State policy OKs special ed ‘cheating’

Some testing modifications for special ed students and English Learners amount to cheating, writes Miriam Kurtzig Freedman, author of Fixing Special Education, on Thoughts on Public Education. “Providing a calculator for a student on a math computation test, having an instructor read a reading test to a student or giving extended time on a test that measures results under time pressure” will not produce valid scores.

Isn’t this, too, a form of  “cheating”? Certainly it cheats students out of knowing what they can and cannot do. Also it cheats schools, taxpayers, and parents from getting a valid measure of student achievement.

California reported higher scores on the state Academic Performance Index this year. But the API now includes scores from a much easier test given to increasing numbers of students with learning disabilities, Freedman writes.


About Joanne


  1. So how would one test reading comprehension in a visually impaired child without using a reader? There’s Braille *IF* the child is fluent in it, but not all VI kids are.

    I guess it would be technically “oral comprehension” but the primary skill tested (what does the child understand about the passage) is the same.

    The extended time is given to make up for the slower processing speed caused by the disability. I don’t have a problem with this, however the scores ought to note that the test was taken with accommodations. If the child has a legitimate disability, there should be no problem with that sort of disclosure. The only ones objecting to the disclosure are the folks who are trying to game the system.

  2. From what I’ve heard from family and friends with kids with learning disabilities, spec ed seems to be too wedded to the accommodation model for these kids. Accommodation is necessary for kids with permanent impairments; hearing, vision, damaged/missing digits/limbs, paralysis and some of the cognitive impairments because the underlying problem cannot be remediated; it is what it is and can’t be changed. However, kids can be taught how to compensate for their learning disabilities but I’ve heard many complaints that this is not being done; either the teacher doesn’t know how to do it or doesn’t see the need, but ends up just giving the kid the answers (or holding the hand for writing). Too many families I’ve known have had to go outside the school, on their own, to have the kids taught properly. A family member had to do this with a dyslexic kid; the school spec ed teachers didn’t know how to teach compensatory skills and didn’t care; the private tutor had left the school system because of the frustrations. After a few years (in ES), the kid did fine independently, with no spec ed ID or services, and is now a senior at an Ivy.

    I’m with CW on identification of testing accommodations; I’ve known far too many demanding extra time for all sorts of things, in the hope of having an extra edge, and it exploded (at least in my area) after the SAT stopped noting accommodations.

  3. Deirdre Mundy says:

    The one I’ve always found hilarious is the accommodation of “extra time” for ADHD kids. Because yeah, what a TRULY ADHD kid really wants is MORE time cooped up in the testing center. A better accommodation would be to have the test take into account BOTH correct scores and time to completion– so the ADD kid who rushes through and makes dumb mistakes could also demonstrate that they achieved 80% accuracy (or whatever) in 1/3 of the time of their “normal” peers.

    Actually, I think the BEST accommodation for the ADHD would be a “get out of busy-work free” card–that if they could demonstrate mastery on an exam, they could skip the pointless homework and stupid projects in favor of just knowing the material……. but sure! More time! Then, instead of procrastinating on the project for 3 weeks and completing it on the last night, they’ll get to procrastinate for SIX!!! weeks instead.

    Often, I feel like the adults coming up with ‘suitable accommodations’ don’t actually understand the nature of the disorders they’re trying to accommodate.

  4. Walter E Wallis says:

    You can compensate for a one legged man in a footrace, but the resulting score is worthless. A test is a measure of achievement. Any “accommodation” invalidates the test. Accept the fact that not everybody is going to ace every test, or do as some youth teams do and don’t keep score. So a blind person scores zero on a reading comprehension test? So write a Braille reading comprehension test, but don’t pretend they are equal.

  5. I can see the argument in reading the reading tests. I’ll never do that for my SpEd kids. I WILL force them to walk away from the test every fifteen minutes to take a drink and stretch their legs.

    On a math test, again, no calculators. Especially for SpEd kids, I want to know if they are able to do the basic computational skills. I will read it to them if they having a reading impairment because on a math test I don’t care if they can read it, I care if they can do the math. (Same for Science tests.)

    As for extended time- ABSOLUTELY. I have the pleasure of working with an ADHD and a general SpED kid who are doing amazing this year. My ADHD had serious anxiety attacks for the first three weeks of school and couldn’t finish anything. Once we decided he was to be allowed to have as much time as he needed the attacks stopped. He’s actually been able to finish most assignments in class and in the time allotted but that extra time now-and-again is precious to him and allows him to keep that stability of mind. My SpEd kid is one of those miracle stories. Last year (3rd grade) at the beginning he was performing at a K-1st level in all subjects. At the end of last year he passed our state test in math and missed the reading test by 30 points. He gets reevaluated this year and the Sped teacher and I are praying that he tests, for the most part, out of SpEd (maybe stays on for only one-two segments, rather than ALL academic segments). However, with all that said he STILL needs that extended time.
    1. He needs time for breaks. He still does have a disability. He’s learned the coping skills, but still it’s a struggle for him to work for long periods of time without a break. An accommodation of extended time allows him to get up, get a drink, and allow his mind that reboot.
    2. He is physically slower than other students when doing some of the work. His mind works slower, his body works slower, it’s just slower even if he’s turning out the same quality of work. He NEEDS that extra processing time so that he can think things through without feeling rushed and just guessing. Yesterday a majority of my class finished a reading test in about 30 minutes. He took almost 50, but in the end, he scored a solid C and only missed dictionary questions which I realized he missed the lesson anyway!

    I’m a big proponent of accommodations so long as they don’t lead to doing the test for the child, but instead relieve the physical hardship of taking a test.

    (BTW, I hate timed tests. I don’t care how my kids do under pressure, I care about it if they can get it DONE.)

    • Deirdre Mundy says:

      It may depend on the personality of the ADHD kids involved– most of the ones I know actually do BETTER when there’s less time to get off task and distracted. (Which is why they’ve also excelled in the military– the structure and time constraints work against the distraction and procrastination factors.) On the other hand, the crowd I know are mostly GT/ADHD– which means that, aside from the pernsnickety fine motor skills issues, they don’t really need extra time. They just need the sort of work that puts them in the hyper-focus zone, and they need help organizing time and space and prioritizing and keeping the emotions in check and not freaking out. (Provided they are also well-rested, have eaten recently, and have had at least 30 minutes of outside time before the test.)

      For kids like that bunch, extra time is NOT helpful. I still think most tests should record the “time to finish” since a kid who gets an A in 20 minutes is not on the same level of academic performance as one who takes the whole hour.

  6. most regular ed teachers I know have felt this way for a long time now. Special Ed in our district is a beast of its own…tough to fight.