Common Core State Standards and Assessment for Students with Visual Impairments

By Tara Mason on May 04, 2014

There are several questions regarding assessment of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and there will continue to be answers that shift, as states get closer to implementing the CCSS assessment systems. Presented here is an overview of the information currently being shared and details specific to students, who are blind, low vision or multiply-impaired.

Overview: Assessment of Students Being Served in Special Education

One distinction to make regarding assessment is the difference between accommodation and modification. When educators recommend accommodations a student’s Individual Educational Plan (IEP) it means that the content of the test will not be changed, only aspects of the test presentation or delivery to accommodate a students individualized learning needs.  Accommodations are test adaptions, such as, screen readers or a test printed in braille, but they do not fundamentally change the target skill being assessed.

Testing accommodations can be broken up into five broad categories:

(1) Timing- extended time

(2) Flexible scheduling- giving more days to complete

(3) Accommodated presentation- materials presented in a fashion different then traditional

(4) Setting-quiet room or small group

(5) Response accommodation – orally, scribe, or human reader

(Crawford, 2013)

Modifications are where the assessment is changing the target skills the student is being assessed on. One way to think about it is that teachers need to first identify the “target skill” i.e. going to the standard “clusters” to find the target skill. Then Cranmer abacusidentify the “access” skill. What does the student need to be able to do in order to demonstrate their ability to perform the “target” skill. An example may be, a student needs to have an abacus and know how to use it as his/her “scratch paper” to check his/her work in order to successfully perform the “target” skill of correct addition and subtraction on the CCSS assessment. When IDEA was reauthorized in 2004 with the addition of No Child Left Behind, modification was replaced by accommodation meaning that every student will be assessed (with any needed accommodations determined by a student’s unique learning needs). If a student has a “modified” assessment where the standards are different than those of his or her peers they will be completing an “alternative assessment.” What are examples of ways to modify or create an alternative assessment that will be offered for the upcoming CCSS assessments being implemented?

  • Fewer questions
  • Modified content
  • Content related to functional academic learning programs
  • Complete or partial waiver from any portion of the assessment
  • Content at lower grade levels

Issues specific to the field of visual impairment regarding modification and accommodation. A test is still being technically modified when there are accommodation issues during testing administration. Some examples of ways assessments may be unintentionally modified instead of accommodating:

  • Questions are omitted since they are inaccessible
  • Inaccessible formats for tables, graphs or instructional materials associated with any tactile graphics
  • User adaptive assessments that cannot be adapted to a print or brailled format


Common Core assessment map

Overview of Programs Creating Assessments to Evaluate the Common Core State Standards

This is an exciting time with 45 states voluntarily adopting the Common Core State Standards and over 40 states and territories voluntarily joining one or both of the two comprehensive assessment consortia. These state-representative assessment consortia are working collaboratively to create assessments that will assess student progress in mastering the Common Core State Standards. These consortia were funded by the federally funded Race to the Top Assessment (RTTTA) initiative. These consortia have three more years to implement comprehensive testing systems in their membership states. States have two years to implement print based testing as they build their technology infrastructure. All the consortia below will be delivered using technology in their final stage of implementation.



(1) Partnership for Assessment and Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC)


(2) Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (Smarter Balanced)

Key Components (PARCC and Smarter Balance):

  • Assessments will be delivered via computer, grades 3-8, high school ELA and math
  • Variety in testing question instrument such as: constructed response, select and respond, technology-enhanced using multi-media, and complex, critical thinking performance tasks
  • Scoring turnaround will be short, estimated at 2 weeks, with a $20 cost per student, for two required components administered in the final weeks of school
  • Consortia are creating additional benchmarks, professional development offerings, curriculum resources, online website for reporting results and formative assessment items for classroom use
  • Both PARCC and Smarter Balanced have website pages associated with accommodation plans with topics covering: human reader instructions, five categories of accommodation and how they need to be specified in IEP plans, and technology requirements and information      

Key Differences (PARCC and Smarter Balance):

  • PARCC will used fixed format tests for all grade levels
  • Smarter Balanced will use computer adaptive assessments which will individually tailor questions depending on the proceeding student response
  • Smarter Balanced will offer a retake option at the end of the year
  • PARCC will offer one diagnostic and/or midyear assessment in addition to its’ summative assessment at the end of the school year
  • Smarter Balanced will have optional interim assessments, grades 3-12, which will also be computer adaptive depending on test taker response to previous questions

Additional Assessment Consortia Resources

Are there additional consortia apart from PARCC and Smarter Balanced?

