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Assessing Learning and Evaluating Progress

Out of frustration, many high school teachers today ask ‘why test?’ This book chapter describes authentic ways to evaluate student progress and, thus, the true effectiveness of instruction. Other topics are a discussion of grading students with disabilities, their participation in high stakes assessments, and making accommodations and modifications in testing.

In this chapter, we explore issues related to assessing learning and evaluating progress in inclusive high schools. In addition to answering the question, “Why test?” we describe authentic ways to evaluate your students’ progress and, thus, the effectiveness of your instruction. We also discuss issues related to grading students with disabilities and their participation in state- and district wide assessments. After reading this chapter, you will

  • Begin to formulate your rationale for evaluating learning and instruction in your classroom
  • Recognize issues of fairness in evaluation
  • Describe ways to integrate instruction and assessment
  • Identify ways to measure student progress and learning
  • Identify accommodations and modifications useful in testing situations
  • Recognize issues related to grading in inclusive settings
  • Describe issues related to state- or district wide proficiency testing and students with disabilities

Why test? A rationale for evaluating learning and instruction

The teacher contributors for this chapter described several reasons for testing and evaluation:

  • It is important for students to have to articulate about classwork and how it applies to their life; then, when the rubber hits the road, they can do it. (Sister Kristin Matthes, religion teacher)
  • There are things students need to know, principles of which they must be aware; some things are not opinion but are reality. (Kathy Heekin)
  • Frequent assessment provides students with ways to accumulate points as a basis of grades; quizzes aren’t so much a measure of what they’ve mastered, but a measure of whether they’re with me. (Christine Bredestege, math teacher)
  • Students need to keep track of their learning and show how they’ve learned and changed. They should use their knowledge to produce something- (Jason Haap)
  • Students need to reflect on their learning and classroom activities. (Margaret Jenkins, consumer and family science teacher)
  • Testing is a learning experience for students - a way to help them think about and organize information. (Karen Willig, language arts and resource teacher)
  • Testing is my way of knowing where the students are; it also gives them closure - a review of what we’ve done. (Cliff Pope, religion teacher)

Cullen and Pratt (1992) suggested that in inclusive environments, assessment can help determine if objectives were achieved and assist in the development and implementation of individualized education programs (IEPs). In addition, through evaluation, teachers can determine the direction of future instruction and develop a basis for extra help where needed.

The overriding purpose for all assessment is to gather information to facilitate decision making (Witt, Elliott, Kramer, & Gresham, 1998). These may be global decisions, such as how well the student does when compared with the rest of his or her class, or local decisions, such as the material that the individual student has mastered and the material that he or she needs to review. If we think about assessment as assessment for intervention, the basic purpose is to identify changes that are needed in behaviors or environments and to decide how to accomplish the goals of the needed changes (Barnett et al., 1997). In this chapter we consider both global and general assessment.

What are issues of fairness and equity?

As Cliff Pope so succinctly put it, “If kids learn in different ways, then it just follows that you have to evaluate them in different ways.” Lam (1995) suggested that assessment is unfair if students are 1) not provided an equal opportunity to demonstrate what they know, 2) judged on abilities and needs using biased assessments, and 3) limited in their educational opportunities because of assessment information. Although some teachers may insist that equality means that all students use the same test that is scored the same way, bias results from characteristics such as gender, ethnicity, race, linguistic background, socioeconomic status, or disability (Lam, 1995). It is unlikely that any group of students would have all of these characteristics. Therefore, administering the same tests to all students and scoring those tests the same way for all children is inherently unfair. As one of our teacher contributors stated, “We need to redefine what same means. Same is finding out where each student is and pulling him or her forward-that’s what is fair and equal” (Jason Haap).

The National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing (CRESST) (1996) defined equity as the concern for fairness (i.e., that assessments are free from bias or favoritism). An assessment that is fair enables every student to demonstrate what they can do. At the minimum, teachers should review their assessments to make sure that the assessment is free from 1) stereotypes, 2) situations that may favor one culture over another, 3) language demands that prevent some students from showing their knowledge, and 4) form or content that exclude students with disabilities or limited English proficiency. Biases may occur because of unfamiliar language or format, not because the student does not grasp the concept (Nickell, 1993).

Fair assessment is adapted to the individual student’s instructional context and background. It recognizes variations in prior knowledge, cultural experience, language proficiency, cognitive style, and interests (Lam, 1995). Using assessment methods and administration procedures appropriate to the student reduces bias because factors that could inhibit the student’s performance are reduced. The student’s performance is a truer measure of what he or she knows or can do.

What does fair assessment mean for teachers? For our teacher contributors, it meant that they frequently designed four or five forms of a test that covered the same content. Tests may be read to the student with responses recorded by a scribe, additional time may be given to take the tests, the tests may be taken in a different environment, or one sentence may be written instead of three. Most of all, it means that assessment is a daily part of the teaching process, and that instruction and assessment are integrated.

