Accommodations for Common Core Tests

By The Understood Team
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At a Glance

  • Common Core State Standards aren’t the same as standardized testing.

  • Two groups of states have developed computer-based tests to see if kids are meeting the Common Core standards.

  • Most accommodations in your child’s IEP and 504 plan are available on these Common Core tests.

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) aren’t the same as standardized testing. However, some states have developed tests to see if kids are meeting Common Core standards. These so-called “Common Core tests” are the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (Smarter Balanced).

The test accommodations for PARCC and Smarter Balanced are highly developed. If your child is taking one of these tests, here’s what you need to know.

PARCC and Smarter Balanced Tests

PARCC and Smarter Balanced are used by two different groups of states. Both are computer-based tests. They can be taken on many kinds of computers, including desktops, laptops and digital tablets. Schools often use Chromebooks as testing devices because they’re less expensive.

The two tests cover English Language Arts and Math. The questions follow the grade-level standards in the Common Core. (Both PARCC and Smarter Balanced have practice tests available online if you want to try them.)

PARCC and Smarter Balanced are similar tests, but they differ in how questions are presented. PARCC gives students a fixed set of questions. Smarter Balanced uses computer adaptive testing. This means that if the student answers a question correctly, the next question will be harder. If the student answers incorrectly, the next question will be easier. The idea is to understand which skills a student has mastered.

Not all states use these Common Core tests. Thirty-six states and the District of Columbia use the Common Core in schools, and 21 of these states use PARCC or Smarter Balanced.

Keep in mind that under federal law, all states must have standardized testing in grades 3-8 and once in high school. Even if you live in a state without Common Core, your child will still be asked to take a state test.

Accommodations on Common Core Tests

The developers of PARCC and Smarter Balanced put a lot of thought into what features to offer. In the past, even computer-based tests needed to use external tools for accommodations. With the Common Core tests, these tools are built directly into the computer interface.

PARCC and Smarter Balanced have many built-in “universal” tools available to all students. Here’s a sample of what these universal tools let students do:

  • Look up the meaning of words with a dictionary or glossary

  • Check word spellings

  • Take notes on a digital notepad

  • Make text bigger or smaller

  • Repeat instructions

  • Highlight and shade text

  • Cross out answers on multiple choice questions

The tests also have built-in accommodations for students with disabilities. Here are some of the available features:

In addition to the built-in universal tools and accommodations, the tests allow certain outside accommodations. For instance, students may be able to get headphones or a quiet testing room. They might be able to ask for physical scratch paper or even an abacus to help with math.

(For a full list of available accommodations, check out the PARCC and Smarter Balanced websites.)

How to Get Accommodations on Common Core Tests

If your child has an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 plan, the school is required by law to address what accommodations he gets on state tests. This includes tests like PARCC and Smarter Balanced. In the IEP or 504 plan, there must be a list of test accommodations.

It’s important to talk with the IEP team or the school about these accommodations. And if your child has a test accommodation, make sure he’s using it in the classroom. If your child sees an accommodation for the first time on test day, he may be confused.

Keep in mind that having too many tools or accommodations on a test can be distracting. So you may want to talk with the school about which features to turn on and which features to turn off.

Generally, if your child has an accommodation in an IEP or a 504 plan, he’ll get that accommodation on the Common Core tests. (Or on any state test, for that matter.) There are exceptions, however.

Some states don’t allow accommodations that could defeat the purpose of a question. For instance, if a question is testing whether a student can add two numbers, the state may not allow calculators. And some states don’t allow read-aloud or text-to-speech on questions that test decoding or reading comprehension. These are tricky issues that are best discussed with your school.

If you’re concerned about how your child will do on Common Core tests, talk with the teacher. Working together can help you and your child know what to expect during the tests. And that kind of preparation can go a long way toward reducing anxiety about testing.

Key Takeaways

  • Common Core tests have many built-in tools and accommodations.

  • Talk with the school about what accommodations your child will get on state tests like PARCC and Smarter Balanced.

  • Keep in mind that too many tools and accommodations on a test can be distracting.

About the Author

About the Author

The Understood Team 

is made up of passionate writers, editors, and community moderators. Many of them learn and think differently, or have kids who do.

Reviewed by

Reviewed by

Melody Musgrove, EdD 

served as director of the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) in the U.S. Department of Education.

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