Stanley L. Swartz, Ph.D.
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Paul Fahring
Reply with quote  #1 

Should accountability extend to special education?


I do believe that special education students should be help accountable in their educations to ensure that they are making progress and establish realistic expectations.  In life we are all held accountable by our families and in our jobs so it would be a disservice to prepare students for the real world without reinforcing the concept of accountability.  The type of accountability applied to special education students may not be the same as the types used in general education but there needs to be some.


Special educators enforce measures to ensure accountability for a student's behavior so it is unreasonable to not apply that to their education as well.  Without educational accountability a special education teacher is nothing more than a dog trainer that works with humans and makes sure they are taught how to function in society.  There needs to be an educational component and that component needs to be measured for progress, held accountable.


Should we include children with disabilities in standardized testing?

I am not convinced that the state nor any other form of government has demonstrated a merit to standardized testing, let alone provide the argument that it should also be applied to special education students.  In theory I think that the distinguishing of special education students and general education students should only apply to methodology and not to academic accountability.  If a special education students is performing lower than a general education peer then we can accept two things.  First they are not performing up to par, and second that they might have extenuating circumstances.  Given a standardized test the special education student should still have to test on the same level as their peers to give an accurate comparison to where they fall.


There is a tendency of special educators to feel like they are not to be assessed or measured up to standards and that is simply not true.  The only difference is how those results are perceived.  The failure on the part of a special ed student will be viewed differently than the failure of a general education student and conversely the success of a special ed student will have more weight and measure than the success of a general ed student.


Standardized testing has no merit, regardless of how adamantly the state or federal government stand behind it; as far as a student's worth and potential the tests are useless.  Standardized tests are not designed to benefit students or their education, they are not applied to a student's diploma and will not change a student's standing or IEP.  Therefore it is something of a waste of time to take them so seriously, from a student's viewpoint. 

The schools and the districts care because standardized tests affect their funding and jobs, here we find the Deepthroat of Testgate, "follow the money." How far are the schools and districts willing to distort a student's education to maintain their funding? That remains to be seen and so far it seems like they are willing to go pretty far for it, distorting the educational environment in the process.

Christina Arias
Reply with quote  #2 

I feel if we are going to include children with disabilities in standardized testing then we should set them up for success not failure. What I mean by this is we cannot give a child who cannot read a test and expect them to read it themselves and to do well. It is not only going to affect the student but also the scores. This happened to me time and time again in my school age years and it made my self esteem go straight down. Every year I would dread standardized testing, till one year I just gave up and stopped trying. Another don’t example is we cannot ask a student who is at a second grade level to take a test that is at a higher  level  and expect them to do well. By not accommodating the needs of these children we are setting them up to fail and as a result we can be hurting their self esteem and the scores will be inaccurate. Do I think we should do away with testing all together, no because we cannot underestimate what children can do and these children can do it; they just need a little help. For instants we can help by give the test orally, give more time, giving breaks or modify the test to the level of the student. We cannot give a student a test they cannot do and if we are going to give them a test with no accommodations then and only then do I feel we should do away with the testing.

Paul Fahring
Reply with quote  #3 
Christina I appreciate your response and I acknowledge that the testing would be hard on the special ed kids.  I just think that there needs to be a fair and even standard so that we can accurately see where they fall.  If they cannot do the test without assistance than that tells us a lot, it may hurt their feelings and I see that but we need to know that they cannot function on an intellectual level on their own.

Then we correct it.  That's how we get by, but at first we have to face the hard cold and often hurtful truth. 

I don't take tests so well myself, but I know I am smart.  I would still apply the same standards to my own testing.
Elisabeth Morales
Reply with quote  #4 

I agree with you Christina. I do not think accountability should be extended to the special education. How can we expect someone who has modified curriculum to meet any standards? I find it very unfair to test these children in any standards since in general they are not required to do all the work. In some cases these kids are left doing nothing in the class, as long as they are quiet they go unnoticed. So how can they be expect to meet any standards?

Furthermore, they have assistance doing class work whether they are in general education or serviced through Special Day Class or Resource Intervention. These children have (in some cases) someone reading the information to them. Or use audio devices and cues to refresh their memory. Unless they have exactly the same aides during the testing and the same modified curriculum then it would be unfair to ask any more than they are normally expected to do and be graded on it. Do the analogy, would you expect an athlete who runs 50meter sprints to run a marathon? No, you would expect them to run what they trained for. So why then would the state set these kids up for failure?

If we are to expect these children to perform we need to set them up from the beginning to perform so they can keep their dignity. Teach them what they are to know for a test and keep it modified to give them success.  Also, give them the same tools, extra time, mediated material, devices, and aides during testing as they use in the classroom. Where and how they learn should be simulated for testing…just as the other kids do. In the event they know and prepare for the testing with accommodations, I believe they are capable of doing well on testing.