Stainback , Stainback, and Stefanich (1996) argued that one set of objectives cannot be expected to meet the unique learning abilities of all students in inclusive classrooms. They stated that although not everyone will achieve the same objectives, whatever knowledge can be gained is valuable and worthwhile. Jason Haap, however, suggested that alternative forms of assessment can cater to an inherent accommodation. For example, the same structure for a performance-based project can be used for various learners, but the expectations of outcomes based on individual student ability can be altered. The project is the same but the participants are different.

How can I integrate instruction and assessment?

Teaching in an inclusive learning environment has made our teacher contributors attentive to the relationship of instruction and assessment. Assessment is seen as part of the learning process (Margaret Jenkins) and is in itself a learning experience (Karen Willig). Assessing learning is grounded in learning. Cullen and Pratt (1992) contended that continual evaluation of student learning is an integral part of the teaching and learning process, and forms the basis for immediate action.

To ground assessment in student learning, we need to describe the relationship between learning and assessment. Herman, Aschbacher, and Winters (1992) used cognitive learning theory as a basis for a discussion of instruction and assessment. If we recognize the role of learning theory, traditional tests such as true and false, multiple choice, and fill in the blank have to be evaluated. For example, cognitive learning theory tells us that knowledge is constructed, and that when we learn we create personal meaning from new information and prior knowledge. This implies that discussion of new ideas and encouragement of divergent thinking with multiple correct responses must be emphasized. Critical thinking skills of analysis, comparisons, generalization, prediction, and formation of hypotheses must be used to relate new information to personal experience. All information should be applied to a new situation. Table 9.1 shows additional implications of cognitive learning theory for aligning instruction and assessment.

One way to look at the relationship between instruction and assessment is described by Herman (1998) who uses the acronym WYTIWYG: What you test is what you get. Rudner (1991) contended that testing has traditionally focused on whether students get the right answers; how they arrive at their answers has been considered only during the development of the test. Yet, two primary reasons for testing are discovering how students think or determining where they are having problems (Ascher, 1990). Tests administered to groups emphasize the acquisition of simple facts, low-level skills, superficial memorization, and isolated evidence of achievement (Meisels, 1993).

To show the integration of instruction and assessment, we use an example from one of our teacher collaborators. During senior year, all students participate in a class called life philosophy, in which Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse is read. Although this is a complex book, multiple supports are provided for all students, and the theme of searching is one that resonates with the seniors (Sister Kristin Matthes). To begin the unit, the teacher presents background information on Hermann Hesse. Some students take notes; some listen and receive copies of the overheard transparencies later; and some follow along, highlighting copies of the overhead transparencies depending on their needs and learning style (see Figure 9.1).

Table 9.1. Implications of cognitive learning theory for assessment

If cognitive learning theory contends that… Then, assessment should
Knowledge is constructive, and learning that occurs as personal meaning is created from new information and prior knowledge Encourage divergent thinking and multiple correct responses Encourage various ways of self-expression Emphasize critical thinking
Learning is not a linear progression of discrete skills Engage students in problem solving and critical thinking
Students vary in learning style, attention span, memory, learning rate, and strengths Provide choices in tasks Provide choices in how to show mastery Provide opportunities to reflect, revise, and rethink Include concrete experiences
Students learn better when the goal and criteria for evaluation are clear Engage students in defining goals Provide a range of models for students Provide students with opportunities for self evaluation and peer review, with input on criteria

Students should know how and when to use knowledge, adapt it, and manage their own learning

Provide real world opportunities Engage students in self evaluation

Motivation, effort, and self esteem affect learning

Encourage students to see the connection between effort and results

Learning has social components

Provide group work in heterogeneous groups. Consider group products and processes

As the students begin their study of the book, several supports are provided. Audiotaped recordings of the book are available. In addition to the reading of the book, these audiotapes contain explanations interjected in the reading. At the conclusion of the chapters, the tapes provide supports for the students to complete the group work related to the chapter. In addition, students with disabilities (and those who need additional help) have the option to work in a small group with the teacher. In the small group, the teacher reads chapter by chapter with the student and completes a study chart with them (see Table 9.2). As the small group continues its work, the teacher relies more on the students to complete the chart according to the model or earlier chapters.

Background on Hermann Hesse

  1. Biographical information
    1. Born in Germany in 1877
    2. His parents were missionaries in India
      • It was assumed Hermann also would study for the ministry
      • Hermann experienced a religious crisis and ran away from the seminary in 1892
      • He was later expelled from high school and began to work in bookshops
    3. During World War I Hermann became a pacifist and was active in the antiwar movement
    4. Hermann studied the works of Freud and underwent analysis with Carl Jung
    5. Hermann visited Switzerland in 1914, and in 1919 moved there permanently
    6. Later he tried to move back to Germany but was unable to identify with the rising patriotism
    7. Hesse won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1946 for his novel Magister Ludi
    8. He lived in seclusion in Switzerland until his death in 1962
  2. Ideas background
    1. Anti nationalism: He believed Europe should be one unity instead of separate, warring countries
    2. Existentialist: He reacted to the chaos of his time; similar to the U.S. and Vietnam in the 1960’s
    3. Environmentalist: He opposed war and technocracy
  3. Literary themes
    1. He wrote about the polarities of human nature
      • Reason versus intuition
      • Reflection versus spontaneity
      • Discipline versus instinct
      • Flesh versus spirit
    2. He concluded that success and happiness in life come from balancing the polarities
    3. He believed that what happens inside of a person is as real as what happens outside of a person
  4. Siddhartha
    1. Hesse wrote it in 1922 at the age of 45
    2. Siddhartha’s life parallels the Buddha’s. This was a technique used to convey Hesse’s message.
    3. Siddhartha lives the extremes. He eventually finds salvation in the resolution of these.
    4. Characters are symbolic in Siddhartha
      • Siddhartha: Searcher
      • Govinda: Friend, loyal one
      • Kamala: Love

