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The need for technological advances in assessment related to national educational reform.

It is somewhat daunting, during a time of educational reform and government reinvention, to make predictions about the future of assessments in special education. Nevertheless, current reconstructive activity - in general education, in special education, and in the federal role in education - stimulates speculation about changes that may occur and the benefits that can accrue from technological advances in assessment.

Interestingly, assessment of students with disabilities may be coming full circle. In the first (1904) attempt toward large-scale student assessment, Alfred Binet was commissioned by the French Minister of Public Instruction to apply his theories of intelligence testing to development of a scale for identifying children with mental retardation, so they might be given special instruction (Stanley & Hopkins, 1972, p. 326). Henry Goddard subsequently adapted the Binet scales for use at the Vineland (New Jersey) Training School. His first applications of the scale were to test for mental retardation (Goddard, 1910). But within a year, Goddard (1911) expanded use of the scales to much larger groups of "normal" children. Within a few more years - and prompted by World War I and the army's training needs - the work of Binet, Goddard, and others (e.g., Theodore Simon, Lewis M. Terman, and Arthur S. Otis) formed the basis for development of the first truly large-scale national assessment measures: the Army Alpha and Army Beta tests developed by a committee of psychologists headed by Robert M. Yerkes (Stanley & Hopkins, p. 329).

The testing movement began as an effort to identify and provide aid to students whose performance fill below suspected norms, but quickly shifted its focus to the assessment of individuals across the full range of abilities and skills. Paradoxically, as the testing movement grew, it moved farther and farther away from its origins in addressing the needs of less capable students. A concrete example is the systematic or selective exclusion of low-functioning students, including students with disabilities, from state exams and national achievement tests, such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Prior to 1990, administrations of NAEP permitted exclusion of students with disabilities ("IEP students"). NAEP, however, provided few criteria for their exclusion and relied largely on the judgment of local school administrators. This practice resulted in exclusion rates of 40%-50% in the national testing program (McGraw, Thurlow, Shriner, & Spiegel, 1992). Beginning with the 1990 NAEP, however, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) provided more explicit guidelines (U.S. Department of Education, 1990a, p. II-11) stating that students with disabilities could be excluded only if the following conditions were met:

* The student is mainstreamed less than 50 percent of the time in academic subjects and is judged incapable of participating meaningfully in the assessment; or

* The IEP team or equivalent group had determined that the student is incapable of participating meaningfully in the assessment.

These new criteria have not dramatically increased participation. In the 1990 Trial State NAEP, exclusion rates varied across states, but ranged from 33% to 87% for students with disabilities (Ysseldyke, Thurlow, McGrew, & Vanderwood, 1994).

Similar exclusion policies also exist for state-based assessments. A total of 47 states have decision rules for exempting students with disabilities, and in 38 states the IEP team can make that decision (Shriner & Thurlow, 1993). Estimates of exclusion in state assessment programs range from less than 10% to greater than 90% (Ysseldyke & Thurlow, 1993).

It may be that over the years, and particularly with the expansion of special education services during the past two decades, the responsibility for assessing students with disabilities came to be viewed as distinct and substantively different from general education assessment. Now, a number of forces appear to be redirecting special education assessment. One is the inclusion movement, inspired by and extending the least restrictive environment (LRE) principle promulgated in the 1975 amendments to the Education of the Handicapped Act (P.L. 94-142), and incorporated in all reauthorizations (e.g., the 1990 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, IDEA). Another is the evolution of the governors' and federal efforts related to the National Education Goals and the development of national standards for "all students." These forces - for inclusion and standards - now appear poised to have a dramatic impact on the curriculum requirements for students with disabilities in the public schools and, therefore, on the nature of assessments related to their progress. This article explores the relation between these two forces and their implications for technology-assisted improvements in assessment of students with disabilities.



National data on educational placements of students with disabilities are derived from state reports of "child counts" provided to the Office of Special Education Programs. Recent placement data document that most special education students already spend a good deal of their time in regular education classrooms and that those placement rates have been slowly increasing. From the 1987-88 school year (U.S. Department of Education, 1990b) to the 1991-92 school year (U.S. Department of Education, 1994), the proportion of special education students, age 6-21, receiving some or all of their instruction in regular classrooms increased from 69% to 71%. During the same period, the proportion in "regular class," as opposed to "resource room," placements increased from 29% to 35%; the proportion in resource room placements decreased from 40% to 36%. (Note: Regular class includes students who receive a majority of their education in a regular classroom and receive special education and related services outside the regular classroom for less than 21% of the school day. It includes children placed in a regular class and receiving special education within the regular class, as well as children placed in a regular class and receiving special education outside the regular class. Resource room includes students who receive special education and related services outside the regular classroom for 21%-60% of the school day. This may include students placed in resource rooms with part-time instruction in a regular class.)

