March 2024
Emir and Eliana Tardio are featured in a video by the National Center on Educational Outcomes about testing students with disabilities.

Emir and Eliana Tardio are featured in a video by the National Center on Educational Outcomes about testing students with disabilities.

Students with disabilities still aren’t participating in learning assessments at rates they were before the pandemic, say experts at the University of Minnesota’s National Center on Educational Outcomes (NCEO).

“There were no state tests administered in 2020, so there is just a total gap in the data used for accountability,” said Sheryl Lazarus, director of NCEO, which is part of the Institute on Community Integration.

And though many states predicted testing levels would bounce back by last year, participation in statewide assessments among students with disabilities hasn’t gotten back to normal, said Andrew Hinkle, an NCEO program manager.

As assessment season begins this spring, Lazarus and Hinkle are among leaders in the field urging parents and schools to recognize the value of and promote participation in tests.

To help spread the word, NCEO created videos aimed at helping families understand why assessments are a good opportunity for students to demonstrate what they have learned and for schools to know what students need. They also offer tips for families on getting their children ready for tests.

One of the videos features Eliana Tardio, a communications specialist who works as a contractor to NCEO, and her children, Emir, 19, and Ayelen, 17, who have Down syndrome. Emir, who is completing an adapted educational program in an inclusive high school, will graduate later this year with a regular diploma, the first student with significant disabilities to do so at his school, Tardio said. The video, part of NCEO’s Empowering Families Toolkit, is available in English and Spanish.

“[Assessment] results help state policymakers and local school boards identify schools that need more assistance,” Eliana Tardio says on the video. “When we talk with our children about testing in a positive and motivating way, they can get excited about sharing what they know, because they understand that their test results influence their school in important ways.”

Tardio, who immigrated to the United States from Bolivia, agreed to participate in making the video because she had to overcome her own fears about what might happen if her children didn’t perform well enough.

“As an immigrant, in the first years the children were in school I was just fighting for them to be included in the regular classroom,” she said. “There was this belief in our community that assessments were the way schools prove students with disabilities couldn’t learn. Eventually, I understood that even information I perceive as bad can be useful to determine a child needs more services, or they have a teacher who needs more training. So, it’s essential to me that we create this kind of accessible information that families can relate to.”

Simple things can make a big difference for parents trying to prepare their children with disabilities or who are English learners for assessments, Tardio said. “Talk to them about what will happen on test day and why it is important for them to do their best.”

It’s also important to work with the school to make sure a student has the right accommodations. Tardio’s children are fluent in both English and Spanish now, but when they were just starting school, they only spoke Spanish, and the way the assessment was administered was not accessible to them.

Some opponents of testing have argued that assessments are poorly designed, and may measure test-taking readiness and not comprehensive knowledge, or that they contain racial and gender bias.

While current tests are not perfect, it is important to have information that can help ensure that all children get the support and services they need, Lazarus said.

“For students with disabilities and English learners, participating in assessments has led to improvements in access to grade-level subject material and to a better measure of how schools are performing,” she said, adding that federal law (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) calls for all students with disabilities to participate in assessments.

“We were thrilled to have Eliana and her family participate in these videos,” Lazarus said. “Hearing a real parent talking about why assessments are worthwhile makes them more engaging, and more likely that other parents will react positively to the message.”

Lazarus has spoken frequently about the need for high-quality assessments that adhere to standards developed by the American Educational Research Association and others.

“Good information is so vital,” she said. “If schools aren’t serving students well, that’s important to know.”