Prepare Ahead for STAAR and EOC Testing Accommodation Decisions

Author:  Judy Butler, Education Specialist, Dyslexia and 504

 

Parents and teachers prefer to provide for a student’s educational  needs without having to consider that the child may have a disability.  For many students with both mental and physical impairments, particularly within the elementary grades, referrals for Section 504 eligibility determination may be avoided or delayed if the student is able to receive RtI, health services, or dyslexia services outside of Section 504 or Special Education identification.  With the increased rigor of End of Course exams in high school, districts and parents may suddenly realize that students will face serious roadblocks to graduation and college admission without access to accommodations available only to students identified as Section 504 or Special Education with a documented need written into an Individualized Accommodation Plan or IEP.   According to the currently posted TEA Accommodations Triangle, http://www.tea.state.tx.us/student.assessment/accommodations/staar-telpas/ , a student must need the accommodations within the classroom, and use them routinely and effectively as well as meet very specific eligibility criteria.

 

Many of the new STAAR Accommodations are available to any students, students within RtI, 504 only, or Special Education, but some, like Spelling Assistance on Reading Assessment short answers and Written Composition, and Calculative Devices are not available to only 504 or Special Education students.  Additionally, an Oral/Signed Administration accommodation is not available to any student, unless that student has also been identified with dyslexia and is in RtI, or is a Section 504 or Special Education student with dyslexia or has evidence of reading difficulties.

 

This suddenly realized fear that a child might need an accommodation to pass, but does not currently meet the eligibility criteria, can cause panic in the hearts of parents of struggling students when they consider the consequences to high school graduation, documentation to support the need for SAT/ACT accommodations, college admissions and access to services for students with disabilities at the college level.  This nagging fear can cause panic in the minds of school administrators when they consider the impact that failing STAAR or EOC scores will have on state and federal accountability measures as well as the educational planning and resources needed to remediate student achievement.  This sudden realization may also result in larger numbers of students being referred for Section 504 or Special Education evaluation a month, two weeks, or even days ahead of STAAR and EOC testing dates.   The time involved with gathering the data along with documentation insuring accommodations have been routinely and effectively used in the classroom and are usually a logistical impossibility within these last minute time parameters.

 

Fear of anticipated student low performance or failure on STAAR or EOCs should never be the sole cause for initiating a Section 504 or Special Education evaluation to determine need for accommodations.  However, it is possible that a disabled student  who may have survived their school career without being identified as Section 504 or Special Ed eligible will now need documented accommodations due to the following circumstances:  teachers freely made accommodations,  the student was able to receive the Dyslexia Bundled Accommodations without being Section 504 in previous years of TAKS testing, the physical or mental disability now limits a major life activity due to increased expectations or limited time parameters, lack of access to effective interventions, or even changes in the student’s health conditions.

 

Below are a few tips for making sure that students who truly need testing accommodations receive them long before STAAR and EOC test dates arrive:

-Establish and communicate district policies to both parents and teachers of all grade levels about referral processes and the types of information needed to warrant suspicion of a disability.

  • Public school staff may access a free Region 13 online workshop entitled: “Understanding Basic 504 Procedures and Services:  A Campus Training” by registering with Workshop ID:   FA1224572
  • Contact your regional Education Service Center 504 Specialist to aid with establishing district procedures and parent education regarding Section 504.

-For students within RtI, be sure that RtI teams are collecting progress monitoring data and referring students to 504 or Special Education evaluations when more intensive services and protections are warranted.

-Be sure that English Language Learners are not being overlooked.  Specialized training is needed by assessment personnel to determine if poor achievement is due to the process of English language acquisition, or is also impaired by a mental or physical impairment.  This is especially true if the impairment is dyslexia.  Contact your regional educational specialist in dyslexia if you need to contract with a Bilingual Assessment Specialist.

-Educational need is not required to trigger the need for Section 504 referral.  A child need not have failing grades or previously failing test scores before being evaluated for Section 504.

-Remember that there is no standard set of accommodations for any specific type of disability.  Both classroom and testing accommodation decisions should be based on evidence of student need on a case by case basis, and documented within that student’s Individualized Accommodation Plan or IEP.  The TEA Accommodations Triangle provides specific guidance for how the need and effectiveness for many accommodations can be determined.

-Consult with Assistive Technology Specialists, within district or Education Service Center regional specialists, for tools in how to determine the best low or high-tech device for each student.  Experiment with the student to evaluate the effectiveness of the technology.

-Remember that providing unnecessary accommodations within the classroom and in testing situations can be damaging to a student and their future educational success.

-Reference Region 13’s new “Scaffolding Accommodations” guide, available through the Product section of our website:  http://store.esc13.net/index.php/special-ed/scaffolding.html  when making and documenting accommodation decisions within an RtI, 504, or ARD committee meeting.


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