One common problem students with special needs face is imply not using their allowed accommodations such as longer test time, etc. Learn why this is such an issue and how you can help overcome it.
Not Using Allowed Accommodations Means Lower Test Scores
Students with special needs should take full advantage of their allowed accommodations. The IEP committee meets annually to determine which accommodations are appropriate for each student who receives Special Education services. At that time, testing is one of the many things considered. All options are explored to determine what accommodations should be included on the IEP. Careful consideration is given by the committee based on the individual student's particular disability, and decisions are made based on the idea that the particular modifications which are chosen would level the playing field so that they could perform at the highest level possible.
The Self Confidence Factor
The problem is that, once students get into the test, and they see challenging questions that are frustrating to them, many of them shut down and give up before they have even gotten started. They often do not use the reference sheets given to them which are allowable on certain parts of the test, nor do they use accommodations such as extended time to their advantage. Many of them simply go through the test as fast as possible so that they will not have to deal with it any longer.
Some of this is due to "text anxiety." In the recent issue of NASET, (The National Association of Special Ed Teachers) online publication, they address test anxiety as a chief factor in the lack of student performance on tests and address ways they can help students overcome this. (The Practical Teacher, 2013).
Others reason that students may not utilize the testing accommodations given to them is that they do not believe it will make a difference. Their thinking may be that they do not wish to waste their time on a mundane task if it is not going to make any difference in the long run. Therefore, they fill their test with slip-shod answers, just to say they did the task, without putting any real effort behind it.
One way teachers can address both the test anxiety issue and the lack of confidence issue is to remind students that they are capable of improving, just as they have in your class, if they will put forth the effort to do so. Additionally, some reminders about the importance of the test to their school record may motivate some students with higher achievement goals to apply themselves on a higher level.
What Research Tells Us
Lynn and Douglas Fuchs, authors of the article "Fair and Unfair Testing Accommodations", take into account what is considered appropriate and what is not, based upon the individual student's abilities and level of impairment. The focus on testing special education students and counting their scores in the general population came about due to both the federal "No Child Left Behind" Act, as well as the 1997 restructuring of IDEA, to hold teachers and administrators more accountable for students who fall behind and are not making gains, when compared to their regular peers.
Choosing Accommodations Carefully
One of the biggest concerns in some public schools is the desire to change testing accommodations just days or weeks before the exams. The IEP conferences and annual reviews held the year before is supposed to serve this purpose, so changing the modifications just days before the test is, questionable at best. In addition, if the testing accommodation has not been used throughout the year already in normal classroom testing situations, then it is inappropriate to change this just before the test. This would require teachers to implement modifications not used in the regular classroom environment in other, non-testing situations.
Care must be used to ensure that decisions made at annual review are both appropriate and applicable to all learning situations throughout the year, and teachers and schools should resist the urge to change these modifications just prior to the testing.
If everyone works together and has the best interests of the student at heart, then the accommodations will work the way they are supposed to, and students' scores may reflect these gains. Students should be continually encouraged to do their best work, and remember that while it is "just a test," it is a part of their permanent school record, and it will follow them throughout their school days.