The PARCC, who publish the eponymous test used to measure educational progress toward college and career readiness in New Mexico, has released version 4 of its Accessibility Features and Accommodations Manual. Accommodations for PARCC are specifically targeted at English language learning students and those with 504 or IDEA disabilities. Gifted students who are not ELLs or twice exceptional are not part of that group.
I have met many educators who have written testing accommodations into individual plans for gifted students. I have myself. For those smart students who have the slow, deliberative processing style of a creative person, it can be tempting to extend testing time. Students who express anxiety around testing or who are affected by high levels of perfectionism may present a need for a customized testing experience as well.
Fortunately, the PARCC provides two sets of features that may be applied to any student: “administrative considerations,” and “accessibility features.” Administrative considerations include small group settings, special timing allowances, or frequent breaks. The PARCC’s accessibility features include spell checking, highlighting, selective text-to-speech, glossaries, and noise buffers. But which features should you consider for your gifted students? The answer is dependent on the purpose of and way we interpret standardized tests.
The Purpose of Standardized Tests
Ask any random group people why we give standardized tests, and you’re likely to get as many answers as you have conversations. Policy makers and school administrators use tests to evaluate the efficacy of programs and teachers. Colleges and special programs employ them to determine the likely success of candidates and select participants. Teachers may see tests as diagnostic tools for best planning educational opportunities. In the era of Value Added Modeling, tests become opportunities for greater pay and accolades on one hand and liabilities weighing against their evaluations on the other. Parents might view tests as a measure of whether their students are doing well in school or which school to select. Students may see tests as measures of their success or failure or simply trials to get past, depending on their experience.
While some purposes of testing may have more merit than others, any meaningful use of a test requires that it be reliable and valid. Reliable tests produce consistent scores. Valid scores measure what they purport to measure. And both reliability and validity require that test administration be controlled.
If validity and reliability are dependent on standardization, why do we give some students accommodations, changing those usually controlled conditions? Because for some students, accommodations produce a significantly more valid and reliable result. In my humble opinion, this should be the test of when to allow a change to the standardized administration of a test, through accommodations, administrative considerations, or accessibility features. Continue reading