Students with Special Needs Considerations



Federal Mandates

Children who have met the eligibility criteria for special education have been, by virtue of the process to determine eligibility, thoroughly assessed and evaluated academically, cognitively and perceptually. Depending upon the nature or severity of their disability, additional assessment has also occurred, for example, in motor skills, adaptive behaviors and social and emotional growth.

Litigation relating to the assessment of culturally and linguistically diverse individuals, such as Diana v. State Board of California (1970), Larry P. v. Riles (California, 1979) , and Parents in Action on Special Education (PASE) v. Hannon (Illinois, 1980) must also be complied with, and failure to do so can result in serious financial penalties for school districts. In essence, the rulings of these cases require that children should be assessed in their primary language (Diana), that intelligence tests administered to African-American children cannot be used as the sole basis for placing students in special education classes (Larry P.), and that certain intelligence tests are not biased against African-American children.

Assessment and evaluation procedures for children with special learning needs must be fair and equitable for all children, and in the process of assessment, teachers are required to adhere to the following federal mandates (P.L. 101-476, a.k.a. IDEA):

The test administered must:

Assessment Modifications and Adaptations

Another important consideration for all teachers to be aware of relates to the IEP, or Individualized Education Program. Teachers are mandated to comply with the information given on the IEP regarding assessment. For example, some students may be completely exempted from taking standardized assessments, while others may require oral testing. Students may be permitted to dictate responses or have test items read to them. Some students have time modifications and take untimed tests, or they receive time extensions.



Reading Assessment

The best approach is frequent assessment, using a multiple approach and multiple instruments. Assuming that the above-mentioned criteria are met, teachers need to consider the importance of assessment as it relates to and informs instructional practices and literacy program choices. The formative and summative assessment practices described here are intended to represent the essential variety of good approaches to assessment. As teachers teach and observe students at work, it is important for them to gather as much diagnostic and evaluative information as possible. By doing so in real contexts, it is possible to gather more valid and reliable information about how a child approaches literacy, what strategies a child has in his repertoire to assist him in the process of reading, and how a teacher can design effective instruction which addresses the reading challenges of her students.

There are many and varied measures and techniques used to assess reading performance..

Formal reading assessment techniques include:


Some norm-referenced and criterion-referenced tests are broad-ranged, and include subtests in reading and other academic areas, while others of these types are specific to, for example, reading skills alone. Curriculum-based assessment allows teachers to evaluate a child’s performance with the actual curriculum in which the child is working, rather than against a mismatched set of test items as are used in standardized tests. Criterion-referenced assessments allow the teacher to identify a child’s specific skills, and make decisions about the next logical skill to teach.

Informal reading assessment techniques may include:  

Many of these informal assessment techniques are also used in the screening process to determine whether or not to refer a student for determination of eligibility for special education services. They are then used during the instructional phase of reading on a regular basis (some of them are day-to-day, while others are weekly, monthly, etc.), and when done over time, they provide the benchmarks upon which instructional decisions are based, reading program effectiveness is evaluated, and students’ progress is tracked.  

For additional information about diagnosis of phonological deficits in children with dyslexia, visit this web site:


Non Examples:

Individualized standardized tests - Because they do not reflect contemporary views of reading and writing, these tests should be used with caution. While they may be used to determine eligibility for special education services (which, in and of itself is controversial among many educators), they give little direction for designing effective instruction. Very few of them, in fact, are culture-free or culture-fair. As well, these tests do not adequately represent material taught in a specific school district’s curriculum. The data is more useful for demographic studies than for designing instruction for a specific child.

"Quick and Dirty" Tests - There is a tendency to draw conclusions from a student’s performance and reading abilities on a test with a random list of words extrapolated from graded texts. While the student’s responses may give us some information about strategies a student is using to decode unknown words, to assume that reading is merely about decoding lists of unrelated words is both inaccurate and dangerous.







