Assessment Accommodations for Students with Disabilities

Instructor: Jesse Richter

Jesse holds two masters, a doctorate and has 15 years of academic experience in areas of education, linguistics, business and science across five continents.

Looking for ways to assist students with disabilities during assessments? This lesson discusses concepts of assessment accommodations for students with disabilities and provides tangible ideas for implementation.

Jessy's Dilemma

Jessy is a middle school teacher who is charged with evaluating student achievement and comprehension at the end of each quarter. Jessy's class size is considerably large, and she has a significant number of students with a range of diagnosed disabilities. Jessy is well versed with traditional assessment methods, but is struggling to find proper support systems for her disabled students. Let's see what we can do to assist Jessy and her students.

Traditional testing formats, such as multiple choice, may be modified or replaced with more inclusive approaches.

A Quick Note On Disabilities

Disabilities may be present in many forms, so it is critical for the proactive educator to understand the nature of various types of disabilities. In some cases, an individual may be coping with a combination of different disabilities. A long list of medically described disabilities exists, but in general we can look at two broad categories: physical disabilities and psychological disabilities.

Physical Disabilities

Physical disabilities may be either temporary (e.g. a broken bone that will eventually heal) or permanent (e.g. a missing limb, visual impairment or musculoskeletal disease). This is essential to know since physically disabled students may only need short-term support, while other students may need long-term support.

Psychological Disabilities

Psychological disabilities may be hereditary or acquired due to a variety of reasons. Examples of psychological hereditary disabilities include autism, bipolar disorder, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, major depressive disorder and schizophrenia. An example of an acquired psychological disability is anxiety disorder, which may be caused by some form of psychological trauma, such as the loss of a family member.

Related Disabilities

Sometimes physical and psychological disabilities co-occur. Similarly, a physical disability may cause a psychological disability (e.g. a car accident that leads to brain injury) or vice-versa (e.g. an anxiety disorder that leads to self-harming). In any situation, it is important for teachers to consult with students' physicians, school support staff and other key parties, such as parents, administrators and local legal authorities, in order to formulate a targeted plan for each disabled learner.

Accommodations According to Disability Type

An accommodation is formally defined as a change in pedagogy that changes how a student learns and demonstrates comprehension; it typically stems from an individualized educational program (IEP) and/or a 504 plan (as designated by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973). Let's see how we can implement accommodations according to disability type.

Physical Disabilities

Here are a few examples of how we can accommodate students with various physical disabilities:

  • A visually impaired student may be allowed to use assistive technologies, such as magnification tools for reading assessment materials, and to demonstrate comprehension verbally rather than in writing.
  • A student with an injured dominant hand may be allowed to complete a written exam verbally in a one-to-one session with a teacher.
  • A speech-impaired student may be allowed to use sign language, visuals and written communication to demonstrate comprehension during assessments.
  • A student with an auditory impairment may be allowed to communicate verbally, visually and in writing. For example, assessment instructions that would otherwise be provided verbally by the teacher may be transcribed for the student to read.

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