Paul Fahring
Reply with quote  #5 
I hear what you are saying Elisabeth and I think it has a lot of merit except for the fact that it simply does not prepare the student for reality.  They are going to have to become self sufficient at some point and if they cannot be sefl sufficient then an employer or educator needs to know, deserves to know.

Do you think they should lower the height of a basketball rim just for the shorter players and raise it back up for the others?

Life is simply not fair and in the real world there is a standard that everyone has to live up to.  By not requiring these students, in some way, to measure up we are doing them a disservice. 

If nothing else the test will give them an idea of where they are headed, and since the test is standardized there should be a standard.
Elisabeth Morales
Reply with quote  #6 
Hi Paul, I see what you are saying and agree to some point; however, as you said, these kids are not going to be doing the same as everyone else as they grow-up. We need to prepare them with for work they can do, such as a trade. Not everyone is good at academics anyway. Why shod they feel the humiliation of not being as capable as their peers through a test. This is to test if they have the knowledge-not how fast they process. If it takes longer and they need extra tools to accommodate their disabilities what is wrong wealth that? Believe me, they know they do not have the same ability as their peers. They didn't ask to be this way. We need to help them feel success in order to be successful. The mind is powerful even if has not formed completely, other areas of the brain will take over.
 As for employers, they will know there is a problem, there are jobs that can be available for those who need to work slower or do less. There are job coaches for those with a disability that work as a co-worker to help these kids learn a trade. So, when they go to an employer, that certificate they have will let the employer know how they got it.
I do not have a child with a disability, but if I did...I would want them to feel they are capable to do the "best they can do" and feel they are a part of the society no matter how big or small the part is. But of course we are all entitled to our opinion, and I respect yours.
Paul Fahring
Reply with quote  #7 
Elisabeth I think we agree that there is no good balance, we are simply choosing one evil over another. 

It's a value judgment and you feel as though the psychological well being of the stundent takes precedence over their academic measure.  I think that the psychological impact will not be as bad as living an academic lie.

I have been etaching over seas for several years now and the students there that would be special ed in the US function normally beucase they have always known that there is a standard that they need to live up to.

In the US we baby our Special ed students and the handicapped.  Trained helplessness and different standards exist because we feel sorry for them.  If you rationalize your argument it boils down to you feeling sorry for them, and that is not a good reason to do anything.

Mickey Rooney and many other people in the past of the United States lived and prospered with severe disabilities.  In today's environment they would be babied and would never accomplish as much.
Patricia French
Reply with quote  #8 

I personally do not believe in standardized testing for ANY student - much less students with learning disabilities. I feel that accountability can be accurately measured without subjecting students to standardized testing.

I am in my 30th year of teaching. I have taught every grade K-12. I have taught in “regular” public school, private school, home education programs, Cal-Safe program, and correctional elementary education. I have had students with IEPs in all situations except the private school. I taught children with disabilities in private school without an IEP. The curriculum and teaching strategies were modified to meet the students’ needs. I do not associate accountability exclusively with standardized testing. I feel special education students can be held accountable for what they learn in class in several other ways. I have never not been able to hold my students, and myself, accountable in other ways.

There are several ways to hold all students accountable without the use of standardized tests. There are textbook tests and teacher written tests that can show content mastery. Since textbooks are written to state standards, these standards can be measured. Teacher observation and the use of rubrics are also important measuring tools. These allow for more individualized modification for special education students.

I realize that standardized testing is a reality even though I disagree with it. I believe that students with learning disabilities should not be forced to take standardized tests. I have been trained to give the CMA test and have done so. Some students were able to do it while others were frustrated and visibly upset through the testing. I have also helped prepare special education students for the CAHSEE, knowing full well that many, if not all, will not pass both tests. Even though the requirement has been waived for this year, I think requiring the tests for graduation is unfair. How do we justify denying a student a diploma when the student has done all of the work to his/her best ability!

In conclusion, I would like to see standardized testing eliminated for all students. We need to get back to educating our students in all areas-not just those that are tested. There are many ways to show accountability without wasting valuable teaching time testing our students to death.

Maritza Castro
Reply with quote  #9 

Should accountability extend to special education? Should we include children with disabilities in standardized testing?



