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Phillips To Speak On Balancing Accommodation, Testing Validity Oct. 12

Few would argue that students with special needs should have access to assistive technologies and other accommodations when taking standardized tests. But such accommodations, including additional time and special equipment, may skew test score validity and comparability in ways not adequately accounted for in current federal law.

As a result, test administrators must walk a fine line between serving the social goal of providing access and inclusion to students with disabilities and the testing goal of securing accurate test score interpretations.

Susan E. Phillips, a visiting professor in the University of Iowa College of Education’s Department of Psychological and Quantitative Foundations, will address these issues in the next William E. Coffman Lecture, “High-Stakes Testing Accommodations: Reconciling Conflicting Policy Goals,” from 3 to 4:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 12, in the Jones Commons of the E.F. Lindquist Center. A reception follows. Both events are free and open to the public.

Phillips, of Mesa, Ariz., is a former graduate professor in the College of Education at Michigan State University and has been an independent consultant in assessment law since 2000. Combining her unique educational background of a doctorate in educational measurement and a law degree, She has published and lectured extensively on legal issues in assessment. As a consultant to many state testing programs, she has addressed the psychometric and legal issues related to the defensibility of high-stakes assessments.

Traditionally, testing accommodations have been provided without question for examinees with physical disabilities such as blindness or impaired mobility. Following passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, advocates for people with disabilities have argued that federal law also requires testing accommodations for cognitive disabilities such as dyslexia and other learning disabilities.

Such requested testing condition alterations have included readers, calculators, word processors and additional time. But these alterations in standardized testing conditions may affect score comparability and validity, requiring test administrators to balance the social goal of access/inclusion against the testing goal of accurate test score interpretation.

“Although the courts have provided some guidance in this area, developing a defensible policy specifying reasonable accommodations for cognitive tests remains challenging,” says Phillips.

Her presentation will explore the measurement problems associated with granting accommodations for cognitive disabilities, use existing case law to construct a legal framework for considering such accommodation requests, and discuss the advantages and disadvantages of alternative strategies for handling testing accommodation requests. It will focus on several key questions that must be addressed by test administrators including: Why are accommodations for cognitive disabilities more problematic than those for physical disabilities? What are the characteristics of a reasonable accommodation? What are the legal standards for denying a requested test accommodation? What alternative policies are available to test administrators when responding to testing accommodation requests?

The UI-based Iowa Measurement Research Foundation (IMRF) initiated the Coffman Lecture Series in fall 1995 and it continued as an annual event through fall 2002. For a variety of reasons, no lectures were scheduled for 2003 or 2004, but the series was restarted again in fall 2005.

William E. Coffman served on the faculty of the UI College of Education's department of psychological and quantitative foundations of education from 1969 to 1981. During that time, he was director of the Iowa Testing Programs as well as the first E.F. Lindquist Professor of Educational Measurement. While at the UI, Coffman was recognized for his writings on the reliability and validity of essay examinations and on the appropriate use of test results. Coffman died Jan. 12, 1998.

For more information about the lecture, contact IMRF President Bob Forsyth at 319-335-5412, or by email at

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

CONTACTS: Media: Stephen Pradarelli, 319-384-0007,; Program: Bob Forsyth, 319-335-5412,