Overall, 95% of students with disabilities, age 6-21, receive their educational and related services in regular school buildings: 34.9% in regular classrooms, 36.3% in resource rooms, and 23.5% in separate (primarily self-contained) classes. Fewer than 6% of students receive their services in separate (segregated) schools (3.9%), residential facilities (0.9%), or homebound/hospital settings (0.5%).

For the 71% of students with disabilities who receive some or all of their instruction in regular classrooms, great variation exists across age and disability groupings in their distributions between "regular education" and "resource room" placements (see Table 1). For example, children with speech or language impairments receive almost all their instruction in regular classrooms, but students with other high-prevalence disabilities (learning disabilities, mental retardation, and emotional disturbance) are more commonly served in resource rooms. Across all disability classifications (last row in the table), there is a large drop-off in regular classroom placements from elementary (46%) to secondary (23%) placements. To an appreciable degree, this reflects the large decrease in numbers of students classified as speech and language impaired, from elementary to secondary levels. Nevertheless, this and other distinctions represented in the table may provide useful benchmarks for examining placement trends in coming years.




Following the Education Summit in 1989, President Bush and the governors announced the six education goals and subsequently established a National Goals Panel to measure progress toward those goals. In 1991, the U.S. Congress and the National Education Goals Panel created the National Council on Education Standards and Testing (NCEST) to consider establishing world-class academic standards for schools and students in the United States. Since 1991 a number of federal, state, and association activities have been conducted to advance the development of content, performance, assessment, and, most recently, "opportunity to learn" standards in support of the National Education Goals. These developments were codified in the Goals 2000: Education America Act, enacted by Congress and signed into law by President Clinton on March 31, 1994 (Public Law 103-227).

From the outset, this process to develop the National Education Goals has placed an emphasis on improvement of education "for all students," and this language is codified under the Definitions (Section 3) in the Goals 2000 legislation:

The terms "all students" and "all children" mean students or children from a broad range of backgrounds and circumstances, including...students or children with disabilities.

However, this concept has not been fully interpreted, welcomed, or understood by many participants in the dialogues leading to enactment of the legislation, neither within nor outside special education (Algozzine, 1993; Reschly, 1993).

On one side, many are concerned about the viability of "high standards," if in fact the standards must be applicable to all students. Perhaps a consideration of this conundrum led James Rutherford (CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science) and Andrew Ahlgren to state, in the first edition of their book Science for All Americans:

We are convinced that - given clear goals, the right resources, and good teaching throughout 13 years of school - essentially all students (operationally meaning 90% or more) will be able to reach all of the recommended learning goals (meaning at least 90%) by the time they graduate from high school. (Rutherford & Ahlgren, 1990, p. xi)

Many people in the field of special education have had just this concern: that the reform movement might find it convenient to focus its efforts on children in the upper and middle ranges of functioning, especially when it comes to "world-class standards" and competition with the best students in other countries. To counter that possibility, the special education community, when it has had the opportunity, has argued strongly for maintenance of the expression - and assumed intent - of the language of "all children."

This emphasis on inclusion of children with disabilities, in the National Education Goals and in the voluntary standards that are being developed to operationalize them, has also elicited concurrent concern that high standards, if arbitrarily interpreted and exercised, could prove punitive and nonachievable for some students. The Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) addressed the issue of "world class standards" in testimony (March 18, 1992) to the Subcommittee on Elementary, Secondary, and Vocational Education of the U.S. House of Representatives, with respect to the earlier work of NCEST:

The setting of "world class standards" causes us more than a little anxiety since we believe that if national standards are to be set, they must be fair to all students.

There is much diversity among learning needs, styles, and capabilities of students in our schools. As a result, we believe that the standards must be flexible in order to be realistic, in order for students to be appropriately challenged, and in order to ensure that improved learning is recognized. For instance, the standards must be rigorous enough for our students who are gifted, challenging enough for the majority of our students, and flexible yet challenging for students with disabilities. However, this does not mean that we support the differential treatment of students based on a student's ability to learn. The groups setting standards must address the issue of how world class standards will accommodate all students. (CEC, 1992, p. 2)

This debate on "all students" will likely continue during the next few years, inasmuch as it appears to be an area of consternation for both special and general education communities. On November 15, 1993, a report was published by the Goals 3 and 4 Technical Planning Group (on the Review of Education Standards) to the National Goals Panel, which was the first official document to explicitly address this issue in relationship to special education students. The following is the full text in that report under the heading "Serving Students in Special Education":

Standards set by national professional organizations will be appropriate for many students now served in special education. Orthopedically handicapped students, for instance, would be taught, study, be assessed, and expected to reach the same levels of performance on the same academic standards as other students. For students with some disabilities, it might be appropriate to modify the conditions of instruction and methods of assessing attainment of those standards.

