Resource Materials and Technology Center for the Deaf/Hard of Hearing

Can students who are D/HH access or be assessed via i-Ready? What are the alternatives to inaccessible assessments?

Students who are deaf or hard of hearing (D/HH) may not be able to access portions of trademarked progress monitoring and instructional curricula due to the lack of captions and/or the lack of appropriate visual representation of phonics-based information. For example, if a computer-based program, selected by a district for diagnostic or progress monitoring assessment, includes assessment of or instruction in phonics and/or phonemic awareness, the district has to consider the needs of children who cannot access auditory information. For students with little/no residual hearing, and for those who communicate via manual communication (American Sign Language, sign-supported English, or English-based sign systems), phonics-based information is not tied to meaning, potentially rendering the efforts of phonics-based instruction ineffective for improving literacy skills. The sound a letter makes is not tied to meaning, and the blending of those individual sounds is not tied to the words they create in the mind of a visual communicator. Unfortunately at this time, many program development companies have not included the ability to remove phonics-based sections from their assessment tools. As a result, many students may be unable to have access to entire sections of the assessment and may be at risk for being penalized by assessment results skewed by lack of access. 

Providing access in a timely manner to both appropriate and accessible instructional materials is an inherent component of the provision of a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004 (IDEA) for students with disabilities (section 300.210(b)(3) of Title 34, Code of Federal Regulations (CFR)). The IEP team is responsible for determining if a student needs accessible instructional materials, the format of such materials and the necessary related accommodations for the student to participate in the general curriculum. All instructional materials provided by schools to enable students to achieve grade-level standards should be available in formats needed by students with disabilities. As a part of developing the student’s present levels of academic achievement and functional performance as required by 34 CFR §300.320, an IEP team determines if the student requires assistance to use or interact with typical instructional materials effectively. If these accommodations are not available on materials, including software, purchased for use by the district for instructional purposes – the district should either work with the publisher to assist in creating pathways for accessibility or can waive the results of that district-specific assessment due to the lack of provision of appropriate accommodation(s) as needed and documented for an individual student. Additionally, IEP teams can suggest alternatives to assess the students for this purpose.  Either way, these decisions, as with all concerning the use of appropriate accommodations, should be based on the documented needs of the individual student as listed in the IEP. 

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) states under Sec. 300.304 subsection (c) that each public agency must ensure that: 

(1) Assessments and other evaluation materials used to assess a child under this part—

(i) Are selected and administered so as not to be discriminatory on a racial or cultural basis;

(ii) Are provided and administered in the child’s native language or other mode of communication and in the form most likely to yield accurate information [emphasis added] on what the child knows and can do academically, developmentally, and functionally, unless it is clearly not feasible to so provide or administer;

(iii) Are used for the purposes for which the assessments or measures are valid and reliable [emphasis added];

(iv) Are administered by trained and knowledgeable personnel; and

(v) Are administered in accordance with any instructions provided by the producer of the assessments.

(2) Assessments and other evaluation materials include those tailored to assess specific areas of educational need and not merely those that are designed to provide a single general intelligence quotient.

(3) Assessments are selected and administered so as best to ensure that if an assessment is administered to a child with impaired sensory, manual, or speaking skills, the assessment results accurately reflect the child’s aptitude or achievement level or whatever other factors the test purports to measure, rather than reflecting the child’s impaired sensory, manual, or speaking skills [emphasis added] (unless those skills are the factors that the test purports to measure).

These conditions, though established for the purpose of conducting an evaluation or reevaluation, also serve to outline the standard for providing a student a free, appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment when it comes to assessment.

The Florida Department of Education’s Technical Assistance Paper: Accessible Instructional Materials (AIM) Questions and Answers states, “the IEP team is responsible for determining if a student needs AIM, the format of such materials and the necessary related accommodations the student may need to access standards-based instruction.” (2017) The TAP goes on to quote Federal code which indicates that “all public agencies take all reasonable steps to provide instructional materials in accessible formats to children with disabilities who need those instructional materials at the same time as other children receive instructional materials.” In other words, the district must have a plan for assessing and monitoring the progress of students who are D/HH in a manner consistent with the planning and assessment of all students.

