What kinds of assessments are appropriate to use with a student who has a disability?

In general, the kinds of assessments used with students who have disabilities are the same as those that are used for all students. For some students who have disabilities, accommodations may be necessary so that the student can participate in the assessment. For example, a student with a physical disability may need support writing the answers to a paper and pencil test. If an Individual Education Plan (IEP) team decides that a student cannot participate in regular assessments, the IEP will specify the need for alternate assessments. For the most part, however, students who have disabilities participate in assessments, including large-scale state tests, with accommodations specified in the IEP.

Factual Information

Students are assessed for a variety of purposes that range from decisions about eligibility for special education or comparison of student scores across schools (high-stakes) to a teacher's assessment of whether a child has learned mathematics skills (low-stakes). It is important to remember that the higher the stakes are for an assessment, the greater the importance of the technical qualities of that assessment. An assessment that may be appropriate for a low-stakes decision may not be sufficient for making high stakes decisions. For a review of basic information about assessment, including a review of the technical qualities of assessments, consult the online manual, Assessing Student Learning, published by the Delaware Education Research and Development Center at the University of Delaware.

As noted in the introduction to this essential question, teachers play four important roles in the assessment of their students. Each of these will be addressed in reference to students who have disabilities.


Teachers often receive the results of large-scale, high-stakes tests and need to know first and foremost, why (the purpose) these tests were administered. Perhaps the purpose was to examine how students compare to others (norm-referenced) or whether students performed at a certain level of mastery (criterion-referenced). Interpreting the results of these tests will require you to understand both the purpose of the test and the quality of the assessment. For students who may be considered for special education services, you will need to know how and whether these assessments are part of determining eligibility for special education.


Your teaching role also includes creating and implementing assessments, generally for the purpose of understanding whether your students are learning what you are teaching. These curriculum-based assessments are aligned with the curriculum you are teaching, are given frequently, and you use the information you gather to make decisions about your instruction. You will use your curriculum-based assessments to monitor student progress (often called progress monitoring) for all students, including students who have disabilities.

The development of your own curriculum-based and other assessments (e.g., behavioral inventories) means that you need to continually review the technical qualities of these assessments (e.g., validity). For example, you want to be certain that your assessments are unbiased and fair to all the students in the classroom. For some of your assessments, you may need to develop rubrics or scoring guides. When thinking about the students in your class who are identified for special education, you will need to know what, if any, assessment accommodations are necessary as outlined in the student's Individual Education Plan (IEP).


In this role, you need to know how the information provided by assessments, either those that you administer or those that are administered school-wide, will assist you in helping the student. Will the assessment provide you with information about the student's current level of understanding about a particular topic or help you know whether or not the student might benefit from a different method of instruction? The role of producer relates to a recent initiative in schools called Response to Intervention (RTI) which supports struggling learners with high quality instruction and ongoing performance monitoring. Through the RTI process, outcome data serve as the basis for making decisions about the instructional needs of all students, including those who may require special services. RTI is discussed in more detail in sub-question two under this essential question.


Another critical role that you play relating to assessment is that of communicator. You must talk with parents and, most importantly, translate the meaning of assessments in terms that parents and families can understand. For those students in your classroom who may be identified for special education, you will work closely with the special education teachers in the school when working with parents and families.

Classroom Activities

Have an assessment plan for all of the important objectives you are responsible for teaching. Be able to share with others how you assess student progress on a daily or weekly basis as well as the measures that are used at the end of unit or end of the semester to make inferences about student learning.


  • If you have students in your classroom who are struggling in some or all subjects, talk with an administrator or a special educator in your school or district to inquire about assessment approaches being used to monitor student performance and make decisions about instruction and special services.
  • If you are considering using an assessment to measure progress toward a student's Individual Education Program (IEP) or Section 504 Plan goals, check with the student's case manager to explain the purpose of the assessment and to ensure that assessment is appropriate. Assessment measures for IEP and 504 plan goals are articulated in the student's plan.

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