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Increasing Access and Test Validity with PARCC's Accessibility Manual

Updated: Jun 4, 2019

On July 25, 2013 The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) published the first edition of their Accessibility Features and Accommodations Manual. The document applies to K – 12 assessments being developed by PARCC for students with and without disabilities. Many of the manual’s proposed accommodation policies have already been adopted by PARCC states but it goes a step further by including information about tools provided through PARCC’s computer-based assessment delivery system for all students.

The manual details three ways that PARCC’s computer-delivered tests are designed for improved accessibility:

Features for All Students These features will be embedded through the PARCC online delivery platform or as part of the system’s assessment administration.

Accessibility Features for All Students Although available to all students; only students with a need identified in advance are provided access to these features.

Accommodations Consists of supports for students with disabilities, English learners and English learners with disabilities to increase access while maintaining a valid and reliable score.

An aspect of familiarity permeates PARCC’s new computer assessments as a result of combining universal design principals with interactive features through the entire development process – initial design to implementation. The use of tools that all students will be able to use makes it an assessment system truly inclusive of all students. Every tool that appears within the exams used to be designated for students with disabilities and English learners or both and are taken from the classroom and daily life of those students.

"Many features that were once considered accommodations are now available for all students through the online delivery platform and the commitment to universal design principles," said Diane August, member of the PARCC Technical Working Group.

Several rounds of review and collaboration inform this comprehensive policy document with additional iterations planned as additional feedback is gathered. The project’s collaborative approach reduces the risk of interference between the resulting accommodations and the structure of what students are being tested on. During three public review periods, more than 4,000 individual survey responses and 40 instances of written feedback were recorded. PARCC reviewed the feedback from national organizations representing students with disabilities, English learners and equitable access before making informed improvements to the manual.

PARCC Manual Timeline

  • January 16, 2013 – released two drafts for public comment (reading access and calculator use)

  • February 8, 2013 – released writing access draft for public comment

  • April 18 to May 13, 2013 – released draft manual for public comment period

  • June 26, 2013 – first addition approved by PARCC Governing Board

  • July 25, 2013 – first edition released

  • Fall 2013 – release full administration guidance to support policies

  • 2014 – 2015 school year assessment administration

PARCC seeks to establish the formula for an actual evaluation of skills for all participating students. Ultimately, districts and decision-making teams can use the manual as a guide for giving students with disabilities, English learners and English learners with disabilities an equal opportunity to engage and produce valid results for future improvement.

"The manual is the result of two years of focused work and consensus among the states," said Dr. Lillian Lowery, Superintendent of the Maryland State Department of Education. "After three rounds of public comment and significant input from states and experts, this is a major accomplishment."

PARCC plans to provide full administrative guidance this fall to support implementation of the policies for states and districts with additional guidance on assistive technology in development.

The PARCC Accessibility Features and Accommodations Manual is publicly available for review.

Online brochures for parents and teachers have also been released as an explanation of the PARCC assessment and accessibility system and the advances in assessments critical to the special needs community. This enables parents and teachers to become active and informed participants in discussions regarding the manual taking place in states and districts.


The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers(PARCC) is a consortium of 19 states plus the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands working together to develop a common set of K-12 assessments in English and math anchored in what it takes to be ready for college and careers. These new K-12 assessments will build a pathway to college and career readiness by the end of high school, mark students’ progress toward this goal from 3rd grade up, and provide teachers with timely information to inform instruction and provide student support. The PARCC assessments will be ready for states to administer during the 2014-15 school year.

PARCC received a $186 million grant through the U.S. Department of Education's Race to the Top assessment competition to support the development and design of the next-generation assessment system.

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