Quick Preview of PARCC Accommodations Manual

In mid-April , the PARCC Accommodations Manual was released.  The manual focuses on accommodations for the PARCC assessment for students with IEPs, 504 plans and who are English Language Learners.  The manual does an excellent job of delineating the appropriate provisions of accommodations for various disabilities or levels of English acquisition.  As we should all want, the purpose behind providing these accommodations is to make sure that a child’s disability or language skill level is not mistaking actual understanding of a concept or ability to display a skill.   The language around these premises is clear, concise and thorough.

The document also shares all of the different types of accommodations that will be available to all students.  These accommodations will be built into the software or are supplies that students may have available to them in the testing environment.   These may include the ability to high light tools or the ability to flag items and come back to them.  Noise buffers, pop-up glossaries, zoom, and spell checkers will also be available to all students.  PARCC also provided a list of accessibility features that may not require official subgroup status, but will require an administrator to turn on or off.  These features include text to speech for math, line reader tools, answer masking, background/font changes.  With both of these two categories it is clear that real advances in assessment are being made.  Through some reasonable measure for provision, all students will be better equipped to display their true abilities.  However, it is of some significant concerns that schools won’t be ready for these advances.  New protocols will have to be adopted for implementation purposes and it is ever-worrisome that some of these added features will add to the bandwidth draw of the assessment.  The bandwidth question is a concern for the test in general, accessibility features, especially the more advanced, will contribute to the bandwidth concern.

To ease with the administration of the test, PARCC is ensuring that the assessment be built using the Universal Design principles and adhere to the Accessible Portable Item Profile (APIP).  Michael Russell of Measured Progress has done a nice job highlighting the possibilities of the APIP.  Ideally, the implementation of accommodations will be facilitated by each student with an IEP/504 plan or English Language Learner having what PARCC refers to as a Personal Needs Profile (PNP).  Each student with individualized testing circumstances will have their own PNP.  Sadly, this is where the PARCC document becomes vague and states that “PARCC recognizes the need for the assessments to be accessible to the maximum number of students, PARCC also acknowledges that in order assess the full range of the CCSS, it may be necessary to restrict some accessibility features.”  This statement feels like PARCC is couching a little on what it is really going to be able to pull off.  We should be suspicious when the claims seem too good to be true.

With the amount of effort, consideration and expense put into the development of the PARCC it is hard to fathom it being for naught.  Failure would be a huge embarrassment to the field.  That being said, one of my concerns with this guidance document is that it is probably more hope and conjecture than it is reality.    And, if that is really the case, Chester Finn’s comments today are even more prescient.  There is so little time, so much to do, and so little actually done that it seems to be a fool’s errand.  Between ACT, SAT, NWEA there are solid assessment options available.  What was the need to recreate the wheel versus fixing the current wheels.  The great ideas included in the draft accommodations plan could be factors into existing assessments and may even have a chance of coming to fruition.

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