The test concerning Siddhartha is specifically linked to the material presented to the students or gleaned through their group work. However, alternative forms of the test are presented to students depending on their individual needs. For example, a short-answer question on the test asks, “What was Siddhartha like at the beginning of the book?” The ‘information for this question is one of the items entered into the study chart (characters in the chapter and two words to describe them). Through his or her study guides, instruction, and group work, the teacher has operationalized “What you test is what you get.”

The test concerning Siddhartha, which uses alternative forms and rubrics for evaluation, is a fairly traditional test using true and false, matching, short answer, and essay questions.. There are alternative ways of assessing progress, which we discuss in the next section.

What are ways to measure student learning and progress?

Salvia and Ysseldyke (1998) described four basic approaches used to gather information about students. The first is observation, which can provide highly accurate, detailed, and verifiable information. Observation maybe systematic, in which the observer gathers data on one or more precisely defined behaviors, or nonsystematic, in which the observer watches an individual in his or her environment and takes notes on the behaviors, characteristics, and personal interactions that seem significant. As one of our contributors stated, “I watch their interactions with each other and what they do in class, as well as my interactions with them” (Kathy Heekin). Another teacher uses dry-erase boards in mathematics class to observe the students working through the problems. The second approach Salvia and Ysseldyke described is recollection via interview or rating scales. In recollection, people familiar with a student can be asked to recall observations and interpretations of behavior and events and complete an interview or Likert format rating scale. A third approach includes record review. In record review, information can be gathered from school cumulative records, school databases, student products accumulated in portfolios, anecdotal records, and nonschool records. Finally, testing - the most common approach - is the process of measuring student competencies, attitudes, and behaviors by presenting a challenge or problem and having the student generate a response.

Table 9.2. Reading and study chart for Siddhartha
Chapter title Characters in the chapter (fill in two words to describe them) Setting of the chapter Main events of the chapter Symbolic people or the chapter things in the chapter
“The Brahmin’s Son” pages 3-12 Siddhartha: Govinda: Samanas: Siddhartha’s father: Siddhartha’s home village We meet Siddhartha and Govinda Siddhartha is not happy Siddhartha and Govinda go to meditate Siddhartha decides to join the Samanas Siddhartha’s father at first refuses but finally gives in and lets Siddhartha go Govinda goes with Siddhartha to follow the Samanas Siddhartha and Govinda were accepted into the Samanas Govinda: friendship, loyalty The river: life, rebirth
“With the Samanas” pages 13-24 Gotama: Traveling with the Samanas Siddhartha sought to empty himself by depriving himself of things and by meditating Siddartha does not find what he is looking for They decide to follow the Buddha  
“Gotama” pages 25-42 Gotama: The town of Savanthi, in the grove of Jetavana They find Gotama, the Buddha They listen to Gotama preach Govinda decides to follow Gotama Siddhartha questions and challenges Gotama; Gotama respects Siddhartha’s questions Siddhartha leaves Gotama but Govinda stays Gotama: wisdom, enlightenment

Although it is used most often in high schools, fixed-response testing cannot gain access to the student’s ability to function as a competent participant in society. As Nickell (1993) indicated, if we really expect students to be able to examine an issue, make a decision, research an idea and synthesize that research to make a presentation, initiate a project and see it through, or even evaluate an idea, we must use assessment instruments. Because of the need to assess students on these more complex skills, alternative forms of evaluating student progress are changing testing (Nickell, 1993). The familiar multiple-choice test is giving way to expanded generative formats in which students are called upon to demonstrate what they know. Traditional fixed-response testing does not provide a clear or accurate picture of what students can do with their knowledge. These tests only show that students can recall; comprehend; or in some cases, interpret, but they do not measure students’ ability to use knowledge (Nickell, 1993).

Although she wrote about social studies, Nickell (1993) provided insight into the potential impact of ways to assess students. First, the curriculum will need to be re-examined and re-organized to ensure mastery of knowledge, ways of thinking, and specific behaviors. Instruction also must change; learning must change to doing when activities connect classroom-based learning with the real world. A significant implication also is the integration of assessment with instruction. Expected outcomes should be specified and the criteria for judging success must be clear.

