The Accessibility Needs of Students with Disabilities: Special Considerations for Instruction and Assessment

  • Jennifer R. FreyEmail author
  • Carrie M. Gillispie


In this chapter, we will discuss the distinct needs of students with learning differences and strategies to truly increase their access to effective instruction and testing. Over 6 million American students between the ages of 3 and 21 years receive special education services (National Center for Education Statistics [NCES]. Alternate assessments for students with disabilities. Retrieved from Q.htm, 2016). Each of these students is entitled to a free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment (Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act [IDEA], 20 U.S.C. § 1400, 2004), which means, to the extent possible, students with disabilities should be educated in general education classrooms with peers who do not have disabilities. These students present a unique set of considerations for ensuring access to high-quality instruction and assessing their learning and growth.


Accessibility needs Inclusion Opportunity to learn UDL 


  1. American Educational Research Association, American Psychological Association, & National Council on Measurement in Education. (2014). Standards for educational and psychological testing. Washington, DC: American Educational Research Association.Google Scholar
  2. Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990, Pub. L. No. 101-336, 104 Stat. 328. (1990).Google Scholar
  3. Aron, L., & Loprest, P. (2012). Disability and the education system. The Future of Children, 22, 97–122.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Asselin, S. B. (2014). Learning and assistive technologies for college transition. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 40, 223–230. Google Scholar
  5. Barton, E. E., & Smith, B. J. (2015). Advancing high quality preschool inclusion: A discussion and recommendations for the field. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 35, 65–78.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Blackorby, J., Wagner, M., Cameto, R., Davies, E., Levine, P., Lunn, N., … Sumi, C. (2004). SEELS: Engagement, academics, social adjustment, and independence: The achievements of elementary and middle school students with disabilities. Menlo Park, CA: SRI International.Google Scholar
  7. Blumenfeld, P. C., Soloway, E., Marx, R. W., Krajcik, J. S., Guzdial, M., & Palincsar, A. (1991). Motivating project-based learning: Sustaining the doing, supporting the learning. Educational Psychologist, 26, 369–398.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Carter, E. W., Asmus, J., Moss, C. K., Biggs, E. E., Bolt, D. M., Born, T. L., … Weir, K. (2016). Randomized evaluation of peer support arrangements to support the inclusion of high school students with severe disabilities. Exceptional Children, 82, 209–233. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Carter, E. W., Austin, D., & Trainor, A. A. (2012). Predictors of postschool employment outcomes for young adults with severe disabilities. Journal of Disability Policy Studies, 23, 50–63. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Elliott, S. N., Kurz, A., & Schulte, A. (2015). Maximizing access to instruction and testing for students with disabilities: What we know and can do to improve achievement. Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. UCLA: McGraw Hill.Google Scholar
  11. Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) of 2015, Pub. L. No. 114-95. (2015).Google Scholar
  12. Fuchs, D., Fuchs, L. S., & Stecker, P. M. (2010). The “blurring” of special education in a new continuum of general education placements and services. Exceptional Children, 76, 301–323.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Gettinger, M. & Miller, K. (2014). Best practices in increased academic engaged time. In A. Thomas & P. Harrison (Eds.), Best Practices in School Psychology - Student Level Services (6th ed.), 19–36. Bethesda, MD: National Association of School Psychologists.Google Scholar
  14. Gregg, N., & Nelson, J. M. (2012). Meta-analysis on the effectiveness of extra time as a test accommodation for transitioning adolescents with learning disabilities: More questions than answers. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 45, 128–138. CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Harrison, J. R., Bunford, N., Evans, S. W., & Owens, J. S. (2013). Educational accommodations for students with behavioral challenges: A systematic review of the literature. Review of Educational Research, 83, 551–597. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Hodgson, J. R., Lazarus, S. S., & Thurlow, M. L. (2011). Professional development to improve accommodations decisions—A review of the literature (Synthesis Report 84). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, National Center on Educational Outcomes. Retrieved from: Google Scholar
  17. Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act, 20 U.S.C. § 1400. (2004).Google Scholar
  18. Jorgensen, C. M., McSheehan, M., & Sonnenmeier, R. M. (2007). Presumed competence reflected in the educational programs of students with IDD before and after the beyond access professional development intervention. Journal of Intellectual & Developmental Disability, 32, 248–262. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Kagan, D. M. (1993). Contexts for the use of classroom cases. American Educational Research Journal, 30, 703.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Kearns, J. J., Kleinert, H. L., Thurlow, M. L., Brian, G., & Quenemoen, R. (2015). Alternate assessments as one measure of teacher effectiveness: Implications for our field. Research & Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities, 40, 20–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Kettler, R. J. (2012). Testing accommodations: Theory and research to inform practice. International Journal of Disability, Development and Education, 59, 53–66.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Kleinert, H., Browder, D., & Towles-Reeves, E. (2009). Models of cognition for students with significant cognitive disabilities: Implications for assessment. Review of Educational Research, 79, 301–326.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Kuchle, L. B., Edmonds, R. Z., Danielson, L. C., Peterson, A., & Riley-Tillman, T. C. (2015). The next big idea: A framework for integrated academic and behavioral intensive intervention. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 30, 150–158.
