Lane, S., & Leventhal, B. (2015). Psychometric challenges in assessing English language learners and students with disabilities . Review of Research in Education , 39 (1), 165–214.

Journal Article

Lane, S., & Leventhal, B. (2015). Psychometric challenges in assessing English language learners and students with disabilities. Review of Research in Education, 39(1), 165–214.


K-12; Multiple accommodations; U.S. context




This is a review of empirical literature about specific considerations for accurately appraising the academic capabilities of students with disabilities and English learners. In this summary, emphasis is placed on the implications of these considerations on accommodating students with disabilities during academic testing.


This is a literature review of several sets of studies. This summary emphasizes information pertaining to accommodations impacts demonstrating or not demonstrating differential boost for students with disabilities. The researchers described findings of 11 studies using experimental designs completed between 2004 and 2013. Participants were students with and without disabilities, and ranged from elementary through secondary levels.

Dependent Variable

This is a review of empirical literature about the effects of selected accommodations used during K–12 assessments, including large-scale standardized assessments of primarily mathematics and reading, yet also some testing in science. The literature review examines specific measurement issues when assessing students with various special needs; this summary emphasizes the issues relevant to accommodations and students with disabilities.


While the researchers examined various studies for issues pertaining to assessment modifications and assessments for English learners, this summary emphasizes findings pertaining to assessment accommodations and students with disabilities. The researchers indicated that of the 11 studies examining the possibility of differential boosts for students with disabilities using accommodations, four studies reported evidence demonstrating differential boosts. They noted that these studies examined data from many accommodations, grade levels, test content areas, and even sample sizes. When the researchers separated out the evidence of differential boosts based on these various factors, they observed patterns. Differential boost evidence was noted in 50% of studies with elementary students and 30% of studies with middle school and high school students; this evidence was also noted in 40% of reading assessment studies and 30% of math test studies. The researchers detailed several studies' research designs and individual findings. They also discussed the tension between the relatively small numbers in student subgroups in some disability categories—often resulting in combining these groups into sets of students with disabilities as a whole—and the challenge of the resulting heterogeneity of the entire group and students' various responses to specific accommodations. In other words, because there could be different impacts of accommodations based on students' characteristics, such as disability type: "Combining students with very different disabilities in one group to obtain sample sizes that allow for sufficient statistical power when evaluating [students with disabilities and students without disabilities] may hide true effects" (p. 203). The researchers noted that "test scores tend to be less precise at the lower end of the score scale" (p. 204)—and students with disabilities sometimes performed in that range due to various factors, and discussed studies using designs such as factor analyses to examine internal test structure. In sum, relevant topics addressed include reliability and score precision, computer-adaptive testing, differential item functioning, factorial invariance, external structure evidence for test validity, and equating invariance for accurate score interpretation.