Welcome to the ESU 4 Special Education Webpage. You'll find information for teachers and administrators concerning special education issues and topics. There will be additional information on staff development opportunities and ILCD. Look for more information on each of the ESU 4 Special Education Departments by clicking on the department name. For specific questions, please contact Ellen Stokebrand, firstname.lastname@example.org.
We all get accommodations every day. When I walk through the automatic doors at Target, I'm receiving an accommodation. I don't know about you, but I've come to expect that door to open for me. I believe that I 'deserve' it; I'm often peeved when the automatic door doesn't open right away and I have to exert the energy to push it open myself!
Think about this... most of the accommodations we use today in our daily lives were actually created or adapted from technology/supports intended to assist persons with disabilities. The idea was that the technology support people in their daily life activities so that they are not penalized for having a disability. Those automatic doors... a HUGE step forward for people with physical disabilities, yet something that benefits us all. Did we ever think "It's not fair that the person with the physical disability gets to use an automatic door and we don't?" Or rather, did we just think... Cool! and go through that door ourselves? Maybe, initially, we looked around to see if anyone was watching. And maybe we initially felt a little guilty. But now... the accommodation is so commonplace that we actually expect the doors to open.
Discussions about "Accommodations" are 'all the rage' these days... especially as we head into a new season of NeSA and NRT testing opportunities. As educators, we consistently have the conversation about who gets accommodations, when should they get accommodations, what accommodations are appropriate, and where should those be provided ...or, more importantly, who provides them... continue every day. Those who have heard me present this information, or even read it in previous editions of the ESU 4 "In-4-Mation" Newsletter, should remember that accommodations are not intended to provide any instructional or educational advantage for a student. What accommodations are intended to do is to allow the student to access the information in alternate ways or demonstrate their mastery of a subject in alternate ways. The effect of the disability on the student's performance is lessened. Accommodations do NOT reduce learning expectations. Nor do accommodations begin and end in school.
It's worth repeating...
Accommodations do not reduce learning expectations or alter the content of the material we expect students to master.
There are many factors that impact the performance of students in our classrooms. Anxiety, specifically test anxiety, happens to be the greatest factor which impacts the performance of most people involved in high stakes testing. Take the ACT... a test which most of our seniors take as they prepare to enter college. When I was in high school, the ACT was a 'one and done' proposition. It didn't matter if you were really nervous, had trouble reading the test, or had Homecoming the night before. You took the test once and the score you got was the score you got. It's different in today's 'high stakes world.' Today's high school student participates in ACT prep courses, take practice tests and often take the test more than once. All this to alleviate the issue of test anxiety... create comfort with the testing process and allow the student to demonstrate their knowledge in a high stress, high stakes environment. Our classrooms are no different. There is pressure like never before for students to have higher grades in order to rank well in their class and get better scholarships. Anxiety gets in the way... and teachers who are focused on student mastery of the information work to provide accommodations for their students to access the information or demonstrate their knowledge. Providing text on tape or orally, giving extended time on a test, front-loading a longer and more complicated project or paper, allowing students to provide oral answers after initially taking the test, giving students alternative options for a project as opposed to a term paper... all are ways to allow the student to demonstrate their knowledge while reducing the anxiety. Think about this as you think about accommodations that reduce anxiety and lessen the impact of reading and writing on a student's performance... in today's discussion of using student achievement to evaluate teacher performance, allowing accommodations to access information and demonstrate mastery, supports increased student achievement.
One of the biggest concerns that impact a student's performance is their reading ability. The use of accommodations is intended to reduce the negative impact that a reading disability might have on their performance. Preteaching vocabulary, reading directions, having students repeat directions, highlighting (and teaching students how to highlight) along with reading the questions on assignments and tests are all effective ways to lessen the impact of the student's reading disability. However, there is a caution here when we are giving NeSA and NRT tests (MAPS, Terra Nova, etc.) in the areas of reading comprehension. While it is not appropriate to read the passages aloud to the students, it is appropriate to read the questions about the passage to the student. If we were to read the passages, we would be changing the intent of the test from evaluating a student's reading comprehension skills to that of evaluating their listening comprehension skills. However, that doesn't hold true for the questions about the passage... those may be read aloud to the student.
One final concern that often impacts student performance is that of the 'noise on the page.' Because of eyesight or vision issues, having black print on white paper is often hard on the eyes. Using pastel colored tones (buff and lilac seem to be the best according to some research), reduces the glare and allows the students to relax and reduce anxiety when reading/completing tests and worksheets. Reducing the number of questions on each page is also an effective way to reduce the 'noise.' Sometimes, in our efforts to save trees, we cram too much onto one page. I think of this every time that I print 6 powerpoint slides on a page rather than 3! It's often too 'noisy.' By reducing the number of questions and increasing the amount of space on a page, we again reduce the anxiety and allow students to demonstrate mastery of the subject matter. Now, there's nothing we can do about bubble sheets... they are what they are. But maybe, we could create a 'guide' that would allow students to cover the bubble sheet with another page, highlighting only a small number of responses. We're reducing the noise and chunking the test into portions that will reduce anxiety. Again, increased mastery equals increased achievement. It's a 'win-win.'
You'll notice as you read this, that I'm only focusing on those accommodations which seem to impact assessment and classroom tests the most. There's a reason for that. This is what is high stakes... for our students, ourselves, and our districts. And, the final question... who can have the accommodations? The answer is simple... who ever needs them. We know that providing appropriate accommodations for students with disabilities is required. Did you also know that you could provide accommodations for a student through the SAT? Or that if you were positive that a student knew the material but didn't test well? Again, the idea is not to give the student an advantage, but rather to support their efforts to demonstrate mastery. And, not every accommodation is appropriate for every student. Not every student will need an accommodation. And, not every accommodation will be needed every time. This is where your expertise as an educator is so crucial. You know your students. You know what they know by how they participate in class and complete their daily work. You know...
Accommodations are a tricky thing but they are not rocket science. I can hear it though... the "It's not fair" argument. Or the "I have to treat every student equally." Here's the deal... what's fair is not equal and what's equal is not fair. It's as simple as that. Nothing more... nothing less. Think about that the next time you walk through the automatic doors at Target...