2.5 Create Accessible Assessments


Do you sometimes wish that you could create an assessment that was inclusive for all learners?

If your includes print-based exams or assignments, you’ll want to ensure these do not pose barriers for any students and that you represent assessment instructions and content in a variety of ways.

Consider how Kasha’s assessment experience (Three Assessment Experiences) would have improved had her exam been formatted for access with speech-to-text software.

Guidelines for Assessments

1. Assessment context is consistent with learning context

Kasha was able to use her screen-reading software to access online readings, LMS notes and study guides, but she did not have effective access to the exam.

Other factors to consider when making assessment and learning contexts consistent are the allowable supports such as calculators, formula sheets, notes, and online resources.  If students learned a concept through tactile means, they should be given the opportunity to demonstrate their learning in the same way. If students worked together in groups on learning activities, consider group assessments.

  • What role does time play in the learning activities and assessments?
  • If completing exam questions in a certain amount of time is construct relevant, do students have opportunities to practice with the same time pressures?

2. Items are amenable to accommodations

The most common accommodation request for print-based exams is for access with screen-reading or text-to-speech tools. And, while there may be additional software-specific requirements for accessibility, the following sites are excellent resources to consult:

3. Simple, clear, and intuitive directions

When writing assessment directions, consider diverse backgrounds, language skills and concentration levels. Again, by maintaining consistency between the assessment and learning contexts—learners should already have some familiarity with similar instructions from their learning activities, including formative assessments and practice tests. Within the assessment itself, it’s helpful to provide sample items, practice questions and scoring criteria. And make sure to sequence instruction steps in the exact order of occurrence.

4. Comprehensible language

  • Use simple, clear, commonly used words, eliminating any unnecessary words
  • When technical terms must be used, be sure they are clearly defined
  • Break compound complex sentences down into several short sentences, stating the most important idea first
  • Introduce one idea, fact, or process at a time; then develop the ideas logically
  • Make all pronoun relationships clear
  • When time and setting are important to the sentence, place them at the beginning of the sentence
  • If processes are being described in the question stem, make sure they are simply illustrated, labelled, and placed close to the text they support

5. Maximum legibility

  • Avoid grey scale and shading, particularly where pertinent information is provided
  • To increase the readability for a wider range of persons, increase font size to 14-point
  • Make sure type size for captions, footnotes, keys and legends is at least 12 point
  • Use standard typeface or boldface as opposed to all caps or italics
  • Avoid font styles that are decorative or cursive

Guidelines adapted from Ofiesh, Rojas & Ward; 2006, p. 177.

Reflection: 1 Small Step

What is one thing you can adapt in your assessments that would make them more accessible for all learners?


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Universal Design for Learning: One Small Step by Sara Dzaman; Derek Fenlon; Julie Maier; and Toni Marchione is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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