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Standardised tests limit students with disability

The ConversaionBy: Professor Joy Cumming, Learning Sciences Institute Australia (ACU)

Educational assessment provides evidence of what students have learned and are able to do. Standardised educational assessments, such as Australia’s NAPLAN, are often used to judge and compare student achievement. They assess all students on the same content under standardised conditions.

The assumption is that this is fair, providing a level playing field for all students. Frequently, the focus of standardised administration becomes maintaining a test’s “integrity”.

What is “fair” for students with disability?
A major challenge in assessment is how to obtain evidence about learning from students with disability. We cannot know how these students are faring with their learning if assessments or tests are structured in ways that create barriers for them. We would not expect a student who is blind, for example, to complete a paper and pencil test.

Fairness can be thought of in two ways. It can mean procedures that treat everyone the same, or it can mean treating individuals according to their needs, to ensure a fair outcome for everyone.

For students with disability, the second way means removing assessment barriers that prevent them from achieving their best results. For a student who is blind, the obvious solution is a braille test, if they are proficient in braille, or a person or technological aid to read the test aloud, and record their response. This is known as an assessment adjustment (in Australia) or accommodation (in the US).

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