I do believe that accountability should extend to special education; however, we cannot expect students with special needs to compete at the same level as regular students/gifted students in terms of standardized testing.  During my classroom observations, I was shocked to see how many times the teacher had to block the door way with his body because his students would run out of the classroom.  Special education teachers have to deal with more serious issues than regular education teachers, but I do believe that students and special education teachers need to be accountable for showing progress. I do believe in standardized testing and accountability, but there should be an even playing field because if students cannot read and we give them a reading comprehension test; we are setting them up for failure.  Who would want to try during testing if you always fail?  If special needs students experienced success and had adequate support to help them pass a standardized test, then by all means let us include them.   The reality is that special education teachers have nine months to teach all the standards and most of the students in a class are not reading up to grade level.  As a regular education teacher, I am teaching a new math concept a day.  It is difficult for my regular students to comprehend a new concept a day.  I can only imagine how frustrated special education teachers must feel in preparing them for testing.  It is sad that the focus on education is on this one test and not on the nine months of progress developing in all of our students and teachers.

Michael Ross
Reply with quote  #10 
Yes, I do believe that accountability should extend to special education. However, it a specialized way. If special education students are receiving a specialized education, with specialized services and specialized methods to measure progress, then let's measure accountability in a way that's specific to each particular child. If each IEP is unique and specialized (and we know they are) then accountability should be specific to each special needs student. In perhaps most cases, it would be inappropriate to apply to special education students the same one-to-one standards that are applied to regular education students. The same philosophy applies to inclusion of children with disabilities in standard testing.

First of all, the validity and general merits of standardized testing is highly dubious. That's putting it gently. More than a few people would agree when I say that standardized tests are created by bumbling, fumbling bureaucrats and lawyers. In other words, people who don't teach. These exams serve political and fiscal purposes, rather than educational. I would like to think that all of us who teach and/or are involved in special education adhere to a fundamental philosophy of engaging special needs students in activities that are in their best interest.

So, is it in a specific special needs student's best interest to take a standardized test? Is it written into his/her IEP? Is it even consistent with the activies, or even subject matter set in his/her IEP? Or, is it an examination that he/she is doomed to fail, despite a mountain of success in other categories consistent with his/her specialized education? And would that be in his/her best interest? Until I see empirical evidence that demonstrates that standardized testing is beneficial to, and is truly in a special needs student's best interest, I cannot endorse it's practice.

ebony condon
Reply with quote  #11 

 Children with special needs fall into a large category that distinguishes them from regular education due to their atypical  cognitive abilities and abnormal social and emotional challenges. I believe it is unfair and in just to extend accountability to children with special needs to pass standardized test when many of these children lack basic functional and critical skills. How can you expect a severely handicapped and even profound children to pass standardized testing when many of them lack basic survival skills. Students with profound disabilities no matter how hard or how extensive the  instruction is that you give to them, they will always function cognitively between the ages of zero to 24 months old. Many of them lack the basic skills of feeding themselves and using the bathroom. I believe our job as educators in special education has to be flexible to the needs of the particular child and I believe this should extend to standardized testing being used on special education students. I believe standardized testing should be used on children with mild to moderate cognitive abilities with modifications, but I do not believe it should extent to severely handicapped and profound students. This is a complicated issue because special education covers such a huge number of disabilities and each of these disabilities affects every child in a different way. Some students will never be able to pass standardized test and to me as long as they are given the opportunity to a free public education that meets their needs and gives them the chance to live a somewhat normal life, than we have succeeded. As much as I would like for every child to be normal cognitively, the fact is that many children will not be apart of that norm. I believe for many  severely handicapped students the best way to ensure their progress in special education is by assessing their basic functional and critical skills and preparing them for when they leave the program. It is a success in special education if we are able to help severely handicapped children live normal independent lives not by being able to pass a standardized test.

Louis Williams
Reply with quote  #12 
According to No Child Left Behind (NCLB), "schools should sufficiently educate all students so that they demonstrate proficiency in certain core academic subjects."  Accountability is based upon proficiencies in instructional approaches from lectures, demonstrations, and direct discovery.  This concept should extend to special education students.  However, if this accountability should be done by standardized testing remains debatable. 

Accountability should begin with the students and what the student will be able to do after given the appropriate instruction and material.  Specific learning objectives that the student must master should demonstrate proficiency.  The instruments used to measure the proficiency could be flexible to accommodate differences in learning strategies and abilities.  Alternate assessment tools could be used under IDEA to assess students' progress in special circumstances.

Accountability should extend to special education.  As documented in a students' IEP, accommodations and modifications can be used during assessment and standardized tests.  However, standardized testing is overemphasized in our educational system as an indicator of mastery of subject material.  The overuse of  standardized testing puts undue pressure on students and teachers.  Teachers' performance should not be evaluated solely upon the performance of their students as their are many other factors which may influence the performance of students.  Further, it creates a situation whereby, the teacher "teaches to the test" and creative teaching and learning are jeopardized.  The cognitive ability of the student should be measured by the ability of the student to relate the subject material to their own environment and personal life. 

