Glossary of Assessment Technology

For use by EDEX 790

Introduction to Assessment

accommodations — Changes that allow a person with a disability to participate fully in an activity. In education, accommodations could include changes in the way instruction is presented or in the way students respond to instructions. Testing accommodations might include, for example, the use of readers and/or scribes, extended time for taking exams, or availability of different test formats. The obligation to accommodate students means providing both physical and programmatic access. By law, accommodations must be made in the instructional process, and in testing and evaluation to ensure full and equal educational opportunity. Such alterations are provided to accommodate the student’s disability and provide equal opportunity to demonstrate competencies achieved.

accountability — A systematic approach to gathering measurable data to determine whether teachers, administrators, schools, districts, and states are teaching students effectively and well. Methods include collecting data such as student achievement, performance, attendance, and dropout rates. Many accountability systems are linked to rewards and sanctions. Demonstrating accountability for educational results to the public has become a cornerstone to reform.

accreditation — Official recognition that an institution has met and maintains certain standards; official authorizations or approval.

aggregate — To combine the scores of certain groups of students, such as students with disabilities, with the scores of the rest of the students when reporting large-scale assessment results.

alternate assessment — Assessment the substitutes for a general state or district-wide assessment, intended for the small number of students with disabilities whose IEPs specify that the regular assessment would not be appropriate. These are students for whom the regular assessment, even with accommodations, provides insufficient opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge and skills. IDEA requires that alternate assessments be developed and available by July 1, 2000. For most states, the form and substance for alternate assessments are currently being developed. Sometimes the terms "alternate" and "alternative" are used interchangeably.

alternative assessment — A broad term indicating assessment other than just paper and pencil or multiple-choice tests, e.g., performance, portfolios (collections of students’ work), and reviews of records. Sometimes the terms "alternate" and "alternative" are used interchangeably.

assessment — Test, observation, interview, or other strategy used to measure ability, achievement, or mastery in a specific subject against a set of standards or against others’ performance. In special education, assessment also refers to data and information gathered to ascertain a student’s aptitudes, areas of need, eligibility and recommendations for programs and services.

assistive technology — According to IDEA, an assitive technology device is a "device, piece of equipment, or product system that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of a person with a disability." Assistive technology service is a "service that helps a person with a disability select, acquire, or use an assistive technology device." The need for assistive technology devices and services must be considered and, if needed, provided for in the individualized education program (IEP) of a child receiving special education services.

authentic assessment — Performance test where a student demonstrates his or her understanding through an activity or by solving a real-life problem.

bias committee — A group established to assess whether a specific test or test item disfavors or is prejudiced against a particular group. In the past, bias committees typically have not included individuals knowledgeable about disabilities, but instead have focused primarily on race, culture, and gender issues.

content standards — criteria defining what students should know and be able to do as a result of their education. Content standards may also be called "curriculum standards" or "state standards."

criterion-referenced tests — Tests designed to measure a student’s mastery of a particular content area of the curriculum. These tests compare student performance to criteria of what eh student should know, rather than to the performance of other students. (Compare, norm-referenced tests.)

curriculum — Usually refers to a written plan that outlines what students will be taught.

disaggregate — To separate out the scores of certain groups of students, such as students with disabilities, from the scores of the rest of the students when reporting large-scale assessment results.

educational outcomes — Knowledge and skills students acquire as a result of their educational experiences; the intended results of schooling. Some educators use the term "outcomes" to mean goals, objectives, or standards’. In response to pressure for accountability, states have been specifying the results they expect for students. In special education, the term also implies greater emphasis on the results of education (i.e., what students actually know and are able to do).

exempt — To excuse or exclude a child with disabilities or a group of children form participating in an assessment.

exit exam — An exam a student has to pass in order to receive a high school diploma; an example of a "high-stakes" test with attendant serious consequences for individual students.

504 plan — A plan written in accordance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, usually for students with disabilities who do not qualify for special education under IDEA. Section 504 prohibits discrimination against a person due to his or her disability. A 504 plan specifies the accommodations a student needs in order to have full and equal access to educational opportunities and to benefit form his or her educational program. Although some school districts have specific formats for 504 plans, there is no federally prescribed format.

high stakes — Significant consequences for an individual or an organization, used in education reform to refer to tests or assessments that have serious sanctions or rewards for students, teachers, administrators, schools, or school systems. An exam that must be passed in order to receive a high school diploma is an example of high stakes for students. Examples of high stakes for schools include loss or gain of accreditations or funding of increases in teachers’ salaries.