All students should be held to high and appropriate standards, and should be included in efforts to characterize the nation's level of educational achievement. The standards discussed in this report would apply directly to all students except those, like the severely mentally retarded, whose individual diagnosis implies a judgment that the student cannot meet them. The Technical Planning Group defers to health and special education professionals to identify on a case by case basis the standards, both the content and level of performance, appropriate for these students. (Goals 3 and 4 Technical Planning Group, 1993, pp. 27-28; sometimes called the "Malcom Report," in reference to the Group's Chair, Shirley Malcom)

A similar orientation lately appears to be surfacing among assessment specialists familiar with the needs of students with disabilities. Reschly (1993) has distinguished between two general types of school-age disabilities: (a) those in which the behavioral limitations are linked to "identifiable biological anomalies" and (b) those in which they are not so linked. Within the group linked to biological anomalies, he has pointed out that the related disabilities correspond to what are typically known as low-incidence categories (e.g., multiple disabilities; sensory disabilities; orthopedic and other health impairments; and moderate, severe, and profound levels of mental retardation). Reschly has also emphasized:

There is substantial overlap between disabilities with high severity and those where biological anomalies are present. The most severe disabilities almost always involve biological anomalies. The reverse, however, is not true! Students with biological anomalies perform at all levels of literacy, including the very top as well as at the very bottom of the normal distribution. There are, therefore, relatively few students with biological anomalies and very severe disabilities, less than 2% of the overall student population, or less than 15% of students with disabilities. (p. 38)

In passing, he also noted, "When most persons think of students with disabilities, they have in mind these students with biological impairments" (p. 38). This misperception may explain some of the concern that regular educators have about both inclusion and full participation of students with disabilities in the goals and standards activities. Alternatively, the implication contained in these and other current discussions must send a message to special educators as well: that a high proportion, 85% or more, of students with disabilities are likely to be held accountable to the new standards, and to be measured along with their peers without disabilities.


The adoption of standards-based curricula in the states increases the need for modifications to instruction and assessment for children with disabilities. An environment has emerged for potentially rapid and widespread development of accommodations and adaptations of assessment, as well as evaluations to ensure their accuracy, fairness, reliability, and validity. It is reasonable to assume that technology advances will not only be brought to bear to satisfy these needs, but will also be welcomed by educators and policymakers, if such advances can reduce the burdens and raise the efficiencies of the assessment process.

Further, this expansion of special education assessment requirements also suggests, if not a merger, at least a greater rapprochement between general and special education assessments, in academic areas. This insertion of another level of evaluation increases the content and usefulness of information that technology-assisted assessment can add to the equation. These improvements in assessments should provide additional confirmation, qualification, and guidance to overall education reform efforts. The Goals 2000 legislation encourages innovative and nondiscriminatory approaches to assessment. In the "Teaching, Learning, Standards, and Assessments" directives, under Section 306. State Improvement Plans, Subsection (c)(1)(b)(i), the legislation requires that assessments shall:

(I) be aligned with such State's content standards;

(II) involve multiple measures of student performance;

(II) provide for

(aa) the participation in such assessments of all students with diverse learning needs; and

(bb) the adaptations and accommodations necessary to permit such participation.

In a subsequent Section (316) devoted to "Improving Student Achievement Through Integration of Technology into the Curriculum," the legislation calls for the "increase of state-of-the-art technologies that enhance elementary and secondary support of...student performance standards" (316.[b][1], Authority), and "promotion of higher student achievement through the use of technology in education" (316.[c], Plan Objectives).

The stage is set, therefore, for general education to embrace the kinds of technology-assisted approaches to instruction and assessment that special educators have long advocated. For special educators, the major challenge is to reorient instructional and assessment objectives to a closer alignment with an evolving, national curriculum heavily attuned to academic achievement in core content areas - "English, mathematics, science, foreign languages, civics and government, economics, arts, history, and geography" (Goal 3: Student Achievement and Citizenship).

This transition may not be easy, because special education assessment resources have often addressed diagnostic (i.e., related to eligibility and placement) rather than instructional concerns. From a technological viewpoint, some of the more complex and difficult challenges in improving assessment may be related to pedagogic, rather than to administrative, issues.