The direct examination of student performance on real world tasks is referred to as authentic assessment. Authentic assessments do the following (Wiggins, 1989):

  • Require students to be effective performers with the acquired knowledge
  • Present students with the full array of tasks found in the best instructional activities, including conducting research; writing, revising and discussing papers; providing an engaging oral analysis; and collaborating with others
  • Attend to whether students can craft polished, thorough, and justifiable answers, performances, or products
  • Emphasize and standardize the criteria for scoring such varied products
  • Involve challenges and roles that help students rehearse for the complex ambiguities of life

Authentic assessments often take the form of performance-based assessments. Performance assessments were defined by the U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment (1992) as testing methods that require students to create an answer or product that demonstrates their knowledge and skills. Performance assessments share three common features: 1) students construct rather than select a response, 2) students are observed completing tasks that resemble those in the real world, and 3) students reveal their learning and thinking processes along with their answers (U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment, 1992). Elliott (1994) suggested that two terms are key to performance assessment. First, it is a performance. The student actively generates a response that is directly or indirectly observable through a product. Second, it is authentic. The nature of the task and context in which the assessment occurs is relevant and represents real world problems or issues. A key feature of performance assessments is that students are active participants (Rudner, 1991). Rather than choosing from presented options, as in traditional multiple-choice tests, students are responsible for creating or constructing their responses.

Performance assessment has several advantages. Students axe assessed in real and complex situations, considering both process and product (Maker, 1993). In addition, the gap between testing and instruction is reduced (Frechtling, 1991). There is a concern, however, that performance-based assessment relies on the teacher’s observations or judgments, increasing subjectivity over other measurement strategies (Frechtling, 1991). In performance assessment, judgments are made about student knowledge and skills based on observation of student behavior or examination of student products (Lam, 1995). Although the instructional advantages of performance assessment when teachers focus on higher-order thinking skills are obvious, there is no evidence that assessment bias vanishes with performance assessment (Linn, Baker, & Dunbar, 1991). Performance assessment may generate its own potential sources of bias, including students’ ability to use higher-order thinking skills; metacognitive skills; cultural problem-solving patterns; shyness; inadequate communication skills in presenting, discussing, arguing, or debating; inadequate or undue help; lack of resources inside and outside of school; incompatibility in language and culture between assessors and students; and subjectivity in rating (Lam, 1995).

In performance assessment, items directly reflect intended outcomes. They have the potential for measuring skills that traditionally have not been measured in large groups of students such as integrating knowledge across disciplines, contributing to the work of a group, and developing a plan of action when confronted with a novel situation (Rudner, 1991).

One aspect of a performance assessment is making an assessment of a curriculum event. In this way, the assessment is a series of theoretically and practically coherent learning activities structured in a way that they lead to a single predetermined end (Elliott, 1994). When planning a performance assessment as a curriculum event, teachers should consider

  • The content of the instrument
  • The length of activities required to complete the assessment
  • The type of activities required to complete the assessment
  • The number of items in the assessment instrument
  • The scoring rubric

An example of a performance assessment that is in itself a curriculum event is provided by one of our teacher contributors (Margaret Jenkins). In her parenting class, the students participate in a simulation using a 5-pound bag of flour as a “baby.” Each day’s activities are described, providing a format for the simulation, including work to be completed in and out of class, and the evaluation of these activities. As they learn about parenting and child development, each student completes a baby book that includes a birth certificate that they generate, a description of their baby’s daily schedule, and reflective journal entries. In addition, students are evaluated on their participation in the simulation, The materials used in this performance assessment are provided in Figures 9.2 and 9.3.

Performance assessments can take other forms as well. Ascher (1990), for example, described station activities as one way to employ performance assessment. In station activities, students proceed through a series of discrete tasks, either individually or in teams, in a given amount of time. Ascher gave the example of a science laboratory in which a variety of tasks, such as inferring the characteristics of objects sealed in boxes, measuring electrical currents, and sorting seeds are set in various places around the lab. Students may participate in individual or group projects, which serve as comprehensive demonstrations of skills or knowledge. Interviews or oral presentations allow students to verbalize their knowledge (Rudner, 1991).

More traditional formats also can serve as performance assessments. For example, Rudner (1991) required students to produce their own answers rather than select from an array of possible answers. Assessment questions can vary from filling in a blank or writing a short answer to drawing a graph or diagram or writing all the steps of a geometry proof. Essays have long been used by teachers so that students employ critical thinking, analysis, and synthesis. Experiments test how well a student understands scientific concepts and can carry out scientific processes.


