Most students experience some stress during the exam period, but are still able to effectively demonstrate their knowledge. For other students, disabilities or health conditions make it very difficult or even impossible to complete exams, even with adjustments. In other cases, completing an exam will exacerbate the student's disability (for example, a student with chronic fatigue and pain may be unable to manage more than a half-hour exam sitting at a time).
In these cases it is fairer to use alternative forms of assessment to prevent a student being disadvantaged and to ensure academic rigour is maintained. For instance, a student with dyslexia or whose first language is sign language might be able to make a video presentation instead of producing a written project; a student with severe back pain might be able to take a viva instead of sitting written examinations.
Alternative assessment minimises the impact of students’ disabilities on their performance and allows the marker to see beyond the disability to the student’s knowledge and skills. It is designed to place students with disability on a more equal footing, and not to give them any kind of advantage. The same academic requirements and standards should be applied to all students.
Adjustments should be made flexibly, as the result of negotiation between you, disability service staff and the student, and in consideration of the following:
- The nature of the disability. This information will generally be included among disability-related documentation required by the learning institution to verify a student’s disability.
- The nature of the assessment task. Student need will vary according to the skill and ability required.
- The nature of the course or subject. What kinds of skills and knowledge does your particular subject demand, and in what ways does the student’s disability impact his or her capacity to demonstrate them?
- The student’s usual work methods. What kinds of assistance does the student usually require? These should be available during assessment activities also.