Assessment and instruction are inseparable, and as reading assessment data becomes available on a day-by-day, week-by-week, month-by-month or other schedule, teachers have the responsibility to respond to that data by designing and implementing effective reading instruction. What that ‘looks’ like, of course, depends upon the assessment results. If assessment truly informs our instruction, then in designing that instruction, teachers must begin to think in terms of writing:


Grouping children by ability

Teachers need to make decisions regularly about how to group for instruction. Generally, grouping children with similar abilities (homogeneous grouping) in the primary grades for direct instruction can be productive, and for children with special needs, grouping this way provides them with a reading environment in which they are more likely to participate and to take risks. Reading instruction and experiences occur frequently every day a child is in school, and the opportunity to work in heterogeneous groups should also be part of their reading experience.

Reading centers

Children can immerse themselves in reading in the quiet comfort of a reading center that is full of books and other reading materials. Taped stories and partners to share reading with add to the ambiance of the place where reading is both treasured and expected to occur.


Read to students on a regular basis. Children love to be read to, and when teachers read to them, they better understand the nature purposes of reading. They also develop an understanding of the patterns of written language as they watch and listen to a teacher read aloud while simultaneously tracking across the lines of words on the printed page. Big books are particularly effective for this demonstration.

Write to students on a regular basis, too! Students will not only then have the opportunity to read, they will have a reason to read. Providing authentic reading opportunities and broadening students’ experiences can significantly impact their literacy development.

Opportunities to read

A child becomes a reader by reading. The form that reading takes is, again, only limited by the creativity of his teacher. In a print-rich environment, where students engage routinely in finding information from calendars, schedules and charts, chorally reading from poetry posters, researching individually or with partners data that is posted, contained in maps or graphs, or in a area of the room dedicated to an ongoing theme, children will find frequent natural opportunities for reading and writing. Silent reading, paired reading, reading for information as well as for pleasure - there are so many possibilities. Reading should not be perceived by a child as only a chore within which new skills are being amassed. Rather, it should be seen as a way to fulfill personal intentions. Reading should take place across the curriculum, and be integrated with writing, listening and speaking. Keeping and regularly sharing Reading Activity Logs is a useful way for children to realize the many purposes for reading.  


Non Examples:

"Round Robin" Reading or "Popcorn" Reading

(Note: In this type of reading experience, a class of students is given a reading text, and the teacher calls on students to read a portion of the text aloud. Usually, the students read a few sentences or a paragraph, and then the ‘next’ student reads the next few sentences or paragraph. A variation of this is called "Popcorn" reading, in which the reader, after reading his selection, chooses his successor to continue the reading.)

There are several issues here;

Teachers will sometimes say that by sharing a text aloud, all children will be given the same opportunity to hear and subsequently discuss, the same text about a given subject. In so doing, the students will have some acceptable degree of comprehension about the text, and will in fact, be able to respond to follow-up questions given in a homework assignment or on a written test. Social studies textbooks or stories from basal readers are usually the texts chosen to be read in this manner.

It is important for you to look at the these questions carefully. Does comprehension really occur when many children’s reading voices do not carry across the room for lack of confidence in their reading skills? Is the fragmented sound blending and choppy, halting rhythm of the oral reading of children whose reading levels fall below that of the prescribed texts memorable for the content and details it eventually emits? Have YOU ever been a listener, and not a teacher/participant in this experience, and tried to glean meaning from what you have heard? Is there any purpose to oral reading beyond assessing and analyzing reading miscues?

If we examine closely our own affective behaviors when faced with a "Round Robin" reading experience, we are likely to find out that our feelings are very similar to those of our students. We experience, albeit in minor proportions, a sense of dread that our turn will soon arrive. We doubt our capabilities when we notice unfamiliar words. We hope to be ‘saved by the bell’ before our turn comes. We hope that our mumble will be acceptable, as we fear that speaking aloud our potential errors will humiliate us in front of peers, and during this whole thought process, we are unable to listen to the content of what has been read by others. Even after our turn is through, we are still unable to attend to anything but the loud pulsating sounds of adrenaline pumping through our veins.

Look again now at the questions above. What are your reasons (objectives) for putting children through this experience? Now try substituting paired oral reading, or small group oral reading, or teacher oral reading, and watch those comprehension scores climb!