A portfolio is a purposeful collection of student work that tells the story of achievement or growth (Arter, Spandel, & Culham, 1995). Portfolios benefit instruction by developing student skills in self-reflection, critical thinking, responsibility for learning, and content area skills and knowledge (Arter et al., 1995). They benefit assessment because collecting multiple samples of student work over time enables educators to 1) develop an in-depth look at what students know and can do, 2) base assessment on authentic work, 3) supplement standardized tests, and 4) communicate student progress (Arter et al., 1995). For example, portfolios are used in California as a certification of competence to demonstrate student mastery in science (California State Department of Education, 1994). They can track growth over time, presenting a chronological collection that shows how students have changed by contrasting early work to later work. Arter and associates (1995) cautioned, however, that the use of portfolios for assessment is not without controversy. They posed a series of questions that elucidate these issues:

  • To what extent does the portfolio process, content, and performance criteria need to be standardized so that results are comparable?
  • Is the use of portfolios feasible and affordable?
  • Will teachers cooperate?
  • Will the conclusions drawn from portfolios be valid?

Flour babies Parenting simulations

Parenting a “newborn” often looks easy and fun. This action project is designed to help you experience not only what it is like to tote around an infant, but also what it takes to care for someone else 24 hours a day.

  1. The simulation will last 3 weeks, 24 hours a day.
  2. Treat your baby as a real baby; you wouldn’t stuff a baby in a locker, drop it on the floor, or leave it in the car.
  3. You are the parent and are responsible for the constant care of your baby. Bring your baby to school every day and to each parenting class. You may arrange for a baby sitter if you work. Agree on a fee with your baby sitter. On that day, the baby sitter must sign your journal entry in the baby book stating the number of hours he or she took care of the baby. If it is inappropriate for your baby to go with you during an activity, then arrange for a baby sitter. The infant’s time away from you in the care of a baby sitter is not to exceed ______ hours a day. Again, the baby sitter must sign the daily journal entry in the baby book.
  4. Your baby should receive the care it needs to develop appropriately.
  5. Your baby needs to be clothed appropriately.
  6. Your baby has the right to be cared for in a nurturing, loving environment.
  7. Your baby should show evidence of thriving. Its daily schedule needs to reflect this.

Assessment components:

Baby book: Includes birth certificate, daily schedule, and 22 reflective journal entries

Parenting skills: A daily schedule was followed, care was shown in class, the baby developed an appropriate personality, the baby had appropriate clothing, there were supportive behavior reports and constraining behavior reports (i.e., negative points), and there was evidence of thriving.



Baby Book: Points earned

____ 1 . Birth certificate

____ 2. Describe how you feel about the birth of your baby.

____ 3. Explain how you will build a strong family for your baby to grow. Include all six secrets of a strong family.

____ 4. Read the article titled, Love at First Sight, then make an appropriate daily schedule for your newborn child (24 hours).

____ 5. Due to the demands of your baby’s daily schedule, explain how you will manage your personal schedule as well as appropriately care for your baby.

____ 6. Describe how your 5-day-old baby behaves.

____ 7. Describe how you cared for your baby today.

____ 8. Interview your parents and ask them to tell you about yourself as a baby.

____ 9. Describe how being a parent affected your behavior over the weekend.

____ 10. Describe how you properly bathe a newborn baby.

____ 11. Why is parenting education important to you, your family, and society?

____ 12. Describe how you fulfill the roles of manager, problem solver, nurturer, and leader with your flour baby.

____ 13. How can parents manage the numerous tasks associated with meeting the needs of their children and their own needs?

____ 14. Which parenting role is easiest to fulfill and which parenting role is most difficult to fulfill? Explain your answer.

____ 15. Shadow a parent for a day and make an activity record showing what the parent does.

____ 16. Describe how you and your baby spent this past Sunday.

Family Unit: Points earned

____ 17. What part do family celebrations play in building strong families? What family celebrations do you plan to celebrate with your future children?

____ 18. Your baby is leaving you today. Write a story explaining what happened to the baby.

Evaluation of Parenting Skills: Points earned

___ Care in class
___ Appropriate clothing
___ Constraining behavior
___ Baby’s personality developed
___ Supportive behavior reports
___Baby gained weight reports

Follow-Up Reflection

Write about a situation you experience.

List six characteristics of caring behavior.

Define caring and respectful behavior.

Compare your feelings when the baby was born to your feelings at the end of the project.

Explain why your feelings changed over time.

Do you think real parents experience similar feelings?

Describe the behavior you exhibited that supports child development.

Describe the behavior you exhibited that constrains child development.

What did you learn about yourself from this project?

Total points _________

Positive comments: ……………….

The faculty of the English department at Purcell Marian High School have dedicated program meetings to an ongoing seminar regarding the use of portfolios. They have been engaged in asking questions that may assist other teachers in the implementation of portfolios. Jason Haap, the teacher facilitating the discussion of portfolio issues, listed these primary issues that have emerged through their discussions:

  • Why are we implementing portfolios?
  • What should be contained in portfolios?
  • What are the habits we want our students to have and how can that be presented through a portfolio?

When the faculty looked at these questions, other issues emerged for the department. Discussions developed about defining quality work and the writing and thinking habits students should develop. Questions evolved about the types of writing that students should produce and the reasons for selecting the writing.

