3 Assessment Ideas for Students with IEPs
With the majority of students with IEPs receiving instruction through the general education curriculum, IEP teams must establish how to fairly assess these students. Most students with IEPs will take the same formative and summative assessments students without IEPs take. They might use a variety of accommodations while taking these assessments, but their accountability will match closely with that of their peers. This isn’t enough for some students. Parents and other team members might need to advocate for alternate assessments, modified rubrics, and parallel assignments to assess progress fairly.
The push for inclusion often leads to students with significant skill deficits participating in the general education curriculum. Despite the accommodations afforded through their IEPs, these students might struggle to make progress. Teams put tools in place to measure progress towards IEP goals, but determining accountability within the general education curriculum might require a different set of tools. Below are some ideas for equitable ways to assess students whose disabilities strain general education progress.
1. Alternate Assessments – Beyond extended time for tests, small group testing, or a reduced number of test items, some students might need entirely different assessments. These should be based on the general education curriculum, but they might assess skill areas more appropriate for students with below grade-level abilities. For example, a student in a middle school algebra course who continues to struggle with basic operations might take an assessment in which most steps of the equations are set up in advance, but the actual operations (addition, subtraction, and so on) are left to be solved and thus become what the assessment is measuring. In a reversal of that format, the same test might only require that student to set up the algebraic expression, thus assessing the understanding of algebra but leaving the operations to be solved with a calculator. Either test might have an entire section in which the grade-level content is replaced with instructional-level computation problems. The student can take this assessment alongside non-disabled peers. The idea is to provide an assessment tailored to a specific student that retains some connection with the curriculum.
2. Modified Grading Rubrics – Another parallel measuring tool is the modified rubric. The student performs the same assignment as others in the class, but the teacher scores the assignment differently. This works well with project-based learning and with written assignments. For example, if a high school English teacher assigns a five-paragraph narrative essay about an embarrassing experience, the student with an IEP might be required to write three paragraphs. Other students might be accountable for developing particular ideas throughout the essay, while the student with the IEP might be accountable solely for conventions like spelling or punctuation. From another perspective, the rubric might discount convention errors, focusing instead on whether or not the student addressed the prompt in some capacity. The modified rubric can remain static across assignments, or can be adjusted depending on the learning objective. Much like alternate assessments, modified rubrics can be used while drawing little attention to the students using them.
3. Parallel Assignments – Sometimes the rigor of an assignment won’t be appropriate for students with particular skill deficits. While IEP teams might design interventions to address these deficits, in the meantime the students have to work through the requirements of a given curriculum. Teachers might use parallel assignments as a bridge. This idea is similar to alternate assessments and modified rubrics, but applies to the day-to-day work of the classroom. An example would be having a student complete a graphic organizer or outline in place of a written response, or maybe creating a poster in lieu of a book report. The student might be accountable for demonstrating the same retention of information as other students, but will the means for demonstrating this will differ. A collection of these assignments becomes a portfolio and possibly a formative assessment piece for the student.
Parents and teachers should recognize that these ideas are not meant to give an advantage to students with IEPs, but instead are meant to minimize the effects of a disadvantage. IEP teams might need to impress this idea on general education teachers and even administrators who might see such methods as efforts to reduce accountability rather than to increase fairness. Such advocacy can be a topic for another article.
Written by Jeff Hartman