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Building Assessment Initiatives for Schools: An Accommodations Guide for Parents and Students with Visual Impairments

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19th Annual Josephine L. Taylor Leadership Institute

Boston, Massachusetts

Friday, March 11, 2005


In recent years, national legislation has provided accountability steps and a definition of what must be considered in the assessment arena for all students. The Elementary Secondary Education Act (ESEA), P.L. 107-110, or the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001, which is the latest revision of ESEA, has prompted new and definitive steps schools must consider in the assessment and testing process.

In addition, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA), P.L. 108-446, has added new requirements for state and district-wide assessments, including alternate assessments for qualifying students with disabilities. A critical goal will be to make sure students with visual impairments and those who are deaf-blind are appropriately assessed and the assessment supports educational objectives for these students.

Assessment is a critical aspect of education. It occurs regularly and often forms a basis for long-term educational decisions. It is, therefore, important for parents, students, family members, and caregivers of children with visual impairments and those who are deaf-blind, to develop an awareness of the assessment process and the accommodations used. Additional accommodations may always be considered for students who are deaf-blind, but this document offers numerous accommodations that could be appropriate for these students.

An accommodation is defined as a change of teaching or learning strategies based on individual needs of the student. By becoming more knowledgeable about accommodations and the assessment process, family members and caregivers are better able to participate in the Individualized Education Program (IEP) process, and to provide pertinent information to the individual coordinating and/or administering the assessment.

It is important to be aware of the testing schedule in your state. Parents and students may want to find out the purpose of each test and how the results will be used. Typically, for statewide assessments, some areas (Reading and Math) are assessed every year and other areas (Science, Social Studies) are assessed every two or three years. Parents and students should also find out whether or not practice tests are available in accessible formats at the same time as the regular print practice tests.

Alternate assessments are given to students who are unable to take the regular state assessment, even with approved accommodations. This decision is determined by the IEP committee with guidance from the state assessment office. Each state is required to have criteria to determine which students take alternate assessments.

The following "Checklist of Accommodations" is a list of the possible accommodations your child may need. This is not an all-inclusive or exhaustive list. Parents should check the website of their state education agency to determine available and appropriate accommodations, as well as testing schedules.

Checklist of Accommodations

Presentation Accommodations

  • Test in uncontracted braille, by special request
  • Test in contracted braille
  • Test in regular print with magnification device
  • Oral reading of test directions or other allowable portions of the test
  • Test in audio format with braille or large print text and graphics (to be used with or without magnification devices)
  • Test in audio format with regular print text and graphics (to be used with or without magnification devices)
  • Test on computer with:
    • refreshable braille display
    • screen enlargement software
    • large monitor
    • screen magnifier in front of regular monitor
    • speech output
    • complete copy of braille/tactile graphics test
    • complete copy of large print test
    • complete copy of regular print test, as allowed by the state
  • Subtests given in different order if necessary
  • Signing of appropriate parts of the test for deaf-blind students
  • Administration in native language

Response Accommodations

  • Present answers orally to a test proctor
  • Tape record answers
  • Write answers in test booklet
  • Write answers on separate paper
  • Use word processors, braillewriters or notetakers to write responses

Setting Accommodations

  • Individual administration
  • Small group administration
  • Ample table space for testing materials and writing tools
  • Special lighting
  • Adaptive or special furniture
  • Distraction-free space in a separate room

Scheduling Accommodations

  • Extended time for test completion
  • Several brief testing sessions
  • Testing at a different time of the day
  • Additional break options
  • Testing over a longer period of time (within the testing window)

Special Tools Accommodations

  • 3-D objects, as allowed
  • Abacus
  • Talking calculator
  • Large print calculator
  • Braille ruler or protractor
  • Large print ruler or protractor
  • Graphing tools and paper
  • Bold-lined paper
  • Line markers and place holding templates
  • Magnification devices
  • Tape recorder for audiotaped version of test, including headphones
  • Computer with speech output and/or refreshable braille display, braillewriter and paper, or notetaker for recording responses

Parent Checklist of What to Do to Ensure Accommodation Use

  • Use information from the student's learning media assessment to determine accommodation needs.
  • Before the IEP meeting ask your child's teacher if accommodation use has been evaluated and implemented for use during instruction.
  • Ask your child's teacher if your child has been taught to use the accommodations that are needed, e.g., instruction on reading and interpreting tactile graphics that are similar to the ones used on the test; use of auditory/listening skills; use of low-vision devices; use of a closed circuit television (CCTV); computer; use of reader.
  • Ask your child's teacher if setting accommodations, such as individual or small group administration, distraction-free space, and appropriate lighting will be implemented.
  • At the IEP meeting, make sure that all accommodations are discussed (with the student as appropriate) and indicated in writing.
  • At the IEP meeting, make sure that accommodations to be used in testing situations are discussed relative to approved accommodations on particular tests.
  • Before the testing process begins, check with your child's teacher to make sure that planning for the use of accommodations is occurring and that accommodations will be implemented.
  • After the testing, ask your child and your child's teacher what accommodations were used and if it is thought that the accommodations actually were beneficial or might have hindered the child's performance in any way.
  • Before the next IEP meeting, make plans to review accommodation use and effectiveness.
  • Help your child learn to advocate for his or her needed accommodations on a daily basis and in testing situations.

Student Checklist for Using Accommodations

  • Advocate for the accommodations you need in testing.
  • Make sure you can use the accommodations independently.
  • Ask your teacher to work with you on test-taking skills that include:
    • skimming and scanning material on a page
    • understanding various test item formats
    • reading and producing various graphic formats
    • taking the practice test using the accommodations you need
  • Approach the testing process with a positive attitude and do your best on all items using the accommodations you need
  • After the testing is over share with your teacher any problems that you experienced during the testing so that together you can work on any issues.


Accommodations: Assisting students with disabilities: A guide for educators. (2003).
Florida Department of Education.

Accommodations and modifications: What parents need to know. (2003).
Florida Department of Education.

Accountability & testing. National Education Association (NEA).

Allman, C.B. (2004). Test Access: Making tests accessible for students with visual impairments: A guide for test publishers, test developers, and state assessment personnel. Second Edition.
Louisville, KY: American Printing House for the Blind.

ARD committee decision-making process for the Texas assessment program (TAP): Reference manual for 2004-2005 testing year.
Texas Education Agency.

Elementary and Secondary Education Act/No Child Left Behind amendments of 2001, P.L. 107-110.

Goodman, S. & Wittenstein, S. (Eds). (2003). Collaborative assessment, working with students who are blind or visually impaired, including those with additional disabilities.
New York: AFB Press.

For parents of Florida's students with disabilities: An Introduction to Exceptional Student Education. (2001).
Florida Department of Education.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA), P.L 108-446.

Low vision resource guide.
Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired.

National Association for Parents of Children with Visual Impairments (NAPVI).

Online accommodations studies: Online accommodations bibliography.
National Center on Educational Outcomes, University of Minnesota.

Test access and accommodations for students with disabilities: Tools to guide decision-making. (August 2004).


Dr. Carol Allman, Accessible Tests Department with the American Printing House for the Blind,

Barbara Henderson, Accessible Tests Department with the American Printing House for the Blind,

Debra Sewell, Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired,

Mary Ann Siller, American Foundation for the Blind,

Debbie Willis, Accessible Tests Department with the American Printing House for the Blind,

Permission is given to distribute copies with appropriate credit: American Foundation for the Blind, American Printing House for the Blind and Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired from the Josephine L. Taylor Leadership Institute, March 11, 2005.

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