Testing Accommodations to Encourage Participation by Students with Disabilities in the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA)

Following is the text of the above named document as prepared by the Eastern Instructional Support Center (now PaTTAN) and published in December 1996. As regulations now require inclusion of virtually every student in this testing, despite the fact that it was not designed for students with disabilities, this information becomes even more important as you make decisions regarding acceptable accommodations.

"...modification decisions should be made carefully, so that the modifications do not give disabled students a competitive advantage, but rather eliminate competitive disadvantage." Theresa Suskind


According to the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) Coordinators Handbook, "ALL Students enrolled in public schools... are to be included in the assessment process." The purpose of this booklet is to help Pennsylvania educators to obtain the participation of ALL students in the PSSA tests, specifically students with disabilities. Accommodations that will allow students with disabilities to participate in the testing are listed and, where necessary, briefly described.

Why include all students?

The State Board of Education in its Curriculum regulations established as State policy "The Board's high expectations for all schools and all students..." 22 Pa. Code §5.2(1). The Board also stated that "Some students will achieve more quickly than others, although all are capable of high levels of achievement." 22 Pa. Code §5.2(4).

Chapter 14 special education regulations and the Chapter 15 regulations pertaining to protected handicapped students also support this perspective. Chapter 14 addresses the issue of student participation through the student's Individualized Education Program, the IEP. The Chapter 14 regulations state that the IEP of a student is to contain "A description of the extent to which the eligible student will participate in programs and activities with noneligible students and of the adaptations, if any, to activities which are necessary to ensure the student's meaningful participation." 22 Pa. Code §14.31(f)(6).

Chapter 15 students have their needs addressed in service agreements developed by the student's parents and an appropriate school administrator. Chapter 15 states "the law and its regulations require public educational agencies to ensure that these students have equal opportunity to participate in the school program and extracurricular activities to the maximum extent appropriate to the ability of the protected handicapped student in question. School districts are required to provide these students with the aids, services, and accommodations that are designed to meet the educational needs of the protected handicapped students as adequately as the needs of nonhandicapped students are met." 22 Pa. Code §15.1(b).

During the IEP team meeting or the Service Planning meeting, the participants must address the student's instructional and assessment needs. Therefore, accommodations that need to be made to ensure a student's meaningful participation in the PSSA should be addressed at this time.

Editor's Note: We have become aware of a number of districts engaging in the dangerous practice of excluding large numbers of students from testing in order to artificially inflate scores. To do so risks sanctions from the PDE for both the district and professional members of the IEP team. Be careful when deciding that a student should not be included in the PSSA. Only students with the extremely low-incidence disabilities should be excluded. The vast majority of students with learning disabilities and emotional/behavioral disabilities should be included!

What are accommodations?

The words "accommodation", "adaptation", and "modification" are often used synonymously. For the purpose of this booklet, an accommodation is defined as anything that is changed so as to become suitable or anything that meets a need. Ideally, the testing situation would simply be an extension of the instructional setting. Those accommodations used in the instructional process should be used, if appropriate, when assessing a student. The intent of providing an accommodation is to ensure that the student with a disability is not put at a disadvantage in the testing situation.

Below is a list of some accommodations (this is not an exhaustive list) which may be used to assist a student with disabilities to participate in the statewide assessment.

Personal Assistance

bulletUse sign language or the student's native language to give directions.
bulletQuietly repeat directions to individual students.
bulletHave student demonstrate understanding of directions.
bulletAccompany oral directions with written directions.
bulletAllow student to answer questions orally.
bulletCue the student to remain on task.
bulletRead test items (for math or writing only).
bulletCheck periodically to make sure student is marking in correct spaces.
bulletProvide physical assistance.

Test Modifications

bulletObtain and use Braille tests or large print versions.
bulletUse enlarged answer sheets. (Answers must be transcribed into regular answer booklet.)
bulletProvide written steps for directions.
bulletHighlight key words or phrases in directions.
bulletMask portions of test to direct child's attention to specific areas.

Environmental Modifications

bulletAllow student to use a study carrel.
bulletTest in a separate room or in small groups to reduce distractions.
bulletIncrease or decrease the opportunity for movement.
bulletPermit additional breaks for students during testing session.
bulletIncrease test time.
bulletReduce stimuli (e.g. limit number of items on desk).
bulletProvide appropriate lighting.
bulletUse preferential seating.
bulletSecure papers to work area with tape or magnets.

Response Formats

(In all cases, answers must be transferred into the regular answer booklet).

bulletAllow student to mark responses in test booklet rather than on an answer sheet.
bulletAllow student to point to a response.
bulletAllow student to answer orally.
bulletAllow student to respond on audiotape for math and reading tests.

Assistive Devices

(Any assistive technology currently being used to access the curriculum.)

bulletAllow augmentative communication systems or strategies, including letter boards, picture communication systems, and voice output systems.
bulletUse FM or other type of assistive listening device.
bulletProvide a magnifier, large print, or braille materials.
bulletAllow alternative writing systems including portable writing devices and computers.
bulletUse mounting systems including slantboards and easels.
bulletAllow counting devices such as a calculator.

Other Options

bulletUse chubby or thin pencils depending upon the student's needs.
bulletUse long, well-sharpened pencils.
bulletUtilize different position of paper or alter student's test taking position.
bulletUse colored stickers for visual cues.
bulletUse acetate color shield on pages to reduce glare and increase contrast.

Can a student be excluded?

  1. While the goal is participation of all students, the Chapter 5 Curriculum Regulations of the State Board of Education state that any student may be excused from the PSSA by parental request.
  2. Student's with IEPs may be excused from the assessment when requested by the IEP team for such reasons as emotional stress caused by the assessment process or lack of environmental awareness on the part of the student. It is generally agreed that students receiving Life Skills Support or whose IEP is referenced in life skills curricular areas would not have had sufficient opportunity to learn what is being assessed; thus this assessment would be inappropriate for them, although there may be exceptions.
  3. Students with Service Plans under Chapter 15 may be excused for reasons similar to those stated above by their planning team.
  4. A student may be excused from testing because of limited English proficiency, extended absence, withdrawal from school, etc.

If you feel one of these reasons is appropriate for one of your students, you should contact your school/district test coordinator.

Editor's Note: Since the publication of this document the State Board of Education has issued clearer guidelines on the exclusion of students from this assessment. Generally speaking, a student should only be excluded if the Pennsylvania Alternative System of Assessment (PASA) test will be used. As noted above, only those students with extreme disabilities may be excluded from the PSSA.

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