Looking such as multiple choice, may be modified

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.

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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.

Psychological Disabilities

  • A student diagnosed with learning issues related to fetal alcohol syndrome may be given a multiple-choice quiz with three answer choices rather than four.
  • A student with an anxiety disorder may opt to be assessed in a private environment, such as by a support staff member in a quiet and comfortable room without other classmates.
  • A student with an attention disorder may be strategically placed in a classroom during testing, such that distractions are minimized and the immediate environment is calm and organized.

  • A student who has trouble processing abstract concepts like problem-solving puzzles may be offered an alternative assessment format, such as a concept map or graphic organizer; here the student can visually process information and manually manipulate that information to make logical connections between different items.

Further Considerations

Diversified student populations are becoming more common in our current era, and it is likely that you will be working with disabled students at some point in your career if you are not already doing so. For this reason, it is a good practice to hone your skills so as to more effectively and efficiently differentiate your pedagogy. Differentiation is the pedagogical practice of modifying instruction, materials and assessments to meet the needs of a diverse student population. Using a range of methods that allow students to demonstrate comprehension verbally, visually and in writing via drawing, concept maps and graphic organizers is the best way to support all students, especially those with disabilities.

Lesson Summary

This lesson discussed forms of disabilities and implications for providing accommodations (changes in pedagogy that alter how a student learns and demonstrates comprehension) and differentiation (modifying instruction, materials and assessments to meet the needs of a diverse student population). This lesson also offered tangible ideas for classroom implementations with common examples of disabilities.


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