IDEA — Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the federal special education law, as amended in 1997.

IEP — See Individualized Education Program (IEP).

inclusion — The practice of educating all students, including students with disabilities, together in heterogeneous classrooms, with appropriate adaptations and supports sufficient to meet each child’s learning needs.

Individualized Education Program (IEP) — IDEA requires that each child with a disability receive special education services in accordance with an IEP. It is written by a team consisting of the child’s parents, teachers, and other professionals who have knowledge of the child and expertise in the child’s area(s) of special needs.

instructional supports — Accommodations and services provided to children with disabilities as specified in their IEPs or 504 Plans, giving students equal opportunities to learn.

large-scale assessment — Data collection efforts in which large numbers of students are assessed. Results are usually used to compare groups of students in districts, states, and nationally. Assessment results are used to describe the educational status of students, make decisions about individual students, and develop or revise existing local, state, and national policies. These assessments can include the "minimum competency tests" and "graduation exams" that students must pass to receive a high school diploma.

life skills — Skills, which include self-care, household management, job readiness, and other activities of daily life.

norm-referenced tests — Standardized tests for measuring how a pupil’s performance compares with the scores of the other pupils whose scores are used as an official reference standard, (i.e., a norming group). (Compare criterion-referenced tests.)

off-the-shelf assessments — Testing instruments that have previously been devised, often used for large-scale assessments. Because students with disabilities have not been part of the field testing of most existing off-the-shelf assessment instruments, these assessments may be biased against children with disabilities, or their design requirements may preclude the participation of children with disabilities.

Parent Centers — A term referring to a national program of parent-run Parent Training and Information (PTI) projects funded by the U.S. Department of Education. The purpose of the program is to assist parents to understand the nature of their children’s disabilities, with special emphases on their rights under special education laws and the range of options, program, services, and resources available to help children with disabilities and their families. In addition to the PTIs, the IDEA Amendments of 1997 establish a program for Community Parent Resource Centers (CPRCs) to ensure that underserved parents of children with disabilities have the training and information they need to participate effectively in helping their children with disabilities "be prepared to lead productive independent adult lives, to the maximum extent possible." (A state-by-state listing of Parent centers begins on page 95.)

performance standards — What students have to do to show that they can use and apply what they have learned. Performance standards indicate how well a student must read, write, calculate, etc.

portfolio — A collection of student work that documents a student’s learning. To measure a student’s progress, work can be added over time. Portfolios can be used both as teaching and learning tools and as a way to assess student learning.

Protection and Advocacy Organization (P & A) — An organization that is part of a federally mandated system in each state and territory which protects the rights of people with disabilities through legal advocacy.

school takeover — In response to a school’s poor performance, assignment by the state of a person or other entity to administer and manage a school during a period of reorganization and reform.

standards — Expectations of what students need to know and be able to do. Content standards define the learning goals (curriculum) in various academic subjects. Performance standards specifically define how and to what extent students must demonstrate what they know.

State Advisory Council for Special Education — An advisory panel for the purpose of providing policy guidance of special education and related services for children with disabilities in a state. To be eligible for funding under IDEA (federal special education law), a state must establish and maintain such a Council. Advisory members are appointed by the governor and must be representative of the state population and composed of people involved in or concerned with the education of children with disabilities. By special rule, a majority of the members of the panel must be people with disabilities or parents of children with disabilities.

tracking — Sorting students according to particular measures of intelligence or perceived ability into distinct groups for purposes of teaching and learning. A "tracked" curriculum might indicate separate academic and vocational classes that range from remedial courses to rigorous academic courses.


The following resources were used in developing this Glossary:

McBrien, L.J. & Brandt, R.S. (1997). The Language of Learning: A Guide to Education Terms. Alexandria VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Amendments of 1997 (20 U.S.C. 1400 et seq.)

Mish, F.C. (Editor-in-Chief). (1993). Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. Tenth Edition. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc.

Olson, J.F. & Goldstein, A.A. (1997). The Inclusion of Students with Disabilities and Limited English Proficient Students in Large-Scale Assessments: A summary of recent progress. NCES 97-482. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education. National Center for Education Statistics.


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© 2000 University of South Carolina Board of Trustees

Maintained by Dr. Cheryl A. Wissick,  Associate Professor
Department of Educational Psychology, College of Education.

Last updated: September, 2001