Is Your Assessment Accessible to All Students?
I have written a lot of posts about assessments and standardized testing. This week, I want to focus on something that I never considered until it affected my family: test formats and learning disabilities. Are my assessments accessible to all of my students?
I really hate to call them “disabilities,” but we all have students with special needs, either physically or because of learning issues. Until I worked with my nephew on his homework, I never considered that the format of a question could seriously impact how well a student did.
One of the problems for teachers is that every learner is different. It is nearly impossible to create a format that will be equally accessible to all. I want to share my experiences just to raise awareness of these issues. That way, if you happen to notice a student struggling in your classroom, you have one more idea to try to help him or her.
Years ago, I was visiting my brother, and my nephew was struggling to do his homework. If you don’t know, my nephew has Asperger’s, so homework struggle was nothing new. I wanted to give my brother and his wife a break, so I took over the role of homework helper.
That was the first time I realized that students might have difficulty with an activity’s format. It was a fairly basic worksheet: fill-in-the-blank with a word bank. I am not exaggerating when I finally threw in the towel after three hours.
The problem was not the content – my nephew actually knew most of the information. The issue was that he would not skip a question he was stuck on and then go back later. He also struggles with OCD, and he insisted he had to go in order.
For each statement, he had to go through the entire word bank one by one. He didn’t know an answer, so he just picked a word. Eventually, he came to where that word actually belonged. Then, he couldn’t keep moving because he had to go back. He was incapable of jumping around the page, which is the best strategy for completing that type of activity.
As many of my followers know, my son was diagnosed with vision processing issues. Vision processing is different from having a vision problem, and, although it is different from dyslexia, it has some similarities in how it presents.
Thankfully, with a lot of therapy, he is much better, but reading and writing were a struggle for years. Assessment formats can make or break how well he does.
Again, students with vision processing issues are very different, and what helps one student may not help another. For example, colored overlays did not help my son at all, but they might help other students.
Ways To Make Assessments Accessible
However, there are a few ways teachers can make activities and tests more accessible to students with vision processing issues.
1. Font Style
Please, please, please stay away from “cute” fonts. I know they are popular right now, but they can be impossible to read. When picking fonts, I look for clarity in the letter formations (no unicase fonts), spacing, and thickness of the letters. I tend to stay away from cursive, but if I do use a cursive font, I make sure the letters are formed in the way we teach them.
2. Font Size
The smaller the words, the harder it is to read them. The words don’t have to be magnified, but I try to stick to 14 point or 16 point if the font is smaller than usual.
Spacing is crucial for my son. Maybe not as much now, but that is actually how I realized something was wrong. If the line spacing is too tight, his eyes struggled to track the line. His eyes would jump from one line to another, and then he wouldn’t understand what he was reading. Having a clear space between lines makes it easier for students’ eyes to stay on one line.
One More Thing
Another factor that causes problems for many students, including students with learning issues, ELL, struggling students, etc., is the length of an assessment. My son can read rather well, but he definitely prefers to listen to a book – and excels at comprehending an audiobook. As he reads a text, his comprehension gets worse in correlation with the length of the text.
Students who struggle, for one reason or another, have to concentrate hard to comprehend a text. After a while, focusing makes you tired. Think about a time when you really had to concentrate for a long time. After you finished, you were probably “brain-dead.”
When creating a class assessment, consider the length of the test. Do students need to read multiple texts? If they do, could the assessment be broken into smaller pieces?
Remember, the goal of an assessment is to see how well students have mastered the targeted standards and skills, not the students’ stamina. (Yes, we want to build students’ stamina, absolutely. However, an assessment is not the right time to do that.)
I hope this article has helped you think about ways you could help students in your classroom. If you have had another experience with students and activity or test formats, please let me know!
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