Support for Under-Represented Students

The Smarter Balanced assessment system will provide accurate measures of achievement and growth for students with disabilities and English language learners. The assessments will address visual, auditory, and physical access barriers—as well as the unique needs of English language learners—allowing virtually all students to demonstrate what they know and can do.


Designed for All Students

Accessibility is a core principle of the Smarter Balanced development process. The assessment system uses technology to deliver assessments that fit the needs of individual students. Assessment items and performance tasks will be associated with a variety of accessibility tools and accommodations that can be delivered to students automatically based on their profile.

All items and tasks will be reviewed for accessibility following the Smarter Balanced Item Specifications and Review Guidelines. Additional information about the development of items and tasks is available in a series of trainings for item writers and reviewers.

In September 2013, Smarter Balanced Governing States unanimously approved Usability, Accessibility, and Accommodations Guidelines for the assessment system, which will shape the delivery of online testing for all students, including those with visual, auditory, linguistic, or physical needs. The guidelines were developed in collaboration with member states and nationally recognized experts on English language learners and students with disabilities. The research-based policy outlines three categories of resources to ensure that the assessments meet the needs of all students. The categories further distinguish between embedded tools included in the testing platform and non-embedded tools.

  1. A set of universal accessibility tools—such as a digital notepad and scratch paper—will be available to all students.
  2. Designated supports—like a translated pop-up glossary—will be made available to students for whom a need has been identified by school personnel familiar with each student’s needs and testing resources.
  3. Accommodations will be available to students with a documented need noted in an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 plan. These tools include Braille and closed captioning, among others.
  •  Usability, Accessibility, and Accommodations Guidelines (PDF) (DocX) *
  •  Usability, Accessibility, and Accommodations Guidelines FAQ (PDF) (DocX) *
  •  Usability, Accessibility, and Accommodations Implementation Guide (PDF) (DocX) *
  •  Accessibility and Accommodations Framework (PDF) (DocX) *
  •  Smarter Balanced Resources and Practices Comparison Crosswalk (PDF) (DocX) *
  •  Scribing Protocol (PDF) (DocX) *
  •  Read Aloud Guidelines (PDF) (DocX) *
  •  Instructions for Using Embedded Glossaries (PDF) (DocX) *
  • Accessibility Resources Field Test and Operational Test Comparison (PDF) (DocX)
  • Guidelines for Choosing TTS or Read Aloud in Grades 3-5 (PDF) (DocX)

*Please note, these documents have been made available in Microsoft Word format to facilitate use with screen readers and other assistive technologies. Please do not modify these documents. The Portable Document Format (PDF) version that is also posted displays fonts and images in a consistent manner across devices and is the recommended version for most purposes.


The ISAAP tool is designed to facilitate selection of the accessibility resources that match student access needs for the Smarter Balanced assessments, as supported by the Smarter Balanced Usability, Accessibility, and Accommodations Guidelines. The ISAAP Tool is compatible with any version of Microsoft® Excel® from 2007 to the most recent version. When opening the file, please choose “Enable Macros” or other enabling prompt to view the recommended use language included for the different resources. The ISAAP Tool file is locked to prevent errant changes to the formulas that determine the functionality of the ISAAP Tool. While end users may change the naming convention of the file when using the Save As function, saving to another Excel file format, such as .xls, may result in corrupting or disabling many of the functionalities and features of the ISAAP Tool.


The Assistive Technology Typology document was designed to serve a variety of purposes, including: 1) To provide a categorized list of assistive technology products that are commonly used for instruction and computer-based assessment, 2) to provide descriptions of features found in these products, and 3) to provide student characteristics and how they relate to product features, 4) to provide considerations for embedding versus 3rd party tools, and 5) to provide a structure for discussing the potential impact of specific product features on Construct Validity and Test Security/Integrity for the Smarter Balanced assessment. This document is not intended to compare the quality or relative effectiveness of the products listed herein.


Developed with Experts

Smarter Balanced is working with educators and experts in the field to design and test the assessment system. Advisory committees on students with disabilities and English language learners include national experts in student assessment, accommodations strategies, language acquisition, and learning disabilities.

The Accessibility and Accommodations Work Group—one of 10 state-led work groups—focuses on ensuring the assessments are designed to meet the needs of special student populations. As part of the development of accessibility and accommodations policies, the Consortium commissioned research on best practices for assessing English language learners and students with disabilities.

Smarter Balanced partnered with WIDA to help item writers and reviewers examine the language complexity level used in the Consortium’s items. WIDA produced a one-page rubric that allows Smarter Balanced to quantify text density, language form and structure, and vocabulary. Smarter Balanced used this rubric in item review during Pilot Test development. The rubric is being used during full item development for Field Test, including item writing and review. Item developers can verify that there is enough diversity in the amount of language complexity used across items and that the level of language complexity in an individual item is appropriate for the item’s purpose. Smarter Balanced is exploring the psychometric and statistical analysis that can be completed with the language complexity scores.


For More Information

  • Listen to a presentation on accessibility and accommodations by Magda Chia, director of support for under-represented students. You can also download the presentation slides.
  • Watch the Common Core State Standards and English Language Learners presentation hosted by American Federation of Teachers. The portion of the presentation led by Magda Chia, director of support for under-represented students starts at 23:40.
  • Download the Accessibility and Accommodations Factsheet (PDF) (DocX*Please note, this document has been made available in Microsoft Word format to facilitate use with screen readers and other assistive technologies. Please do not modify this document. The Portable Document Format (PDF) version that is also posted displays fonts and images in a consistent manner across devices and is the recommended version for most purposes.
  • Learn more about what Smarter Balanced assessments mean for parents, students, teachers and policymakers
  • Visit our frequently asked questions page
  • Sign up to Stay Connected with Smarter Balanced and receive updates
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