Test accommodations are any adjustments made to tests or testing conditions that allow students with physical or learning disabilities to demonstrate their true achievement level on standardized exams or other high-stakes tests. Common adjustments include:
- American Sign Language
- Braille or large print text
- having someone else write down test answers
- listening to reading passages read aloud by text-to-speech (TTS) software
The general goal of providing test accommodations is to create a level playing field for students whose disabilities may adversely affect their ability to show on a test what they have learned.
A common metaphor for test accommodations concerns eyeglasses. Eyeglasses are an accommodation for imperfect or poor vision. If you wanted to test the natural vision ability of a person who wears glasses to see things far away, then wearing glasses during a test of distant vision would invalidate the test score — assuming your purpose is to understand the person's natural or uncorrected vision. On the other hand, if your purpose was to determine the same person's driving ability, then wearing the glasses that he or she wears daily during the driving test would be a valid accommodation because it would provide a more accurate assessment of the person's driving skills by minimizing or eliminating problems due to vision impairments.
To ensure that tests and assessments accurately measure the abilities and academic progress of students, test accommodations are generally limited to only those specific and appropriate adjustments that educators and test developers have determined will allow students to demonstrate what they know and can do. Restricting test accommodations in this manner is intended not only to ensure testing validity and fairness to other students, but also to ensure that test results don’t overestimate or underestimate student abilities. For example, inaccurately inflated scores could lead to the withholding of specialized services and accommodations that students may actually need, while inaccurately low scores could mask a student’s true academic potential and abilities, which could result in him or her being placed into courses that are insufficiently challenging.
Accurate measurement based on the appropriate use of accommodations is important to educators who want a precise picture of what students know and can do, since testing results are often used to inform the instructional and support modifications that students may need.