How to make your assessments inclusive

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Disabilities and biases can impact how students perform on exams. Human beings are diverse with many different ability levels and learning styles. Therefore, exams should not be one-size-fits-all. It’s crucial for your organisation to relieve some of the pressures of high-stakes exams on test-takers by offering a variety of ways to showcase understanding of the material. 

Let’s talk about assistive technology in education

Assistive technology (AT) is ‘any device or system that allows individuals to perform tasks they would otherwise be unable to do or increases the ease and safety with which tasks can be performed’ (World Health Organisation, 2004). It’s no longer confined to expensive medical devices or high tech equipment. It now covers widely available extensions easily applied onto browsers, programs, and at-home devices everywhere.

Who benefits from assistive technology?

Students with mobility, hearing, or vision impairments 

Technology has opened many educational doors particularly to students with disabilities. Additionally, students with learning disabilities often experience greater success when they are allowed to use their abilities (strengths) to work around their disabilities (challenges).

Over the past decade, several studies have demonstrated the efficacy of assisted technology for students with learning difficulties. While not curing or eliminating learning challenges, it empowers them to learn and take an online assessment in an environment they thrive in. A student who struggles with reading but has good listening skills might benefit from listening to exam questions read out loud. Or students with mobility issues can take advantage of speech-to-text functions if they cannot type.

AT empowers differently-abled students to become more independent.  Often, they can struggle with feeling overly dependent on teachers, parents, friends, and siblings to assist them in the classroom and at home with their schoolwork and exams, but with AT kids can be self-reliant – boosting their confidence, independence, and mental health.

Elderly students 

Learning isn’t just a young person’s game; people choose many different life paths. Some joined the military and went to college much later in life. Others were single parents that ensured their children were grown and well out of the house before pursuing another career path.

Whatever course in life one takes, age shouldn’t be a barrier to taking an exam.  However, age can present challenges with taking an exam, such as difficulty typing or reading small text.  Features should be available to help with these difficulties, visual supports to assist students in understanding concepts and organising ideas, as alternative ways to deliver information to students with low vision (for example software that magnifies text, graphic organiser, and visual timetable).

Anyone trying to broaden their horizons by learning a new language 

Opportunities shouldn’t be limited to geographical location. In recent years, the dominance of English has been challenged by languages like Mandarin, Spanish and Arabic. One of the key pillars of language learning is language proficiency testing. Language testing is a benchmark for learners when interviewing for positions requiring foreign language skills. Unfortunately, biases are common when learning a new language, so it’s essential to include tech into your online assessment platform that accounts for this.

What type of assistive technology is available?

Delivering your exams online makes it much easier to ensure your assessments are inclusive. Let’s have a look at the possible features your online exam platforms could include to level the playing field:

Text-to-Speech 

Text-to-speech (TTS) is a type of assistive technology that reads digital text aloud. TTS can take words on a computer or other digital device and convert them into audio. While this feature is essential for blind test-takers, it can also be used to help students with reading comprehension and word recognition, dyslexia or other learning disabilities, and people taking an exam in a language that is not native to them. 

Speech-to-Text

Like TTS, Speech-To-Text converts spoken words to text on a computer screen. It is suitable for those who are vision-impaired or have mobility issues and cannot use a traditional keyboard. This technology is necessary to complete an exam; they need not depend on a teacher or test examiner assistant to read the exam aloud, and the test-taker can simply speak their answers to the exam platform.

Speech Recognition software for language learning

Speech recognition software has come a long way in recent years.  For people with speech problems and other disabling conditions, speech recognition software can recognise a person’s unique voice and becomes more accurate over time.  The reason this is so crucial for inclusivity in testing is that students no longer have to contend with speech disabilities when dictating to exam software: The AI learns the patterns of speech that student exhibits and doesn’t penalise them for it.

Voice recognition is especially helpful for students with dyslexia and cerebral palsy. By recognising language patterns and nuances, AI can account for disabilities when learning a new language, for example, making foreign language learning accessible for everyone without pronunciation biases.

Text Tools

Zoom tools allow students to personalise the appearance of assessment questions on the screen, making text appear larger for people with visual impairments.  High Contrast Mode can also be applied, so images and graphs are more easily seen.  

Benefits of assistive technology in exams

​​Accessibility is relevant 

15-20% of the worldwide population has some form of language-based learning disability. Making your online assessments accessible helps test takers understand the text better. Features such as Speech-To-Text and Text-To-Speech help combat these disabilities and make education accessible.  

Legal Requirements

Most countries have a legal requirement to provide access to education for differently-abled people. You are complying with anti-discrimination laws by providing inclusive features within your assessment platform. Tech adds the benefit of doing this through AI. This means extra staffing isn’t necessary for examination halls, and extra money isn’t spent on ancillary rooms for students with disabilities.  

Evolving population 

Hundreds of millions of people are foreign-born across the globe. Language proficiency and schooling in the host country’s language are genuine issues for migrants and their families. Language learning AI helps bridge the gap of mobility around the globe for opportunities for a better life, career advancement, and future-proofing due to climate change.

A growing elderly population depends on technology.

By 2030, the people aged 60 years or over will grow by 56%, from 901 million to 1.4 billion. Making online exams accessible in multiple forms creates a more effortless user experience for senior citizens.

Education and exams are not one size fit all

People have different learning styles. Some people are auditory learners, some are visual learners, and some are kinesthetic learners – most learn best through a combination of the three. Exam software should reflect this.

The ethos behind exam accessibility within e-assessment is to ensure equitable access to education and to test that knowledge fairly. It not only applies to physical or cognitive barriers, but technology can overcome socioeconomic limitations also – being able to take an online exam even if you live in a remote or rural part of the country or world. While online exam technology can’t solve everything, it bridges many barriers for the vast majority. As it constantly improves, your organisation can offer equity to as many students as possible.

Would you like to make your assessments more inclusive? Talk to us about Cirrus’ accessibility features. 

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Cristina Gilbert
Cristina Gilbert
Copywriter and digital content enthusiast, Cristina is motivated by the fast-paced world of e-assessment and the opportunities online exams give students to thrive.
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