Recent reviews of testing accommodations for students with disabilities (e.g., Thurlow, Ysseldyke, & Silverstein, 1993; Ysseldyke & Thurlow, 1993) identify many areas in which "accommodations, modifications, and adaptations" are commonly considered and currently permitted in various state and national examinations. Modifications are usually allowed in presentation format, response format, setting of the test, and timing of the test. Specific accommodations include both input/output modifications (e.g., Braille editions of tests and use of computer for responding to items) and some "throughput" techniques (e.g., extended time or multiple testing sessions). Many of these accommodations can be facilitated with technology; in the areas of input/output adaptations, many already have been.

But these are, largely, solutions to old assessment problems - for example, the traditional, paper-and-pencil standardized test. One undeniable feature of current reform efforts is their movement away from primary reliance on such antiquated forms of assessment, and toward more active, ongoing "performance" measures, including curriculum-based, portfolio, authentic, and functional assessments. The evolving "Standards" documents will provide the guidance for implementation of the Goals 2000 reforms into the schools. If the first completed Standards manuals (in mathematics - National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 1989, and subsequent publications) continue to set the pattern, the new focus of assessment will definitely extend away from the traditional standardized tests, and toward multiple "alternative" methodologies geared to the curriculum and designed to aid, rather than punish, the teacher and the student.

Assessment seems to be "coming full circle." The assessment movement began in efforts to identify and better serve children with disabilities, but quickly moved off into various national grading exercises with little practical benefits for individual students or their teachers. In recent years, a select group of technology and assessment researchers and developers have examined the incredible potential of the computer and associated electronic marvels - to explore new tools for measuring and guiding the progress of students with disabilities. Their investigations should become lampposts in the reconstruction of educational assessment.

It was interesting, but not surprising, that the majority of articles in the Special Issue of Exceptional Children on advances in technology-based assessment (October/November, 1994, 61, 97-216, Reston: The Council for Exceptional Children), and federal research projects from which they evolved, addressed innovative applications of technology in assessment - to directly support learning and development. A number of them specifically targeted core academic skills, such as in mathematics. It is worth recalling that the initial fascination with computer-assisted instruction (CAI) in the 1950s and 1960s stemmed from a recognition that the computer's great strength was its ability to provide individualized instruction. The key to that individualization was the computer's ability to manage and measure student progress, on or off the system. This element-of computer-managed instruction (CMI) - was a standard component in all early CAI systems (Stolurow, 1966) and considered its linchpin:

Both CMI and CAI carry out educational functions, and the relationship between them is an inclusive one; CMI can occur without CAI, but if CAI is used, the information for CMI is usually present. (Cooley & Glaser, 1969, p. 97)

Now that 15 years of microcomputer-based CAI, without CMI, have demonstrated its ineffectiveness (Woodward & Gersten, 1992), perhaps it is high time to introduce the rest of the educational community to the importance of ongoing, nonintrusive, reliable, accurate, and valid measurement - in the context of "electronically-assisted instruction." In the possible future, assessment will become less like the traditional "instruments" (appropriate word) that, in their separateness from instruction, correspond to being "like a patient etherised upon a table" (T.S. Eliot, 1917; in Eliot, 1971), and more like the electronic displays on a space capsule's console that readily give out the location, speed, and distance traveled, whenever such information is needed and without interrupting the ride.

The promise of educational reform, as wen as the entitlement to full participation by children with disabilities in every advantage that American schools have to offer, call for the integration of assessment into instruction. This integration, an underlying theme in performance-based assessment, ultimately shows that the traditional separation of assessment from instruction is both inefficient and invalid:

* Inefficient - because alternate systems, one for assessment and one for instruction, tend to create distinct educational fiefdoms that compete for limited resources.

* Invalid - because the separation of functions always raises a question about the concurrent validity of the two efforts and, quite often, heightens suspicions about the adverse effect of one objective on the other, for example, that assessment is the "tail wagging the dog" of instruction.

The National Education Goals and the evolving curriculum standards can have a decisive impact on the resolution of this dichotomy. No group of educators is better prepared or more ready to marry measurement with learning than those who work with students with disabilities, and no researchers and developers have a greater understanding of what technology can bring to this marriage.

Just as American educators are recognizing that students with disabilities deserve full membership in the community and life of public schools, they may also discover that the principles and techniques developed to improve assessment and instruction for children with disabilities can also enrich the educational experiences of all children.


