Use progress data, parent input to inform testing accommodations

Districts should consider contingency plans to mitigate potential testing disruptions
By: | March 2, 2021

Districts must plan to administer statewide assessments this spring, despite obstacles posed by remote learning and other situations related to COVID-19 pandemic responses.

“It forces you to think about how you can stay in compliance with the IDEA and Section 504 and ensure that the appropriate tests are administered in the way they were designed,” said Tiffany Butler, attorney with Duff, Freeman, and Lyon LLC in Columbia, S.C.

The U.S. Education Department announced in Letter to Chief State School Officer, 121 LRP 7135 (EDU 02/22/21), that it will not waive the ESEA requirement to administer statewide assessments for SY 2020-21.

“It appears to me that states do have some leeway and some flexibility,” said Butler, citing the letter, which outlines options for states.

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Letter to Chief State School Officer provides flexibilities to safely test students, including administering an abbreviated version of the assessment; providing an option for remote administration, if allowable and feasible; and providing an extended window for administering assessments.

“A district should take an honest assessment of the state of the health and safety risks of its community,” said Butler. “I think there is definitely a balance between public health and safety.”

Butler said districts may consider contingency plans to mitigate potential testing disruptions. She listed accessibility, individual student needs, and parent engagement as other top concerns for districts preparing to administer statewide assessments this spring to students identified as having a disability.

Ensuring accessibility. Butler said that, regardless of whether there is remote testing available or an extended testing window, the key is accessibility and ensuring that students with disabilities can access those assessments.

She said districts should know what accommodations students need and be able to provide those accommodations to students, including English learners.

Making sure that the accommodations can be implemented according to the particular assessment, assessments test for different skills to accurately capture skill levels and performance, said Butler.

Individualizing determinations. Individualized education program teams should base testing decisions on students’ individual needs as determined, in part, by data collected over the school year, according to Butler.

“There is still progress monitoring,” said Butler. “At this point in the school year, if districts have been progress monitoring and collecting data, they would already know what a student needs.”

Butler said that while IEP teams should review data they already have for students, students’ needs can change. She said there may be occasions for IEP teams to review progress monitoring data to determine new testing accommodations for some students.

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Districts should also be aware of how their states will allow the required assessments to be administered to students, she said.

Engaging parents. Butler suggested continued engagement with parents “to the extent we can get parent input and ensure parents are aware of how their child’s going to be assessed and how assessment results will be used.

“The parent is an integral part of the IEP process,” she continued. “Parents’ input is always important in determining what their students need. I do think communicating with parents will be important [in preparing for statewide assessments] too.”

Johnny Jackson covers special education issues for LRP Publications.