Administering Tests Fairly

by Carolyn Ito

This article is the second in a series focused on creating fair tests and testing fairly. Once teachers have created tests which are fair to all students, the next step is to administer the test fairly. Many students with and without identified disabilities need support when taking tests. Teachers must circulate, answer questions, give enough but not too much verbal support, ensure a quiet environment, and accommodate disparate rates of test completion. A number of decisions must be made and the testing accommodations included in an IEP (Individual Education Plan), 504 Plan, or other student assistance plan.

  • How much and what kind of help will be given?

  • Who will give the help (e.g., general or special education teacher, para-educator, peer, or volunteer)?

  • Where will the student be tested (e.g., in the regular classroom, a resource or conference room, the hallway, the library, or the cafeteria)?

  • When will the test be given (e.g., time of day, in one sitting or broken into short time periods, during the regularly scheduled class, after school, during recess, with or without additional time, etc.)?

  • What adaptations should be made depending on the student's disability, the subject, the type of test, and the student's confidence and increasing skill in reading, processing, and writing independently?

  • Adaptations must be individualized and kept private between teachers and students. Adaptations should parallel the accommodations made during instruction. For instance, if a student commonly uses taped books, then tests should be presented orally. If a student uses a calculator for completing daily assignments, then the calculator should be allowed during quizzes and tests.

The type and extent of adaptations for fair test administration will vary from student to student and, possibly, from subject to subject for the same student. In addition, as the student gains skills, fewer accommodations may be needed. Future newsletters will contain information on helping students develop test-preparation and test-taking skills. Including the student in the decision making process is very important. Not only does the student's perspective offer information otherwise unattainable, the inclusion of the student's opinion preserves self-esteem and encourages self-evaluation.

A number of possible test administration adaptations are listed below. Educators should choose the best combinations of strategies for student success based on individual needs.

  • Provide oral and/or written time checks during the test and provide breaks during long tests.

  • Give oral interpretation of directions.

  • Confirm correct responses with a nod, thumbs up, or correct mark on the page.

  • Explain the meaning of key vocabulary words.

  • Provide additional examples of the expected answer.

  • Trigger associations: "Remember when we...".

  • Use a student-generated reference sheet (i.e., a legitimate "cheat sheet" no larger than an index card).

  • Review just prior to the test.

  • Display reference charts in the classroom.

  • Excuse a student from answering specified test questions or sections (i.e., omit the essay or the short answer).

  • Require fewer answers (evens or odds only when appropriate).

  • Remove the pressure to rush through a test by agreeing to base the grade on the number of correct answers out of the total number of questions answered.

  • Provide a word bank/outline.

  • Read the test orally.

  • Allow use of calculators, computers, dictionaries, electronic spell-checkers, and/or tape recorders.

  • Allow enough time for completion of tests in one sitting or break the testing into two days.

  • Give a re-test.

  • Avoid adding additional pressure during testing by stating negative consequences of a poor score.

  • Allow students to tape record answers to essay questions or to outline the answer.

  • Correct the test based only on content, not spelling and grammar.

How can we tell if test administration is fair? Observation of the student during the test will give you a clue. If the student approaches the test confidently and moves through the questions without signs of frustration, then the test administration is fair.


Friend, M. & Bursuck, W. (1996). Including students with special needs: A practical guide for classroom teachers. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Virginia Department of Education (1993). Guidelines for testing students with disabilities in the literacy testing program. Richmond: Virginia Department of Education.

Wood, J. (1991). Reaching the hard to teach: A model for providing intervention strategies for mainstreamed and at-risk students. Richmond, VA: Virginia Commonwealth University.