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Standardized testing can be an important tool for measuring the baseline and progression of students throughout their education. It provides both schools and students with valuable information on a student’s strengths, weaknesses, and potential for growth. It also sheds light on the effectiveness of the teaching curriculum at a school.

However, because these tests typically do not take into account the students with disabilities or special needs, they can cause these students to experience negative and unintended outcomes, such as lowered self-esteem and loss of confidence in their educational abilities. 

The end result is an increased risk of students with disabilities being held back or dropping out.

Accommodations and Modifications 

To remedy the problems involved with standardized testing and students with disabilities, educational institutions, and testing organizations have examined the allowance of modifications and accommodations. 

Although both of these approaches involve the alteration of an aspect of the testing process, they are distinctly different.


Modifications are changes to the material a special education student is to be tested on. Within the Ohio Department of Education, modifications are not allowed on standardized testing. 

Examples of prohibited modifications include:

  • Reducing the complexity of exams
  • Providing hints for special ed students
  • Using off-grade tests for assessment
  • Allowing or instructing a student to ignore or skip items

Modifications to tests go against Ohio’s Universal Design concept, which seeks to have all Ohio state tests designed to ensure that every student has the ability to succeed at these tests and accurately demonstrate their level of learning. 


Accommodations, on the other hand, are permitted and required when appropriate. They do not lead to the modification of the material being tested but to changes in how a student should access and complete a test. 

Common acceptable accommodations for standardized tests typically include:

  • Changes to the testing conditions or environment
  • Changes to the testing format or how the test is administered
  • Changes to time parameters for the test

Whatever the accommodation made, the law requires that it should:

  • Foster greater participation on the part of special ed students
  • Be based on documentation and not give an unfair advantage over others
  • Be tailored directly to the student’s disabilities
  • Be adaptable to the different standardized tests when necessary
  • Be noted in the IEPs and 504 plans of the students who receive it

As for standardized tests administered by vendors, such as college entrance exams, schools should also be instrumental in assisting special ed students in getting appropriate accommodations. 

Ramifications for Special Ed Students

The current policies relating to special education across the country overwhelmingly favor integrating special education students as much as possible in the education system. Policies that favored segregation of these students are things of the past. 

This is precisely why modification of standardized tests is strictly prohibited in many states. Doing so works against integration by creating two standards for success, with one standard being lower than the other. Necessarily, the students under the lower of the two standards become viewed as lesser by their peers.

With accommodations, however, neither the material on a test nor its difficulty is changed. Instead, changes are made to the administration and conditions of the test. 

Approaching the issue of special education and standardized testing in this manner allows special ed students to demonstrate their true educational abilities and retain healthy levels of self-esteem and confidence. 

Contact a Special Education Lawyer for Guidance

If you have special education questions and issues to manage, Shaw & Nelson can help. We deal with special education law in the Louisville and Cincinnati areas. Call us for a consultation today.