Algozzine, B. (1993). Including students with disabilities in systemic efforts to measure outcomes: Why ask why? In J. E. Ysseldyke & M. L. Thurlow (Eds.), Views on inclusion and testing accommodations for students with disabilities (pp. 5-10). Minneapolis, MN: National Center on Educational Outcomes. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 366-164) Cooley, W. W., & Glaser, R. (1969). An information management system for individually prescribed instruction. In R. C. Atkinson & H. A. Wilson (Eds.), Computer-assisted instruction: A book of readings (pp. 95-117). New York: Academic Press. The Council for Exceptional Children. (1992). Statement of the Council for Exceptional Children to the Subcommittee on Elementary, Secondary, and Vocational Education of the U.S. House of Representatives with respect to the work of the National Council on Education Standards and Testing. Reston, VA: Author. Eliot, T. S. (1917). The love song of J. Alfred Prufrock. In T. S. Eliot (1971), The complete poems and plays, 1909-1950. New York: Harcourt, Brace, & World. Goals 3 and 4 Technical Planning Group (on the Review of Education Standards). (1993, November 15). Promises to keep: Creating high standards for American students - Report to the National Goals PaneL Washington, DC: Author. Goddard, H. H. (1910). Four hundred feeble-minded children classified by the Binet method. Pedagogical Seminary, 17, 387-397. Goddard, H. H. (1911). Two thousand normal children measured by the Binet measuring scale of intelligence. Pedagogical Seminary, 18, 232-259. McGraw, K. S., Thurlow, M. L., Shriner, J. G., & Spiegel, A. N. (1992). Inclusion of students with disabilities in national and state data collection programs. Minneapolis, MN: National Center on Educational Outcomes. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 347-769) National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. (1989). Curriculum and evaluation standards for school mathematics. Reston, VA: Author. (ERIC Document Roproduction Service No. ED 304-336) Reschly, D. J. (1993). Consequences and incentives: Implications for inclusion/exclusion decisions regarding students with disabilities in state and national assessment programs. In J. E. Ysseldyke & M. L. Thurlow (Eds.), Views on inclusion and testing accommodations for students with disabilities (pp. 35-46). Minneapolis, MN: National Center on Educational Outcomes. Rutherford, F. J., & Ahlgren, A. (1990). Science for all Americans. New York: Oxford University Press. Shriner, J. G., & Thurlow, M. L. (1993). State special education outcomes 1992. Minneapolis, MN: National Center on Educational Outcomes. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 363-044) Stanley, J. C., & Hopkins, K. D. (1972). Educational and psychological measurement and evaluation. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc. Stolurow, L. M. (1966). The computer-assisted instructional system in theory and research. In D. Unwin & J. Leedham (Eds.), Aspects of educational technology (pp. 257-273). London: Methuen. Thurlow, M. L., Ysseldyke, J. E., & Silverstein, B. (1993). Testing accommodations for students with disabilities: A review of the literature. Minneapolis, MN: National Center on Educational Outcomes. (ERIC Document Reproduction No. ED 358-606) U.S. Department of Education. (1990a). Manual for local administrators, 1990 Trial State Assessment. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics. U.S. Department of Education. (1990b). Twelfth annual report to Congress on the implementation of the Education of the Handicapped Act. Washington, DC: Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, Office of Special Education Programs, Division of Innovation and Development. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 321-513) U.S. Department of Education. (1994). Sixteenth annual report to Congress on the implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Washington, DC: Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, Office of Special Education Programs, Division of Innovation and Development. Woodward, J., & Gersten, R. (1992). Innovative technology for secondary students with learning disabilities. Exceptional Children, 58, 407-421. Ysseldyke, J. E., & Thurlow, M. L. (1993). Introduction. In J. E. Ysseldyke & M. L. Thurlow (Eds.), Views on inclusion and testing accommodations for students with disabilities (pp. 1-4). Minneapolis, MN: National Center on Educational Outcomes. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 366-164) Ysseldyke, J. E., Thurlow, M. L., McGrew, K. S., & Vanderwood, M. (1994). Making decisions about the inclusion of students with disabilities in large-scale assessments: A report on a working conference to develop guidelines on inclusion and accommodations. Minneapolis, MN: National Center on Educational Outcomes.

TOM V. HANLEY (CEC #192), Education Research Analyst, U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, Office of Special Education Programs, Division of Innovation and Development, Washington, DC.

Address correspondence to Tom V. Hanley, U.S. Department of Education, Switzer Building, Room 3526, 400 Maryland Ave., S.W., Washington, DC 20202-2641.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position or policy of the U.S. Department of Education; official endorsement is neither implied, nor should it be inferred.

The author is grateful to his colleagues, Louis C. Danielson and David Malouf in the Office of Special Education Programs, to Charles Greenwood at the University of Kansas, and to three anonymous reviewers for their extremely helpful reviews of an earlier draft of this article.
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Author:Hanley, Tom V.
Publication:Exceptional Children
Date:Dec 1, 1994
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