A Principal’s Guide to Intensive Reading Intervention for Struggling Readers in Reading First Schools affirms the efficacy for computer-based intervention, but cautions, “however, computer programs are not yet well-developed enough to be depended on as the major source of intervention for our most struggling readers.” (2005, p. 6) This resource also states, “we must keep firmly in mind that the goal of interventions is to accelerate student performance toward grade-level standards. One of the biggest risks of intervention groups or intervention classrooms is that we begin to expect a lower standard of performance for students who require them.” (2005, p. 5) The important take-away here is that though computer-based learning platforms may have a place in mainstream education, they are no replacement for quality teacher-directed intervention. Additionally, a student’s ability or inability to access and learn from these tools should not be the criteria by which expectations are made for their potential, especially when programming is deemed inaccessible.

The Supreme Court ruled that “a child’s educational program must be appropriately ambitious in light of his circumstances, just as advancement from grade to grade is appropriately ambitious for most children in the regular classroom." The goals may differ, but every child should have the chance to meet challenging objectives. This standard is more demanding than the “merely more than de minimis” test applied by the Tenth Circuit. It cannot be right that the IDEA generally contemplates grade-level advancement for children with disabilities who are fully integrated in the regular classroom, but is satisfied with barely more than de minimis progress for children who are not.” (2017) The cautionary tale here is that if an educational team is basing a student’s progress on a tool that is inaccessible, then they may not be setting ambitious enough goals due to the incomplete or inaccurate data collected.

Alternatives to Inaccessible Assessments

Districts can determine, through the IEP process, when alternatives to district-established assessments are necessary to ensure assessments measure a student’s true ability. For students who are D/HH, the provision of specially designed instruction is necessary to ensure literacy skills are specialized for their mode of communication and accessibility. Districts can consider research-based literacy interventions and curricula to provide instruction, progress monitor, and report progress on grade-level standards using alternatives to district-adopted curricula. The assessment components of multiple resources can compile a portfolio of assessments to ensure students are making progress on each facet of literacy. Many of the research-based interventions are designed to yield results at the intervention level. Orange County has developed an assessment rubric using research-based literacy interventions. This is just one example of a plan to ensure students are exposed to accessible literacy instruction with the expectation of continued progress toward annual goals. 

The challenge for districts is the possible need to compile a portfolio of assessments that comparably monitors a student’s progress in all pillars of literacy for the communication modality used for instruction. Phonics and Phonemic Awareness will look very different for a student using ASL than it will for a student using spoken English or even two different students, both of whom communicate via ASL. Decisions must be made on an individual student basis. 

Progress Monitoring Literacy for Students who are DHH
First page of the PDF file: ProgressMonitoringforStudentswhoareDHH

Measure of Academic Progress (MAP) Assessment Tool

Measure of Academic Progress (MAP) assessments were developed by Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) in partnership with Khan Academy to precisely measure growth and proficiency and provide insights to help tailor instruction.  By dynamically adjusting to each student’s responses, MAP Growth creates a personalized assessment experience that accurately measures performance.  MAP assessments are given quarterly throughout the year to measure growth in student progress in the disciplines of mathematics and reading. While the assessment is not a measure of mastery or a grade, it does provide information about what a student is ready to learn. Already incorporated as a district monitoring assessment at the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind*, the MAP assessment has imbedded features that remove barriers for students with disabilities and incorporate tools that promote accessibility throughout their assessments. Additionally, it is research-based and aligned with the Common Core standards. Refer to their brochure to read more on accessibility options and additional information.

*Special Note: Additional schools working with students who are deaf/hard of hearing that incorporate NWEA’s MAP assessments include but are not limited to: California School for the Deaf, Texas School for the Deaf, Colorado School for the Deaf, Model Secondary School for the Deaf (MSSD), Ohio School for the Deaf, Indiana School for the Deaf, Arizona School for the Deaf, American School for the Deaf, Tennessee School for the Deaf, and the Montana School for the Deaf.


Supporting Resources:

Statutes, TAPs, other legal references 
Videos (TALive!, Pineapple PD, etc.)
Online PD Language Reading Connection for Students who are D/HH in the BESE PD Portal


The information contained in the FAQs does not constitute legal advice. Please refer to the original sources listed in each FAQ for more information.