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Accommodations used for statewide standardized assessments: Prevalence and recommendations for students who are Deaf or hard of hearing

  • Dr. Stephanie Cawthon/The University of Texas at Austin, TX was available from 09/22/08 until 10/12/08 to answer questions and share ideas concerning her research and its implications for parents of children who are deaf/hard of hearing, their teachers and other professionals who work with them.
  • You are encouraged to read the research summary below and review the attached discussion.

The Second Annual National Survey on Accommodations and Alternate Assessments for Students who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing investigated the types of testing accommodations used on 2004-05 statewide standardized assessments as well as recommendations for best practices. A total of 444 participants who served over 9,000 students as teachers, administrators, or other educational professionals responded to the survey. The most widely used accommodations were small group testing, interpreting test directions, and extended time. With the exception of interpreting or reading test items aloud, accommodations were largely used for both reading and math assessments. Participants perceived all listed accommodations as both valid and easy to use. Participants recommended that student academic level, communication mode, and additional disabilities be taken into account when choosing accommodations for students who are deaf or hard of hearing.


Under No Child Left Behind (NCLB), states use standardized to measure students’ academic progress. NCLB reform is useful only to the extent that states use accurate and meaningful measures of achievement for all students. Because many students with disabilities have difficulty with the format of standardized assessments, accommodations can be administered to provide the best opportunity for testing participation and accurate test scores. Accommodations are meant to make it easier for students with disabilities to gain access to test content without changing the difficulty of the item. Testing accommodations appear to have a positive effect on student participation in assessments used for NCLB accountability. This is true for SDHH as well; on the whole, SDHH participate in state standardized assessments, with a significant proportion using at least one accommodation.

One of the most common accommodations is extended time. Extended time increases the time available to complete the exam, and can range anywhere from time and a half to double or unlimited time. Another type of accommodation is small group testing, when students complete the test in smaller groups instead of in the larger class. Other accommodations make the test more accessible by changing the test direction or test item presentation, often times involving an “access assistant” for test administration. An access assistant is an individual whose purpose is to provide an accommodation for students with disabilities. An accommodation often used for SDHH is to have the test directions interpreted into ASL or other signed language, often with an access assistant such as an interpreter Access assistants may also be used for the test items themselves. In the test items read aloud accommodation, the student does not read the question, but listens to it read aloud by a teacher or other test administrator. A related accommodation is to have the test item interpreted for the student. For students who are deaf or hard of hearing (SDHH), test items may be translated into American Sign Language (ASL) or another signed language used in instruction.

Purpose of Paper:

The purpose of this paper is to provide findings from the Second National Survey of Assessments and Accommodations for Students who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing (Second National Survey). The goal of the Second National Survey was to gather information on statewide assessment practices with SDHH in 2004-05. In addition to findings on accommodations use, participants gave their perspectives on the ease of use for specific accommodations and their validity for use with SDHH. The survey also examined teacher perspectives on best practices for accommodations and alternate assessment use. Research questions guiding the study were:
1. What accommodations did SDHH use?
2. What do teachers think about different accommodations used with SDHH?
3. What do teachers say about best practices for accommodations use?

Participants and Findings:

Four hundred forty-four participants from across the United States responded to the Second National Survey. Survey participants were individual teachers and other educational professionals who work with SDHH. The majority of participants identified themselves solely as teachers of the deaf (n = 200), followed by itinerant teachers (n = 49), or “other professional roles” (n = 67), including counselors, speech pathologists, and audiologists. A smaller number of participants indicated as administrators (n = 27), special education teachers (n = 22), interpreters (n = 12), or regular education teachers (n = 11).

What accommodations did participants use?

The most prevalent accommodation was the small group/individual accommodation (89%), followed by the extra time accommodation (82%). Interpreting test directions was the third most used accommodation (81%). The least used accommodations were the simplified English accommodation and the student signing the response accommodation. For most accommodations, participants reported administering them either for both math and reading tests, or not at all. However, there were some noticeable differences in results for two accommodations: test items read aloud and test items interpreted. Reading the test items aloud (TIR) was more likely to be administered to SDHH in math assessments only (26%) than only for reading assessments (6%). The same difference between math only (24%) and reading only (4%) can be seen with the test items interpreted (TII) accommodation. Teachers therefore made different choices about accommodations that alter test items for math and reading assessments.

What do teachers think about accommodations?

Teacher perspectives regarding an accommodation’s ease of use influenced the choices they made for their students. Teacher perspectives on validity may also play a role in which accommodations students use in standardized assessments. Participants in this study shared their perspectives on the ease of use and the validity of accommodations. Overall, the extended time, small group, test directions interpreted, and test items read aloud accommodations were rated as the easiest to implement. Study participants also gave their perspectives on the validity of each of the seven accommodations. Overall mean ratings for validity were similar to the ease of use ratings described. None of the accommodations had an average rating of invalid or very invalid by participants in this survey.

What recommendations do teachers have for best practices?

Participants shared their best practice recommendations for three accommodations: 1) Test items read to the student; 2) Test items interpreted in sign language to the student; and 3) Students signing a response to a scribe. The questions were open-ended and allowed for participants to describe under what conditions they would recommend use of the accommodation.

Read Aloud: For Read Aloud, participants focused mainly on student characteristics, with fewer discussions of policy, test format, or questions about validity of reading test items aloud as an accommodation. The majority of responses included some consideration for the academic level of the student, including the number of grades below grade level or reading level. For example, if a student was two or more years behind grade level in reading, some teachers would then recommend the use of read aloud for test items. At times, recommendations for use of read loud as an accommodation conflicted. For example, when teachers focused on a student’s language, some teachers were in support of read aloud and others against, with responses supportive of both ASL and spoken English. This may be due, in part, to the fact that some participants equated read aloud with interpreting test items, and gave identical responses for both survey questions.

Test Items Interpreted: For Test Items Interpreted, some similar trends were the focus on the academic level and communication skills of the student, as well as an emphasis on specific test subjects and assessment formats. There were, however, some distinctions in the overall findings for test items interpreted and those for read aloud. For example, teachers were more likely to explicitly note concerns about validity for sign language interpreted items than for those that were read aloud. Yet, in contrast, they were also more likely to give a general endorsement of interpreting test items without identifying specific conditions when the accommodation would be most beneficial. Recommendations for interpreting test items were thus more general in nature, with less emphasis on specific criteria upon which these decisions could be made.

Student Signing Response to a Scribe: Those participants that gave suggestions on when to use the student sign response accommodation focused on three student characteristics: academic level, student communication, and additional disabilities. The first two characteristics were common across all three accommodations discussed in this article. The third, additional disability, was unique to signing a response. Participants focused mainly on additional disabilities that may limit a student’s ability to hold a pencil or sit for long periods of time. Although students with severe cognitive disabilities can participate in alternate assessments, it is not clear where students with multiple disabilities (that are not severe) fall in NCLB accountability testing policy. If responding in sign language can improve a student’s ability to demonstrate her knowledge and skill, this accommodation may be a valuable addition to a state’s accommodations repertoire.

How SDHH are tested will have a direct bearing on whether states can leverage resources to improve student achievement. Although current tests and NCLB reports are a start, it is still challenging to determine the progress of SDHH in school. A careful look at how language and communication can be a part of the testing process is one way we can increase meaningful participation for SDHH.

Cawthon, S . & the Online Research Lab (2008). Accommodations use for statewide standardized assessments: Prevalence and recommendations for students who are Deaf or hard of hearing . Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education Advanced Access published June 21st, 2007 doi:10.1093/deafed/enm029.