February 9th, 2023

Inclusive, Innovative Assessments for Students With Learning Disabilities

The COVID-19 pandemic sparked a national conversation about the role of public education, what should be taught, and what makes a high-quality education. The mental, emotional, and physical health of students was a pillar in the debate between remote or in-person schooling. Remote learning also disrupted instruction and assessment. As a result, measuring and addressing the “instructional loss” due to the pandemic became a priority for families, educators, and policymakers. The 2022 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results, often referred to as the Nation’s Report Card, showed a dramatic drop in proficiency scores across the board — but especially for students who are historically marginalized, such as those with disabilities.

The debate about how we measure student progress and how schools are supporting students is not a new one. The National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD), along with our disability and civil rights partners, have long advocated for including the performance of students with disabilities, students of color, English learners, and students impacted by poverty on statewide summative assessments when determining how well a school is meeting the needs of students. For our communities, these assessments have historically been viewed as a tool to identify opportunity gaps as they provide annual, comparative data on student progress. For others, though, the assessments are seen as taking away too much valuable instructional time and not providing actionable information. Because of the ongoing tension around the value of summative assessments, NCLD sought to discover what’s working and not working for students with disabilities in the current assessment system and to forge a path forward that’s more inclusive and equitable.

NCLD surveyed and conducted focus groups with educators, caregivers, and students to understand their perceptions toward statewide summative assessments. In addition, NCLD interviewed various assessment and disability rights experts to identify trends in innovative assessments as well as the benefits and risks for all learners — especially students with disabilities.

This paper includes principles that policymakers and assessment developers should consider when creating new assessments, an overview of current proposals, and policy recommendations to realize equity within assessment systems for all learners.

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