For students with learning disabilities, many of whom may take more time to read and process information than non-disabled peers, an extended time accommodation (ETA) is often used on standardized assessments. In 2021, IES awarded a grant for researchers to explore the test-taking behavior, including use of accommodations such as ETA, of students with disabilities in middle school using response process data from the NAEP mathematics assessment. In this blog, we interview Dr. Xin Wei from Digital Promise to see what she and Dr. Susu Zhang from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are learning from their study.
The researchers have delved into the performance, process, and survey data of the eighth graders who took the digital NAEP mathematics test in 2017. Their recent article presents a quasi-experimental study examining the differences in these data across three distinct profiles of students with learning disabilities (LDs)—students with LD who received and utilized ETAs, students with LD who were granted ETAs but did not use them, and students with LD who did not receive ETAs.
The key findings from their study are as follows:
- Students with LDs who used their ETAs performed statistically significantly better than their peers with LDs who were not granted ETA and those who received ETA but did not use it. They also engaged more with the test, as demonstrated by more frequent actions, revisits to items, and greater use of universal design features like drawing tool and text-to-speech functionalities on most of the math items compared to students who were not granted extended time.
- Students with LDs who had ETAs but chose not to use them performed significantly worse than their peers with LDs who were not granted extended time.
- Students with LDs who were granted ETAs saw the best performance with an additional 50% time (45 minutes compared to the usual 30 minutes provided to students without ETA).
- Students who were given extra time, regardless of whether they used it, reported feeling less time pressure, higher math interest, and enjoying math more.
- There were certain item types for which students who used ETAs performed more favorably.
We recently discussed the results of the study with Dr. Wei to learn more.
Which types of items on the test favored students who used extended time and why do you think they benefited?
The assessment items that particularly benefited from ETAs were not only complex but also inherently time-consuming. For example, students need to complete four sub-questions for item 5, drag six numbers to the correct places for item 6, type answers into four places to complete an equation for item 9, type in a constructive response answer for item 11, and complete a multiple-choice question and type answers in eight places to complete item 13.
For students with LDs, who often have slower processing speeds, these tasks become even more time-intensive. The additional time allows students to engage with each element of the question thoroughly, ensuring they have the opportunity to fully understand and respond to each part. This extended time is not just about accommodating different processing speeds; it's about providing the necessary space for these students to engage with and complete tasks that are intricate and time-consuming by design.
Why did you decide to look at the additional survey data NAEP collects on math interest and enjoyment in your study of extended time?
These affective factors are pivotal to academic success, particularly in STEM fields. Students who enjoy the subject matter tend to perform better, pursue related fields, and continue learning throughout their lives. This is especially relevant for students with LDs, who often face heightened test anxiety and lower interest in math, which can be exacerbated by the pressure of timed assessments. Our study's focus on these affective components revealed that students granted extra time reported a higher level of math interest and enjoyment even if they did not use the extra time. ETAs appear to alleviate the stress tied to time limits, offering dual advantages by not only aiding in academic achievement but also by improving attitudes toward math. ETAs could be a low-cost, high-impact accommodation that not only addresses academic needs but also contributes to emotional health.
What recommendations do you have based on your findings for classroom instruction?
First, it is crucial to prioritize extra time for students with LDs to enhance their academic performance and engagement. This involves offering flexible timing for assignments and assessments to reduce anxiety and foster a greater interest in learning. Teachers should be encouraged to integrate Universal Design for Learning principles into their instructional methods, emphasizing the effective use of technology, such as text-to-speech tools and embedded digital highlighters and pencils for doing scratchwork. Professional development for educators is essential to deepen their proficiency in using digital learning tools. Additionally, teachers should motivate students to use the extra time for thorough problem-solving and to revisit math tasks for accuracy. Regularly adjusting accommodations to meet the evolving needs of students with LDs is vital in creating an inclusive learning environment where every student can achieve success.
What is the implication of the study findings on education equity?
Our study demonstrates that ETAs offer more than just a performance boost: they provide psychological benefits, reducing stress and enhancing interest and enjoyment with the subject matter. This is vital for students with LDs, who often face heightened anxiety and performance pressure. To make the system more equitable, we need a standardized policy for accommodations that ensures all students who require ETAs receive them. We must consider the variable needs of all students and question the current practices and policies that create inconsistencies in granting accommodations. If the true aim of assessments is to gauge student abilities, time is a factor that should not become a barrier.
U.S. Department of Education Resources
Learn more about the Department’s resources to support schools, educators, and families in making curriculum, instruction, and assessment accessible for students with disabilities.
Learn more about conducting research using response process data from the 2017 NAEP Mathematics Assessment.
This interview blog was produced by Sarah Brasiel (Sarah.Brasiel@ed.gov), a program officer in the National Center for Special Education Research.