These issues also have been reported in the literature. Salend (1998) offered guidelines for the effective use of portfolio assessment in the classroom. First, the teacher should identify the goals of the portfolio. For students with disabilities this could include the annual goals of the individualized education programs (IEPs) and for general education students this could include curriculum benchmarks. Next, the teacher determines the type of portfolio to be used. Swicegood (1994) identified several kinds of portfolios:

  • Showcase portfolios present the student’s best work and may be used to gain admission to a specialized program or school.
  • Reflective portfolios help individuals think about various dimensions of student learning.
  • Cumulative portfolios contain items collected for an extended period of time to verify changes in the student’s work.
  • Goal-based portfolios include pre-established objectives, and teachers and students choose items to match those objectives.

Next, Salend (1998) suggested that teachers establish procedures for organizing the portfolio. Items need to be organized using file folders, accordion files, binders, or boxes. After the items are organized, the authentic classroom products that relate to the objectives of the portfolio should be chosen. The significance of items should be recorded (e.g., using caption statements). Students may write letters for their portfolios, use caption-statement prompts, or use questioning prompts. The teacher should periodically review and evaluate portfolios. Salend suggested that teachers ask:

  • What does this portfolio reveal about the student’s academic behavior and socioemotional performance and skills?
  • What information does the portfolio provide with respect to the student’s IEP? What are the student’s strengths and instructional needs?
  • What does the portfolio indicate with respect to the student’s learning styles, attitudes, motivation, interests, cultural backgrounds, and use of learning strategies?
  • Do the items in the portfolio relate to each other? What patterns are revealed?
  • How can the information presented in the portfolio assist in planning the student’s educational program (Swicegood, 1994)?

Teachers indicate that when scoring student work, the process opens new windows of understanding for them, which elucidate new ideas for classroom activities, potential gaps in their classroom curriculum, and, perhaps most important, insights about their students’ strengths and weaknesses (Herman, 1998). Bowers (1989) suggested that the trade-off in the shift to performance assessment is the shift to sacrificing reliability for validity. Performance- based tests do not lend themselves to a cost- and time-efficient method of scoring that provides reliable results. They actually test what is being taught and the skills prerequisite for performing in the real world.

What accommodations and modifications are useful in testing situations?

CRESST (National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing, 1999) defined accommodations and adaptations as modifications in the way assessments are designed or administered so that students with disabilities and students with limited English proficiency can be included in the assessment. The Center for Innovations in Special Education (1998) stated that the purpose of an accommodation is to help each student show what he or she knows and can do and to remove the impact of the disability. The intent is to provide equal footing. Accommodations do not change what the test is evaluating. Typical accommodations include modifications in

  • Time or schedule of the assessment
  • Test directions
  • Presentation of questions
  • Student response to questions
  • Test setting

The Assessment Accommodation Checklist (Elliott, Kratochwill, & Gilbertson, 1998) was developed with input from general and special educators. This instrument was designed to help maintain consistent documentation and implementation of testing accommodations for students with disabilities. The Assessment Accommodations Checklist contains 74 accommodations in these domains: 1) motivation, 2) assistance prior to administration of the test, 3) scheduling, and 4) setting, assessment directions, assistance during assessment, use of equipment or adaptive technology, and changes in format (see Table 9.3).

Our teacher contributors described several accommodations related to testing. All of the teachers mentioned extra time, change in setting, the use of a reader, and the use of a scribe. In addition, they described several format considerations. In mathematics, after teachers provided some of the students with their tests written on graph paper to help them align their figures, the students asked if all tests could be written on graph paper. Thus, an accommodation for students with special needs became a way of helping all students succeed.

In other subjects, formats originally provided for students with disabilities also became part of standard test format. For example, teachers put sections of tests in boxes, to delineate parts of the test. Typically, no more than five questions were in each of the boxes, and if matching was involved the words were provided in the box. Students were not required to use separate answer sheets. Abbreviated tests also were used, with additional modifications in language and complexity. A comparison of items is presented in Table 9.4.

Sister Kristin Matthes utilizes tests as an additional way to force students to reflect on and organize the material from the class. She will issue a blank note card and students may write down any and all of the information they choose on the card. Students must organize the material, determine what is most important, and reflect on ways to map the material. In addition, she will tell students that they only need to respond to a certain number of questions. For example, she may tell the students, “Answer 10 of these 20 questions.” The students reflect on each of the questions, weigh their knowledge regarding that question, and choose whether to respond.

Table 9.3. Accommodations in the eight areas of the assessment accommodations checklist
Area Accommodation
Motivating Working toward a reward for continued effort throughout the assessment
Assisting prior to administering test Teaching test-taking skills
Scheduling Additional time; breaking the sessions into several shorter sessions
Setting Distraction-free space; individual administration
Directing Paraphrase directions; reread directions
Providing assistance during assessment Record responses for the student
Using aids Electronic reader
Changing test form and content Braille or large print; audiotaped questions
Table 9.4. Examples of comparison of test forms

General test essay questions

Identify the author of Siddhartha. List two pieces of information about his personal background and how each is connected to something in the book.

Give two examples of how the river enters the story. Explain what it symbolizes in each example.

Give two examples of when the songbird enters the story. Explain what it symbolizes in each example.

