this purpose. Large-scale assessments have not often been used, because of their emphasis on broad content domains rather than on the specific skills that are usually represented in IEP goals.
In many cases, the IEP is used in making high-stakes decisions about students with disabilities. The IEP team often considers assessment information in conjunction with a student's IEP goals and the progress made toward meeting them when making decisions on placement or retention in grade. In several states, where special education students may be exempt from state or local graduation requirements, completion of IEP goals is a sufficient condition for receipt of a high school diploma or its equivalent (Thurlow et al., 1996). Box 8-1 provides additional detail on state practices with regard to high school graduation and students in special education.
For a variety of reasons, many students with disabilities have traditionally been exempted from large-scale achievement tests. Educators and parents have sometimes been confused about the availability of test modifications or accommodations, or they have been concerned about subjecting these children to the stress of testing. Officials sometimes have "excused" children with disabilities from a testing requirement in an effort to raise their schools' average scores. Other concerns include the potential mismatch between test content and student curricula and difficulties in administering certain tests to students with severe disabilities. In any case, exempting these students from assessments, and thus from system accountability measures, has meant that there is less incentive to enhance their educational programs and improve their performance (National Research Council, 1997:152–153). Exclusion from testing may also communicate the message that students are not capable of meeting the expectations represented by the test. Most parents and teachers of students with disabilities say they want these students to meet the same high standards set for the general population (Thurlow et al., 1998).
There are a number of other reasons for including students with disabilities in assessment systems. A more accurate picture of aggregate student performance is produced when all students are included (Vanderwood et al., 1998); comparisons of test results among schools or districts will not be valid if participation rates of students with disabilities