There are three additional consortia that have received RTTTA funding to create assessments related to students being served in special education or students identified as English language learners.

  1. National Center and State Collaborative (NCSC) Partnership

Key Components:

  • Led by five centers and 24 states in the development of a an alternative assessment
  • Goal to ensure that students with significant cognitive disabilities achieve increasingly higher academic outcomes
  • Serving students with most significant cognitive disabilities
  • Creating an alternative assessment based on alternate achievement standards (AA-AAS)
  • On NCSC website, you will find information regarding technology requirements and field-testing plans.


  1. Dynamic Learning Maps (DLM) Alternative Assessment Consortium

Key Components:

  • Serving students with the most significant cognitive disabilities
  • Ways to exhibit understanding not confined to typical multiple choice formats
  • Skills associated the learning maps being assessed are: (1) tested subject-specific skills, i.e., vocabulary or solving a simple multiplication problem, (2) related to precursor academic skills, i.e., understand that two numbers can be multiplied and make up the multiplication problem, (3) communication skills, i.e., vocalizing or pointing to answers, (4) attention skills, i.e. students ability to focus on the task at hand
  • On the DLM website, you will find information regarding technology requirements, field testing plans, and sample test items.



  1. Assessment Services Supporting English Learners Through Technology Systems (ASSETS) Consortium

Key Components:

  • Includes 35 states in the consortium
  • Phases 1-4, development, pilot testing, field testing and lastly, pre-operationalization (2014-2015)
  • Includes a comprehensive assessment system with a summative assessment, screening/diagnostic assessment and interim/benchmark measures
  • Will include educator involvement in assessment creation and provide outreach with professional development to support schools implementing computerized testing
  • Assessment will include the components of: listening, reading, speaking and writing


Information Specific to Students with Visual Impairments and/or Multiple Impairments

two boys do a math lesson togetherThere are numerous items to be aware of when thinking of Common Core State Standard Assessment for students who are blind or visually impaired. A couple important assessment questions to ask yourself as you come up with a plan for each of your students:

(1) Will my student require an alternative assessment when evaluated on their mastery of the Common Core State Standards?

(2) Will my student require one or more of the five broad categories of accommodations on the upcoming computer delivered CCSS assessments?

(3) Which consortia is my state part of and where can I go to access practice assessment resources to make sure my student has all the accommodations needed?

(4) Have I planned enough to ensure all accommodations are in place during any interim or benchmarking CCSS assessments?

(5) Did the IEP team discuss CCSS assessments and create a detailed and clear plan regarding any accommodations needed for the annual summative CCSS assessment?

Assistive Technology and CCSS Testing

For all grade levels, students will need to have enough technology “access” skills in order to successfully complete CCSS assessments. When/if students need accommodations in this area, IEP/504 teams need explicit and detailed accommodations listed. For students who require “modified” assessments the same clear IEP instructions will need to be listed and clearly represented in order to ensure student success. Similar to the questions above, it will be important for IEP teams to come up with an additional assistive technology plan for any student who is not currently using any technology to access their educational programs. In cases where it is most appropriate for a student to have a human reader deliver the CCSS assessment step by step to him or her, then that plan must be clearly outlined in the IEP plan.

Important to note, that often times service professional facilitating testing for a student who is blind or visually impaired is often times his or her teacher of students with visual impairments. When or if possible, investigate the potential for assistive technology for students so TVIs can be spending valuable teaching time working on IEP goals with their students. Students will also be experiencing a much greater level of independence if they are able to complete CCSS computerized assessments with the aid of assistive technology, such as, screen readers, notetakers, mobile devices, and the like.

CCSS assessment for students who are visually impaired