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Australian Disability Clearinghouse on Education and Training
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Assessment and Exams

Assessing students

The need to assess educational achievement is an integral part of educational experience for all students. Academic standards are fixed, yet there is flexibility in how they are met. There are inclusive assessment practices which will enhance the learning of all students in the class.

Good practice involves monitoring and adjusting your teaching by regularly assessing students’ background knowledge and current learning through accessible methods and tools, both formally and informally.1  Students need to be provided with equal opportunity to demonstrate their skill and knowledge, through the provision of multiple means of assessment.2 By having clearly and explicitly stated core course requirements and assessment mark allocation, it allows for clear identification of what is being assessed and how. Provide alternative pathways to stated objectives: allow for flexibility in approach, organisation and assessment. For instance, provide project-based exercises in which students choose their own topic. The greater the diversity of methods of assessment, the fairer the process for the greatest number of students.  

Consider including self-assessment as a component of the course. Self-assessment involves discussion with students about the criteria according to which they assess their own performance and the level of performance required for different grades. Ensure that time constraints are minimised as appropriate by announcing assignments well in advance of due dates.3 If speed is not an inherent requirement of the task, generous time allowances can assist in differentiating student knowledge, whilst providing section breaks (i.e. separately timed sections within the exam) may assist all students to perform better.4   

Reasonable adjustments

Requests for adjustments to standard assessment practice may occur for students for whom the course design does not automatically provide full access.  Reasonable adjustments refer to a ‘measure or action taken to assist a student with disability to participate in education and training on the same basis as other students’.5 An adjustment is considered reasonable if it achieves this purpose while taking into account students’ learning needs and balancing the interests of all parties affected, including those of the student with disability, the education provider, staff and other students.  

It is usually possible to make adjustments for students with disability to undertake the same assessment tasks as other students; however, in some cases it may be appropriate to offer alternative assessment methods to prevent a student being substantially disadvantaged and to ensure academic rigour is maintained. Balancing equity and academic rigour requires that the core course requirements and assessment are clearly and explicitly stated; (See Course Design for further information) it is against these that adjustments must be considered to determine there is no affect on academic standards.

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. Alternative assessment should aim to simultaneously respect the student’s learning needs, defend academic integrity, and promote equity and consistency for all.7

Adjustments should be made flexibly, as the result of negotiation between the teaching staff, disability service staff and the student, and in consideration of the following:

  • the impact of the disability on the assessment
  • the nature of the assessment task, including the skills and abilities required
  • the nature of the course or subject:  what skills and knowledge does the particular subject demand and in what ways does the student’s disability impact on their capacity to demonstrate them?
  • the student’s usual work methods, which should be available during assessment activities.

It may be necessary to vary procedures for conducting assessment, change the method of assessment, or utilise assistive technology, an amanuensis (scribe) or other supports.  The aim is to ensure that there are no other reasonable adjustments that would be less disruptive and intrusive and no less beneficial for the student.

These alternative assessment approaches are often more effective when they are offered to the whole class rather than just the student with disability, possibly as a ‘smorgasbord’ from which each student is required to choose, say, three:

  • oral presentations or viva voce exams
  • additional assignments and coursework
  • dot-point assignments marked for content rather than for structure
  • multiple-choice questions
  • practical demonstrations or production of models or displays
  • class presentations or role plays
  • alternative or supplementary assignments such as taped interviews, slide presentations, photographic essays or hand-made models
  • a combination of any of the above.

Attendance requirements

Meeting attendance requirements can be a problem for students with disability, particularly for those with chronic physical or mental health conditions. Consider being flexible not only about class attendance, but also about lateness to class, rest breaks, leaving class early, allowing students to periodically move around the classroom and arrangements for field trips and practicum places. However, students are responsible for catching up on missed work.  When considering modifications to attendance requirements, consider the following in consultation with the student:

  • What are the inherent course requirements, and how can the student ensure that they meet them?
  • How essential is student participation to the learning objectives of the course?
  • To what extent will the student be disadvantaged by restricted interaction with you and with other students? How can this be minimised?
  • How can the student make up for in-class contributions (i.e. a special presentation or assignment)?
  • To what extent will the student’s absence impact on the learning experience of other students? How can this be minimised?
  • Is there a minimum attendance requirement for sitting examinations and does this need to be adjusted?
  • What are classroom practices and policies regarding attendance?

Discuss assessment alternatives with staff with previous experience of teaching students with disability. If you are concerned about a recommended adjustment, you should discuss this with the student and with the disability service.

What if a student is not able to meet the core course requirements?

Students should be given as much information as possible to enable them to make an informed decision about whether they can undertake a course with or without reasonable adjustments.  Ensure that the core requirements are are clearly stated. This makes it easier to determine the reasonableness of any accommodations that may be required.  

Academic standards of the unit/course should not be lowered in order to accommodate the needs of any student but there is a requirement to be flexible in relation to the way in which it is delivered or assessed.  The Disability Standards for Education requires institutions to take reasonable steps to enable the student with a disability to participate in education on the same basis as a student without a disability. An adjustment is reasonable if it balances the interests of all parties affected.8  If, after reasonable steps have been taken, the student is unable to fulfil the core requirements of the course, it may be fair in these circumstances for the student to not be granted in pass grade. Remember, it must be demonstrated that there has been consultation with the student, all possible adjustments have been considered and expert assistance in coming to a decision has been sought

References

1,2 Burgstahler, S. 2013. Equal Access: Universal Design of Instruction. A Checklist for Inclusive Teaching. Seattle: DO-IT, University of Washington. Accessed on 1 October 2014.  Retrieved from http://www.washington.edu/doit/Brochures/Academics/equal_access_udi.html

3 Burgstahler, S. (Ed.) 2013. Universal Design in Higher Education Promising. Seattle: DO-IT, University of Washington. Accessed on 1 October 2014.  Retrieved from http://www.washington.edu/doit/UDHE-promising-practices/

4 Parkyn, K. (2008). Extended Time in Examinations for Students with Disability Results of a Literature Review. University of Tasmania.  Accessed on 23 October 2014. Retrieved from http://www.adcet.edu.au/resource/8841/extended-time-in-examinations-lit-review/ 

5 Commonwealth of Australia (2005). Australian Government Factsheet 2: Disability Standards for Education 2005. Accessed on 23 October 2014. Retrieved from https://docs.education.gov.au/system/files/doc/other/dse-fact-sheet-2-dse.pdf

6,7,8 Commonwealth of Australia (2006). Disability Standards for Education 2005 Plus Guidance Notes. Accessed on 23 October 2014. Retrieved from https://docs.education.gov.au/system/files/doc/other/disability_standards_for_education_2005_plus_guidance_notes.pdf