Accommodations during testing assist the student with disabilities to compete on a level playing field with other students.  Alternative assessment tools should be used with students with disabilities whenever possible.  Open-ended questioning, projects and reports, cooperative and peer learning can be used to replace formal and standardized testing.

Marissa Echevarria
Reply with quote  #13 

I do think that accountability should extend to special education, but I do not think that it should be done in the form of standardized testing.  There is nothing standardized about the education that a special education student receives, so it does not seem to make sense to make accountability standardized.  Rather, accountability should also be individualized, according to an IEP, just as the rest of the student’s education has been individualized.  To do otherwise, would yield invalid results since the disabilities of students in special education are so variable and distinct with respect to how they affect the student’s academic progress.


The approach right now in the state of California is to use two different standardized tests for the testing of students with disabilities:  the California Alternate Performance Assessment (CAPA) and the California Modified Assessment (CMA).  According to the website, “The CAPA is designed to assess those students with significant cognitive disabilities who cannot participate in the California Standards Tests even with accommodations and modifications. The California Department of Education (CDE) developed the CAPA to comply with the requirements of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).  There is one very basic level of the CAPA (level I) that must be stipulated in the student’s IEP to take.  Otherwise, students will take the CAPA by grade level.  Unfortunately, I do not see any validity evidence as to what types of students have been administered this test, and which types of disabilities they have.  The only criterion is that they have a “significant cognitive disability”.


The CMA was designed for “students in grades three through eleven if they:

·         Have an IEP that specifies that they take the CMA for one or more subjects; and

·         Scored below basic or far below basic in a previous CST administration; and

·         Are not eligible to take the California Alternate Performance Assessment (CAPA).

Again, I do not see any validity evidence indicating who has taken this test or what type of disability they have.  The only noticeable differences between the CST and the CMA are that there are slightly fewer items, 3 choices instead of 4 choices for multiple choice, more diagrams or pictures to accompany items, larger font, and more white space on a page.  It is not clear to me how this makes for a more improved assessment over the CST.  A student who is two or more grade levels behind is not going to benefit from the paltry changes made to the CMA.  I see it as an invalid test for a student who has been receiving a modified curriculum.

Lakeisha Feast
Reply with quote  #14 

The Federal law states that, "Children with disabilities are [to be] included in general State and district-wide assessment programs, with appropriate accommodations and modifications...," and it mandates that "the State or LEA develop alternate assessments for those...who cannot participate..." This process is supposed to begin no later than July 1, 2000. The individual states are given a lot of flexibility in the way this provision is interpreted, and people are working together to come up with acceptable guidelines. So according to this federal law accountability does extend to special education. However, Unless parents and students join politicians in this task, the outcome will not be good for students with learning disabilities.

In my opinion, children with disabilities should have the same kinds of accommodations on standardized state tests that he is afforded in school, as dictated on the IEP. Then each student should be tested on their individual level so that we can determine if they are making progress and not being left behind because they are in special education. Over the years, one of the most common "accommodations" for kids with disabilities has been to make things easier for them. When we have done this, we have done these kids a disservice. Part of what's happening in this standards debate is that we've been caught with our bar down, and we're paying the price. The key to good special education is to keep it special (use techniques supported by research) and keep the expectations high. So increasing standards is a good thing. Forcing kids to jump over inappropriate hurdles is not.

Stephanie Nicholson
Reply with quote  #15 

Should accountability extend to special education?

I believe that if we are going to hold special education students accountable, and include them in standardized testing, then we as educators should be sure to hold our students to high standards. Like Lakeisha stated, if our only 'accommodations' for testing are to make things easier, we are doing our students a disservice, and might as well forget about holding them accountable for anything. Special education students should be held accountable for their own educations, and should take the same tests as every other student out there.

Should we include children with disabilities in standardized testing?

Students with disabilities should be included in standardized testing, because once they are out of the public school setting, they are going to have to abide by all the same standards, or 'life rules', as everyone else. While accommodations can be made for learning (in the form of adaptations, etc), when it comes to evaluating what a student has learned, those tools have to be removed to see if the teaching has been effective. Otherwise, it is not a true representation of what the student knows. It becomes a test of the process, not the students knowledge.

The purpose of accommodations and adaptations is to become obsolete. Once the accommodations have done their job, they should naturally be removed, or we will never know what the student is actually capable of. It is like putting training wheels on a bike-- you use them when you're starting out, and take them off when you no longer need them. If you test your bike riding ability, and find that you're still not quite ready to ride on your own, you can put them back on. But if you never take them off, you're never going to know if you can ride on your own.

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