and the findings not altogether comparable across all states. Another concern was the issue of how representative the assessment results were when a significant proportion of the student population (such as LEP students) had been excluded from the samples of certain states.

The intent of NAEP has always been to gain the participation of students with disabilities and LEP students. In recent years efforts have been made to make the criteria for inclusion less open to judgment and more consistently applied across states. NAEP has recently begun providing the types of accommodations and adaptations to the assessments that would make it possible for more students with disabilities and LEP students to participate. Currently, NCES is examining a variety of issues involving the inclusion of these special needs populations in NAEP. The factors leading to the implementation of these innovations are discussed in Chapter 4.

Based on a number of reasons, NCES has taken steps to increase the participation of as many of these students as possible in the assessment. Among the many benefits of this inclusive approach are improved measurement of overall student achievement, enhancement of the representativeness and generalizability of NAEP results, and greater fairness and equity. Among the challenges for NAEP are upholding its high degree of validity, maintaining its reliability, and preserving the ability to analyze and report trends in the face of changes made to procedures and in the sampled population of respondents.

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