In numerous schools, testing season is just beginning. Countless public schools administer districtwide assessments three times a year, and they administer federally-mandated yearly statewide testing during the spring season.

Consequently, beginning in January and continuing until May, many students will engage in two districtwide assessments and one statewide assessment. For students with learning disabilities, this can be a time of frustration or a time of confidence.

Special educators in collaboration with other special education team stakeholders, including parents have an important role in making it conceivable for the student to take tests with the best potential conditions for success. The special educator must measure the student's ability to engage in the test-taking process and assign accommodations that are appropriate to the student's Individualized Educational Plan.

Researchers Lazarus, Thompson and Thurlow suggest that teachers may need training or professional development to keep up-to-date on policies or learn the correct use of accommodations. They surveyed special educators to determine how teachers chose and used accommodations for students with disabilities.

Their findings indicated that teachers needed to consider state policies and guidelines in a greater capacity. Teachers must broaden and individualize their accommodation choices, better understand the implications of accommodation decisions, and make sure that students received the accommodations they were due.

According to Peter A. Beddow, student access to testing involves four aspects:

  • Perception encompasses ability to interpret information through sight to read and through listening to the instructions or verbal information in order to accurately complete the test questions.
  • Cognition includes using short-term and long-term memory to engage in the test tasks.
  • Reception comprises accurate reading and listening comprehension of the test items.
  • Emotion is also highly involved. Students must use continuous motivation, control of anxiety and positive self-efficacy to begin, continue and finish the test.

Each of these components must be carefully considered individually as teachers analyze accommodations needed for the student receiving special education to demonstrate ability and knowledge during a test.

Training students to take the tests successfully is one means of helping students with learning disabilities access the actual test, Beddow states. Students must understand the different types of test items they may encounter on the test and how to navigate the test in a thoughtful, deliberate and strategic manner. Practice tests allow students to rehearse what they have learned through training before the test experience.

Students need to be told which test accommodations have been allotted to them, which they will regulate or use as needed, and be taught how to correctly use the accommodations before taking the test.

Examples of accommodations that students will self-regulate are: breaks as needed, use of calculator or spell-checker, a scribe, templates or graph paper. Students need to practice using accommodations such as these during instruction and before the test to be sure that, when they are needed, they are used efficiently and improve access to the test.

Testing season can be effectively approached by special educators and students. Special educators must reliably prepare their students to take districtwide and statewide tests. They must be cognizant of current testing policies, learn the correct use of accommodations, and make appropriate decisions about assignment of accommodations so that students can access and demonstrate knowledge of test items.

Students should receive applicable training for test navigation and accommodations in order to assist with test accessibility and impending achievement.