Education Week Issue 25 - Technology Counts 2014 - 16
tools for testing
s students with disabilities in Virginia's
Fauquier County district take online assessments, they have access to a toolbox
of technologies that can make it easier
to show what they know. An optic mouse
can help magnify text; a text-to-speech
tool provides a spoken version of exam questions; and
various switches and joysticks, for those unable to use a
mouse and keyboard, can be merged with the assessment.
But even students who don't have individualized education programs, or ieps, have digital learning enhancements
at their disposal in Virginia's online testing world, said
Mary Wills, the 11,000-student district's director of testing.
They have access to an electronic yellow highlighter that
never runs out of ink, an electronic pencil for note-taking
or math calculations, and an eliminator tool that narrows
down the answers for multiple-choice questions.
"These tools are for all kids, not just for those with special needs," Ms. Wills said.
Assistive technologies and accommodations, once seen as
primarily for students with disabilities, are now merging into
the broader testing world, especially as more states and districts embrace online testing. Computer-based exams provide
an opportunity to allow all students to tap into accommodations that could aid comprehension and focus.
"There are all types of interventions that came out to address the needs of students with disabilities, but anyone can
benefit from them and should have the opportunity to use
those accommodations if they want them," said Kimberly
Hymes, the senior director of policy and advocacy for the
Council for Exceptional Children, an Arlington,Va.-based advocacy group for students with disabilities. "Technology allows
us to have those types of interventions readily available."
That philosophy is based on the concept of "universal design for learning," or udl, she said. Udl calls for students
to be presented with information and content in different
ways and for providing multiple options to show understanding. The approach is intended to help all students,
not just those with disabilities, Ms. Hymes said.
The Common-Core Effect
Some states, such as Virginia, have been doing online
testing for years and have more experience with using assistive technologies and accommodations on assessments
for students with disabilities, and for all students. But as
the requirements for Common Core State Standards go
into place, more districts in many states are going to be
confronted with the issue. The two major coalitions developing online tests-the Smarter Balanced Assessment
Consortium and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or parcc-are working to
allow assistive devices for students with disabilities who
need them and to provide other learning-enhancement
tools to all students, said Brandt Redd, the chief technology officer for Smarter Balanced.
For specialized devices intended to help students with
disabilities, for example, the coalition has developed a list
of certified technologies that can work seamlessly with the
online tests, such as certain input devices for students with
motor-skills impairments or some text-to-speech readers,
he said. Smarter Balanced's assistive technology certification process requires companies to pay $5,000 to have
the coalition certify their devices work with the tests. Companies can also try out their devices with the assessment
using Smarter Balanced's training tests online for free, but
that does not provide certification.
Assistive "devices are allowed as long as the student uses
it in regular instruction," Mr. Redd said. "We want to make
sure no one is bringing in a device to artificially inflate"
It's also important that a student isn't using a device he
or she had no experience with before test day, Mr. Redd
said. The goal of the test is to measure academic abilities,
not how adept the student is with technology.
Smarter Balanced is approaching assistive technologies
and supports from a three-tiered perspective. Some of those
technologies-such as highlighters and zoom functions-
will be available to all students. Others will be available to
students who have had their uses approved by educators
and other designated adults, such as translation tools for
English-language learners or an English pop-up glossary.
Still others, such as tools for translation into Braille, will be
for students with ieps that require those accommodations.
Parcc is approaching accommodations for its assessment
in a similar way, said Jeffrey Nellhaus, the coalition's director of policy, research, and design. Supports embedded into
the tests for all students include a magnifier and the option
to change font size or background colors. Text-to-speech tools
will be available to all students on tests in selected areas, Mr.
Nellhaus said, but will be available for students with visual
impairments on all parts of the test.
For math, that will be particularly helpful. "We want
to make sure we're just measuring their ability to do the
math, not their ability to read," he said.
Parcc doesn't require certification for assistive devices,
but will produce a list of devices that work with their test as
well as a list of technical guidelines for devices.
However, several advocacy groups have criticized parcc
for its failure to have all accommodations ready for its field
testing this spring. In January, the National Federation of
the Blind filed a lawsuit against parcc, saying its upcoming
field testing doesn't provide access for blind students who
use Braille, representing a violation of the Americans with
Disabilities Act. Parcc and the group have since settled the
suit, with parcc pledging to have Braille accommodations
available for the practice test in spring 2014.
Patti Ralabate, the director of implementation for the Center for Applied Special Technology, or cast, said her group,
based in Wakefield, Mass., and others are watching to make
sure supports for all students are provided and are not limited to small groups.
She's also eager to see whether devices not on certified
lists are ultimately permitted.
"There are all kinds of issues around integrating assistivetechnology devices with whatever technology is used to give
the test," she said. Ms. Ralabate said it's important all accessability measures are working for the field test so that "all
populations are taken into account."
The National Center and State Collaborative, one of two
coalitions developing alternative assessments for students
with severe cognitive disabilities, is pilot and field testing assessments with a high focus on assistive technologies, said
Rachel Quenemoen, the project director. To ensure assistive
devices work with assessments, the collaborative borrowed
the most commonly-used devices to run compatibility checks
By Michelle R.
>> MARCH 13, 2014
PAGE 18 >
Education Week Issue 25 - Technology Counts 2014
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