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Assisting families of children with special needs since 1978
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From PEATC Press, Winter 1997

Testing Accommodations and Equal Access

By Jean Durgin

Testing accommodations will become critically important to Virginia students with disabilities in the year 2004 when, in order to receive a standard or advanced studies diploma, all students must earn prescribed credits and pass a Standards of Learning (SOL) test for each course. This means the child who is now in 6th grade or younger will have to pass a test of high school level competencies in order to get a regular diploma.

The IDEA ’97 Amendments raise the standards for students by requiring access to the regular education curriculum. State and federal law requires that students with disabilities be given equal opportunity to participate in and benefit from programs granted to all individuals. For some students, taking the SOL tests in a different way will allow them to demonstrate their degree of learning without unfairly enhancing or compromising their performance.

Virginia’s Standards of Learning Assessments are intended to measure the achievement of students in the areas of English, Mathematics, History/Social Science and Science at grades 3,5,8, and in specific high school courses, and technology at grades 5 and 8.

A decision must be made for each student receiving services or accommodations under the Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) or Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The IEP or Section 504 team must specify the student’s participation in the SOL Assessments:

  • With no accommodations

  • With accommodations that maintain standard conditions

  • With accommodations which are permissible but do not maintain standard conditions

  • Exemption from testing

Each student’s parent should be an active participant in making these decisions. Accommodations used in SOL testing are those the student generally uses during classroom instruction and assessment and must be identified on the student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 Management Tool. Questions to be considered are:

  1. Does the student receive instruction in areas covered by the SOL assessments?

  2. Does the student typically receive accommodations during instruction or classroom assessments in the content covered by the test?

If the answer to each question is YES, the next decision is whether standard or nonstandard accommodations will be provided.

Standard Accommodations

Some accommodation allows a student to take the test in a different way without changing what the test is measuring. Examples are:


  • Time of day

  • Breaks during test or multiple test sessions

  • Order of tests administered


  • Preferential seating

  • Small group or individual testing

  • Special lighting or adaptive or special furniture

  • Test administered in locations with minimal distractions or noise buffers.

  • Test administered at a hospital or at home


  • Braille, large print or larger answer bubbles

  • Directions that are read, simplified, interpreted, written or clarified for student

  • Test items that are read, audiotaped or interpreted

  • Using communication board or magnifying glass

  • Amplification equipment (e.g., hearing aid)

  • Templates, masks or markers to maintain place


  • Student responds verbally or marks booklet and teacher marks answer sheet

  • Abacus

  • Arithmetic tables (if subtest allows a calculator)

  • Brailler or Braille answer sheet

  • Pencil grip or large diameter pencil

  • Word processor, typewriter

  • Augmentative communication device

  • Spell check, spelling dictionary

Nonstandard Accommodations

Accommodations which are permissible but do not maintain standard conditions are those which significantly change what a test is measuring. Scores resulting from a nonstandard accommodation must be so identified. Examples are:


  • Reading test items or using audiocassette version or interpreting (signing, cued speech) test items on reading/literature or research test


  • Dictation to a scribe (writing test)

  • Use of a calculator or mathematics tables on mathematics tests in which calculators are not routinely supplied to all students

Exemptions from Testing

Exemption from any SOL assessment should be considered only for students whose instructional program will not include the SOLs on which the test is based. The IDEA ’97 Amendments envision students with disabilities having greater access to regular education instruction, which could lead to more special education students receiving regular diplomas. If a parent or student requests exemption from SOL assessments, the IEP or 504 team will consider the request and be certain that all parties understand the ramifications of the exemption.

For a complete explanation of guidelines for participation in the SOL assessments, request a copy of Supts. Memo No. 162 date October 17, 1997 from your local school or the VA Department of Education, P.O. Box 2120, Richmond, VA 23218-2120.

© PEATC 1997, All right reserved. Please distribute with attribution to PEATC,

8003 Forbes Place, Suite 310
Springfield, VA 22151
703-923-0010 (phone)
800-869-6782 (toll free)

Copyright © 2020 PEATC - Parent Educational Advocacy Training Center. All rights reserved.

Content on this site was produced, in part, with grant funds from the U.S. Department of Education, under CFDA # 84.328M, #84.310A, and #84.235F. The content herein does not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Education, any other agency of the U.S. government, or any other source.

PEATC is a 501(c)(3) non-profit committed to building positive futures for Virginia's children by working collaboratively with families, schools and communities in order to improve opportunities for excellence in education and success in school and community life. Our special focus is children with disabilities. You can reach PEATC by calling 703-923-0010 (Voice/TTY), or sending an e-mail to

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