Siddhartha is about the search for self. List and explain two insights that the book may have for a person today who is trying to understand their self more deeply.

Explain how Siddhartha’s ability to love grows throughout the book. How do you know Siddhartha has finally learned to love?

Alternative test form essay questions

Identify the author of Siddhartha. List two pieces of information about his personal background and how each of these is connected to something in the book.

Give an example of how the river enters the story. Explain what it symbolizes in your example.

Siddhartha is about the search for self. List and explain one insight that the book may have for a person today who is trying to understand their self more deeply.

What are issues related to grading in inclusive environments?

Grading students with disabilities changed rapidly in the latter part of the 1990’s. Valdes, Williamson, and Wagner (1990) reported that 64.2% of secondary students with disabilities in general education were graded on the same standards as their peers without disabilities. More recent findings show that things have changed for students with disabilities in general education settings.

Bursuck, Bolloway, Plante, and Epstein (1996) completed a national survey of elementary and secondary general education teachers to determine the classroom grading practices of general education teachers, including grading adaptations for students with disabilities. They found that many teachers are willig to modify their grading criteria for students with disabilities. About 50% responded that they use the same adaptations for students without disabilities. On the whole, teachers were more receptive to passing students who made an effort. Because teachers use homework, tests, and quizzes for most of the students’ grades, 1) students need strategies for taking tests and organizing their assignments, 2) homework and tests should be adapted, and 3) general education teachers need to be trained to develop valid classroom tests.

Teachers wanted grading adaptations to be considered for all students, regardless of whether they had a diagnosed disability.

Grades are not meaningful unless the criteria behind them are explicit (Bradley & Calvin, 1998). Grading modified assignments provides a significant challenge to teachers. Bradley and Calvin (1998) suggested that any grading system should provide frequent assessment; incorporate product, progress, and process evaluation; accurately report achievement to the parent and student; and provide useful feedback to help the student improve. Bradley and Calvin provided a critique of various grading practices:

  • Letter and number grades, which are the most common grading-practices, can be used frequently and can analyze product, progress, and process. However, letter and number grades cannot convey feedback to the student or provide insight to parents about how much the student has learned.
  • Progress checklists containing criterion-related goals provide clear feedback to students and parents, and can analyze product, progress, and process. However, checklists maybe time-consuming and tedious to administer and may not provide frequent assessment.
  • Contracts, which establish predetermined learning goals, also assess product, progress and product. However, they do not provide feedback when the student is unsuccessful in meeting goals.
  • Work samples can display progress and product but may not be effective in showing precise growth.
  • Curriculum-based assessments may not depict process because many curriculum-based assessments are designed to test skills rather than concepts.
  • Mastery level assessment divides the content into subcomponents with pretests and posttests.

However, many content areas go beyond learning that can be demonstrated on pretests and posttests.

  • Multiple grading is used to provide feedback on various aspects of the learning criteria, with separate grades for effort, product, progress, and process.
  • Portfolios provide rationales, goals, contents, standards, and judgments of the contents. In addition, they are self-reflective in nature, providing feedback to the student and parent in product, process, and products
  • Rubrics provide criteria for individual standards. They delineate the exact criteria before the project is undertaken.
  • Bradley and Calvin (1998) made the following suggestions to “level the playing field” in evaluating the modified assignments of students with disabilities:
  • Use points and percentages to grade differentiated assignments, rather than letter grades.
  • Avoid using a traditional grading scale with most students and changing the grading scale for other students. Rather, set expectations and make adjustments before grades are given.
  • Avoid posting grades and scores.
  • Attend to the student’s IEP goals and objectives.
  • Provide students with opportunities to grade themselves and one another, especially in group activities.
  • Use rubrics and share them with students and parents when introducing assignments.
  • Use a variety of grading approaches to obtain grades.
  • Avoiding grading students strictly on effort or learning behaviors.

Our contributing teachers, by virtue of the school system’s report card, are locked into reporting percentage grades for each of their students. They have, however, employed modifications to account for students with disabilities. For example, the mathematics teacher awards points for making an effort on assignments and accuracy. She utilizes daily quizzes on the material from the previous day, administering them immediately after reviewing the material. The use of frequent assessment allows the students to gain more points as well as providing the teacher with information as to whether the students are understanding the material.

The use of rubrics also is pervasive among our contributing teachers. Yet, they talked about the adaptation of these rubrics-requiring greater depth and length for students who are able to produce and reducing those expectations for other students. The use of rubrics is so frequent that one of the teachers devised a blank, write-in rubric form that she would complete as she and the students collaboratively developed criteria. She duplicates it and uses it as a means for evaluation (see Figure 9.4).

What Are Issues Related To State- Or Districwide Proficiency Testing and Students With Disabilities?

