of the domain of mathematics, then, to score well in mathematics, students would need to be able to read and write reasonably well…. On such an assessment, it is possible that students with reading disabilities might score worse than their proficiency in other aspects of mathematics would warrant, but providing them with accommodations such as the reading of questions or the scribing of answers is likely to undermine the validity of inferences to the broader, more complex domain of mathematics (pp. 170–171).

Legal and Professional Standards3

Federal statutes and regulations on educating students with disabilities, including the IDEA, Section 504, and the ADA, require that tests and other evaluation materials be validated for the specific purpose for which they are used. All three also require that, when a test is given to a student with impaired sensory, manual, or speaking skills, the results accurately reflect the child's achievement level or whatever other factors the test purports to measure, rather than reflecting the student's disabilities.

These statutes and regulations also require accommodations. Both Section 504 and the ADA prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability. People with disabilities are guaranteed access to programs and services as effective as those provided to their peers without disabilities. The ADA further requires that public entities make "reasonable modification" in policies, practices, and procedures when "necessary to avoid discrimination on the basis of disability, unless the public entity can demonstrate that making the modifications would fundamentally alter the nature of the service, program, or activity" (28 CFR 35.130(b)(7)). In other words, alternate forms or accommodations in testing are required, provided that the content being tested is the same.

Distinctions among the various purposes of assessments become critical in light of these legal rights. Some assessments, for example, are designed mainly for the accountability of schools and school systems. Others are an integral part of learning, instruction, and curriculum. Some tests are used for making high-stakes decisions about individual students, including tracking, promotion or retention in grade, and awarding of a high school diploma or certificate of mastery. Each use raises its own set of legal issues with different implications. As a general rule, the greater the potential harm to students, the greater the protection to which they


The legal discussion in this section is drawn from Educating One and All.

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