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Ability or Access-ability: Test Item Functioning and Accommodations for Students with Visual Impairments on Pennsylvania's Alternate Assessment

Zebehazy, Kim T. (2007) Ability or Access-ability: Test Item Functioning and Accommodations for Students with Visual Impairments on Pennsylvania's Alternate Assessment. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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This study explored issues surrounding the validity of Pennsylvania's Alternate System of Assessment (PASA) for students with visual impairments. The PASA is a performance-based assessment that assesses a sub-set of math and reading skills delineated by the State's alternate standards. Data from 286 students with visual impairments who took the 2005 Level A PASA at grades 3/4 or 7/8 were analyzed. Descriptive and statistical analyses compared achievement on the PASA between three groups of students with visual impairments at different levels of functional vision as well as to a matched group of peers without visual impairments. The latter comparison investigated differential item functioning (DIF) on each individual test item using the Wilcoxon Signed Ranks test. In addition, types of accommodations made for students with visual impairments to provide access to the assessment and potential factors contributing to test bias were documented. Overall, the study confirmed expected patterns of accommodation selection by functional vision level with layout/set-up accommodations being the most frequently used. It also revealed a set of test items flagged for DIF statistically that did not always coincide with the test items judgmental reviewers would expect to be problematic or different for students with visual impairments. Among the three functional levels and the students with visual impairments as a whole, 29 instances of DIF in which a test item may have been potentially harder were found. In addition, there were 12 instances where a test item may have potentially been easier. A qualitative logical analysis highlighted a variety of variables that interact with the decision-making process to pinpoint potential reasons for the presence of DIF. Under-accommodation, the frequency of lucky guesses, score change patterns, and experience level with content were all factors suspected of contributing to performance on different types of test items. Discussion of these variables as well as interesting patterns in accommodation selection or the absence of accommodation selection is included. Challenges of and recommendations for adapting the PASA for students with visual impairments are provided as well as general discussion regarding aspects of assessing this population of students.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Zebehazy, Kim
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairZimmerman, George Jgjz@pitt.eduGJZ
Committee MemberKappel, Audrey Takappel@pitt.eduAKAPPEL
Committee MemberErin,
Committee MemberKaczmarek, Louise Akaczmk@pitt.eduKACZMK
Committee MemberZigmond, Naominaomi@pitt.eduNAOMI
Date: 29 January 2007
Date Type: Completion
Defense Date: 21 November 2006
Approval Date: 29 January 2007
Submission Date: 7 December 2006
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: School of Education > Instruction and Learning
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Accommodations; Alternate Assessment; PASA; Pennsylvania; Special Education; Visual Impairment
Other ID:, etd-12072006-104720
Date Deposited: 10 Nov 2011 20:08
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 13:53


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