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Assessment and Self Assessment

Learners who have difficulty handling and manipulating things may exhibit a wide variety of difficulties and abilities. However, the vast majority of adjustments that can be made to assessments to benefit learners who have difficulty handling and manipulating things do not need to be tailored to specific individuals’ needs, and if implemented can benefit all learners. Other than where permission must be sought from Awarding Bodies (such as an application for extra time in an assessment for a particular individual), adjustments for learners who have difficulty handling and manipulating things are simply good practice and there should be no need to obtain ‘proof’ of the reasons for their difficulty.

The most important principle in meeting the needs of a learner who has difficulty handling and manipulating things is to ensure any e-assessment (and often an e-assessment is used as a reasonable adjustment for those who cannot access paper-based assessments due to this difficulty) can be fully accessed both via the keyboard only (i.e. with no mouse or other pointing device) and via a pointing device only (i.e. with no physical keyboard – although an on-screen equivalent would then be used). This means that every element on every page should feature in a logical progression during ‘tabbing’ (repeated presses of the Tab key), that there should not be so many elements on each page that tabbing becomes a chore (it is often possible to insert ‘skip’ facilities so that menu items that must appear on each page but are not essential to each question can be bypassed by the selection of the ‘skip’ feature). It also means that a full on-screen keyboard should be provided with an e-assessment, or the e-assessment should be fully compatible with the free on-screen keyboard provided by the operating system being used.

Example 1 - A learner who cannot use a keyboard finds it easier to undertake the multiple-choice part of an assessment than the gap-fill part, purely due to the amount of physical movement and number of clicks involved. They therefore need to be able to redistribute the time available to them such that any extra time allowed for their difficulty is added to the parts of the test where it is most needed. Assessments that automatically progress from one section or question to another at predetermined time intervals will seriously disadvantage this learner.

 

It may be necessary for a user who has difficulty handling and manipulating things to enter their responses via voice input. Usually with a paper-based assessment this is done via a human scribe, or occasionally by recording oral responses and submitting the recording for marking, depending on the preferences of the awarding or validating body. E-assessment offers the possibility of using speech recognition software, for those users who have fairly clear speech, to interpret responses. Designing e-assessments to be compatible with this technology may be beyond the capability of most practitioners, but some Awarding Bodies are investigating the possibilities, and it may be worth contacting them if you have a student who might benefit from this technology. It may be the case within just a few years that this feature is available as standard within many assessments. For users who have difficulty handling and manipulating things and also have difficulty communicating by voice, there are many other ways for them to input information, using touchpads, switch input devices, head wands and movement-detectors – in the case of e-assessment, these users can almost always access the same assessments as those using only an input device and not a keyboard, albeit taking a much longer time and sometimes using much greater cognitive and physical effort to do so (making time extensions and rest breaks vital – some users may need to divide the assessments into sections to be accessed on separate days).

One of the most common difficulties in creating assessments suitable for users who have difficulty handling and manipulating things is in the design of drag-and-drop exercises. However, changing these to click-and-click exercises (i.e. tab between options, click to select or ‘pick up’, tab to choose ‘drop’ location and click to ‘drop’) will render them accessible to users with difficulty handling and manipulating things (although further work may be needed to render them accessible for users who have difficulty seeing things). Users who employ touchpads, switch input devices, head wands etc may find the process of undertaking a click-and-click activity physically testing, so these should be used sparingly or text alternatives might need to be provided.

Example 2– A learner who has difficulty handling and manipulating things and inputs to a computer using a switch input device controls the position of the mouse using a ‘quadrant’ facility, narrowing down the section of the screen required into smaller and smaller sections until the cursor is upon the preferred item. This can take a great deal of time and effort on the part of the learner. If it is possible for visual items (such as those featured in a drag-and-drop or click-and-click exercise) to also have hyperlinked descriptors, it would be much easier for the learner to tab between the links to select the item they require than to move the cursor over the item.

 

It may also be necessary for some users who have difficulty handling and manipulating things to apply for extra time to complete an assessment. A user with RSI (repetitive strain injury) for example, may need to take breaks from writing, typing or manipulating an input device. Assessments should allow for these needs.

The issue of spelling and grammar and coherency of response is related to, but not exclusive to, learners who have difficulty handling and manipulating things. When creating assessments it must be determined prior to them taking place whether accurate spelling is required and whether marks will be deducted for inaccurate spelling. It is much more difficult to use an on-screen keyboard than a regular keyboard, and correcting mistakes therefore also takes more effort. If a learner knows that a simple mistyped character will not affect their mark it would make the assessment much less stressful for them. For example, try typing ‘Shakespeare’ quickly using only your thumbs – it may turn out as Shakespearew or Shakespoeare due to hitting two keys at once on occasions. If a learner knows that such errors will be allowed, the effect of their difficulty will be greatly decreased. In most assessments spelling is not being tested, but different markers may exhibit different tolerances if these are not pre-prescribed by the assessment designer (for example, most assessors would pass a spelling of Leicester as Lecester or Liecester but how many would accept Lexta?). If spelling is not being tested then allowance needs to be made as appropriate, guidance needs to be provided for assessors, and automated marking needs to be very closely observed to ensure that learners are not disadvantaged for a reason relating to their disability. This issue will become even more key with the advent of voice recognition technology in assessment. If the software chooses to spell Leicester as Lester, should the student be expected to spend time correcting it?

Further information and guidance