Accountability is a system of informing those inside and outside of the educational arena about the direction in which schools are moving (Westat, Inc., 1994). One of the ways that school districts and states feel they can address the issue of accountability is through statewide or districtwide proficiency tests.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Amendments of 1997 (PL 105-17) require that students with disabilities are included in general state- and districtwide assessment, with appropriate accommodations. States and school districts must develop guidelines for the participation of students with disabilities in alternative assessments when they cannot participate in state- and districtwide assessment programs. Special education students have three alternatives for participation in state- or districtwide testing programs:

Figure 9.4. Sample rubric form to be used as a means of evaluation.

Work and Family Assessment

Title of work:__________________

Creator(s) of work:_______________

Criteria/standard Well done Acceptable Needs improvement Not acceptable



Adolescents and Inclusion: Tranforming Secondary School (C) 2001 Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co., Inc.

  • Standard testing administration offered to all other students
  • The use of approved accommodations
  • The use of alternative assessment designed to measure the progress of students who cannot meaningfully participate in the standard assessment program (Erickson, Ysseldyke, Tburlow, & Elliott, 1998)

The state needs to report the number of students participating in alternative assessments, and gather and analyze these data. Ysseldyke and Olsen (1999) suggested that a set of assumptions about alternative assessments for students with disabilities are emerging:

  • Alternative assessments can be used in place of typical procedures when students cannot participate even with accommodations. Clear guidelines and criteria for making decisions about who participates in alternative assessments, then, must be developed.
  • Alternative assessment should be relevant to the curriculum, and the focus of the curriculum for students who participate in an alternative assessment differs from the typical curriculum.
  • Performance on alternative assessments can serve as a substitute for information obtained through typical methods.

In a focus group of teachers, Ysseldyke and Olsen (1999) reported that several important considerations for alternative assessments emerged. First, the focus should be on authentic skills and on assessment experiences in community and real-life environments. Second, school personnel should measure integrated skills across domains. Third, in order to be accurate, assessment methods should involve multiple measures over time. Fourth, the extent to which the school system provides the needed assistive devices, people, and other supports should be studied. Finally, the purpose of alternative assessments should be to improve results for students. Ile extent to which alternative assessments provide information that leads to instructional and policy decisions to improve decisions should be evaluated and used to inform decisions regarding testing programs.

The IEP represents an educational accountability system that outlines learner expectations, assessment strategies, and performance standards established through consensus among various stakeholders. It focuses on individual students, however, whereas system accountability focuses on districtwide or statewide student populations (Erickson et al., 1998). In its 1994 survey of state assessment practices for students with disabilities, the National Center on Educational Outcomes found that state special education directors could estimate participation rates for students with disabilities for only 49 of the 133 statewide tests being used during that year (Erickson, Thurlow, & Thor, 1995). Ysseldyke, Thurlow, McGrew, and Shriner (1994) suggested that large numbers of excluded students could possibly participate in state and national assessments, especially if provided with accommodations. However, a small group of students exists (usually students with severe cognitive deficits or multiple disabilities) for whom standard large-scale testing practices and accommodations remain inappropriate. IDEA ‘97 includes a requirement that states have aggregate data on the educational progress and accomplishments of students who are typically included (Ysseldyke & Olsen, 1999).

Most states recognize the importance of the IEP and the IEP team in making decisions about individual student accommodations. However, Elliott, Thurlow, Ysseldyke, and Erickson (1997) reported that little space if any is provided on the IEP for making accommodation plans, and IEPs rarely provide a list of possible accommodations. Twenty-four of the states reported that accommodations during assessment are linked to those used during instruction. Although most states will not allow accommodations unless the student’s IEP lists them, only four states require written documentation about assessment accommodations beyond the IEP.

Elliott and associates (1997) grouped common assessment accommodations into four areas - timing, setting, presentation, and response. In the area of timing, accommodations may include extending time for test completion, changing the time of day during which the test is administered, administering the test in several sessions over the course of one or several days, and allowing frequent breaks. Setting accommodations include administering the assessment in a small group, in an individual study carrel, in a hospital, in isolation, or in a home. Presentation of the test may include using an audiocassette, reading the test aloud, providing a large print version, repeating directions, interpreting with sign language, providing braille versions of the test, or using magnification devices. Responses may include dictating to a scribe, interpreting with sign language, using braille writers, recording answers, using a word processor, or transferring answers from the booklet to the answer sheet.

Summary points

  • The purpose of assessment is to help teachers gather information to facilitate decision making.
  • Fair assessment allows every student to demonstrate what he or she can do.
  • Assessment is part of the learning process and is itself a learning experience.
  • Student learning can be assessed in a variety of ways. Authentic assessment, one option, is direct examination of student performance on real world tasks.
  • Accommodations and modifications are designed so that students with disabilities can be included in general assessments.
  • In state- and districtwide assessment, students with disabilities 1) may participate in the standard testing administration offered to all other students, 2) use approved accommodations, or 3) use alternative assessments to measure their progress.

Teacher Contributors: Jason Haap, Kathy Heekin, Margaret Jenkins, Sister Kristin Matthes, Cliff Pope, Karen Willis, Christine Bredestege

Adolescents and Inclusion - Transforming Secondary Schools by Anne Bauer & Glenda Myree Brown 2001
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