  24. Kurth, J. A., Lyon, K. J., & Shogren, K. A. (2015). Supporting students with severe disabilities in inclusive schools: A descriptive account from schools implementing inclusive practices. Research and Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities, 40, 261–274.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Kurz, A., Elliott, S. N., Lemons, C. J., Zigmond, N., Kloo, A., & Kettler, R. J. (2014). Opportunity to Learn: A differentiated opportunity structure for students with disabilities in general education classrooms. Assessment for Effective Intervention, 40, 24–39.Google Scholar
  26. Kurz, A., Elliott, S. N., & Shrago, J. S. (2009). MyiLOGS: My instructional learning opportunities guidance system. Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University.Google Scholar
  27. Kurz, A., Talapatra, D., & Roach, A. T. (2012). Meeting the curriculuar challenges of inclusive assessment: The role of alignment, oppportunity to learn, and student engagement. International Journal of Disability, Development and Education, 59, 37–52.Google Scholar
  28. McLaughlin, R., & Walther-Thomas, C. (2002). Outcomes for students with disabilities in inclusive and pullout programs. Exceptional Children, 68, 203–222.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Morningstar, M. E., Shogren, K. A., Lee, H., & Born, K. (2015). Preliminary lessons about supporting participation and learning in inclusive classrooms. Research and Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities, 40, 192–210. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Mott, V. W. (2000). The development of professional expertise in the workplace. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 86, 23–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. National Center for Education Statistics. (2016). Children and youth with disabilities. Retrieved from
  32. National Center on Educational Outcomes. (2016). Alternate assessments for students with disabilities. Retrieved from Q.htm
  33. Newman, L., Wagner, M., Cameto, R., & Knokey, A. M. (2009). The post-high school outcomes youth with disabilities up to 4 years after high school. A report from the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 (NLTS2). Menlo Park, CA: SRI International.Google Scholar
  34. Newman, L., Wagner, M., Knokey, A. M., Marder, C., Nagle, K., Shaver, D., … Schwarting, M. (2011). The post-high school outcomes of young adults with disabilities up to 8 years after high school. A report from the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 (NLTS2). Menlo Park, CA: SRI International. Retrieved from Google Scholar
  35. Odom, S. L., Buysse, V., & Soukakou, E. (2011). Inclusion for young children with disabilities: A quarter center of research perspectives. Journal of Early Intervention, 33, 344–356.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Petersen, A. (2016). Perspectives of special education teachers on general education curriculum access. Research and Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities, 41, 19–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Rafferty, Y., Piscitelli, V., & Boettcher, C. (2003). The impact of inclusion on language development and social competence among preschoolers with disabilities. Exceptional Children, 69, 467–479.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Roach, A. T., Kurz, A., & Elliott, S. N. (2015). Using personalized instructional feedback data to facilitate opportunity to learn for students with disabilities. Prevening School Failure. doi:  10.1080/1045988X.2014.901288.
  39. Rojewski, J. W., Lee, I. H., & Gregg, N. (2013). Causal effects of inclusion on postsecondary education outcomes of individuals with high-incidence disabilities. Journal of Disability Policy Studies, 25, 210–219.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Rose, D. H., & Gravel, J. W. (2010). Universal design for learning. In P. Peterson, E. Baker, & B. McGaw (Eds.), International encyclopedia of education (3rd ed., pp. 119–124). Oxford, UK: Elsevier.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Schulte, A. C., Stevens, J. J., Elliott, S. N., Tindal, G., & Nese, J. F. T. (2016). Achievement gaps for students with disabilities: Stable, widening, or narrowing on a state-wide reading comprehension test? Journal of Educational Psychology, 108, 925–942.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 34 C.F.R. Part 104. (1973).Google Scholar
  43. Seong, Y., Wehmeyer, M. L., Palmer, S. B., & Little, T. D. (2015). Effects of the self-directed individualized education program on self-determination and transition of adolescents with disabilities. Career Development and Transition for Exceptional Individuals, 38, 132–141.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Shepherd, K. G., Fowler, S., McCormick, J., Wilson, C. L., & Morgan, D. (2016). The search for role clarity: Challenges and implications for special education teacher preparation. Teacher Education and Special Education, 39, 83–97. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Sireci, S. G., Scarpati, S. E., & Li, S. (2005). Test accommodations for students with disabilities: An analysis of the interaction hypothesis. Review of Educational Research, 75, 457–490.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Stevens, J. J., Schulte, A. C., Elliott, S. N., Nese, J. F. T., & Tindal, G. (2015). Growth and gaps in mathematics achievement of students with and without disabilities on a statewide achievement test. Journal of School Psychology, 53, 45–62.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  47. Test, D. W., Mazzotti, V. L., Mustian, A. L., Fowler, C. H., Kortering, L., & Kohler, P. (2009). Evidence-based secondary transition predictors for improving postschool outcomes for students with disabilities. Career Development for Exceptional Individuals, 32, 160–181. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. U.S. Department of Education. (2016). Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, as amended by the Every Student Succeeds Act, negotiated rulemaking committee issue paper #4b. Retrieved from
  49. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, & U.S. Department of Education. (2015, September). Policy statement on inclusion of children with disabilities in early childhood programs. Retrieved from
  50. Vaughn, S., & Swanson, E. A. (2015). Special education research advances knowledge in education. Exceptional Children, 82, 11–24. CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The George Washington UniversityWashington, DCUSA

Personalised recommendations