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CETE receives $1.75 million grant to aid test accessibility for students with vision and motor disabilities

Thursday, October 4, 2012

LAWRENCE – The power of technology continues to alter the landscape of K-12 student testing, but without careful planning some students might have less access to its benefits than others.

A new, two-year, $1.75 million federal grant awarded to the Center for Educational Testing and Evaluation (CETE), in cooperation with the Kansas State Department of Education, will determine how to make computer-delivered, technology-enhanced tests more accessible to students with vision and motor disabilities, a group for whom it has been difficult to ensure test access and parity with other students.

When implemented during the 2014-2015 school year, the tests, currently being developed by five multi-state assessment consortia, will represent a major shift in the application of technology and educational testing innovation in K-12 schools across the country.

“The key feature of the standardized assessments being developed nationwide for both general education and special education students will be their use of desktop, laptop, and touch-screen tablet technology for test delivery. Blindness, low-vision, and motor disabilities interfere tremendously with sitting at a computer and taking a test,” said Julia Shaftel, research associate at CETE and principal investigator on the two-year Accessibility of Technology-Enhanced Assessments (ATEA) project, funded by the U.S. Department of Education.

“These disabilities are some of the hardest to accommodate on a computerized assessment,” said Neal Kingston, director of CETE. “So, the major purpose of the ATEA project will be to identify how to validly and accurately include students with vision and/or motor disabilities in all assessments that are under development by the five consortia.”

The Kansas State Department of Education, the project’s fiscal agent, will provide coordination and operational support, while CETE will conduct the research and create a catalog of accessible test questions and accessibility guidelines for test developers. State departments of education in Utah, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Michigan, and Missouri will also participate by providing advice and access to students.

Additionally, researchers will catalog information about how students with vision and motor disabilities take tests and the accommodations and accessibility tools that they use.

“What are the characteristics of students with blindness? What percentage uses a keyboard to take tests? Do students who use Braille perform similarly to sighted students? Who are the students with motor disabilities? What percentage uses a keyboard, a modified keyboard, or switches to communicate? What percentage uses an eye-gaze or sip-and-puff system to record their answers?” Shaftel asked.

By working with students in six states (3,600 students total) and administering specially prepared tests to students with and without vision and motor disabilities, the project will have enough data to make valid statistical comparisons. When differences due to inadequately accessible technology are found, alternative ways for students to interact with the questions will be sought.

The idea is to attain score comparability.

“Every time you test a student and you give them a score, say a student receives a 90%, you’re making assumptions about what that means. You’re assuming that the score means the same thing as a 90% score for every other student taking the test, that we’re testing the same academic constructs and getting the same information about that student’s knowledge. For students with vision and motor disabilities, we’ve just assumed that their scores from the accommodated test are comparable to the scores of students who don’t take the test with those accommodations, and that they reflect the same level of knowledge and skill, but it’s never been studied whether those assumptions are accurate,” Shaftel said.

Under investigation will be accessibility of the technology-enhanced test questions and accompanying tasks, planned technology-enabled accessibility features, and anticipated accommodations for students with vision and/or motor disabilities. These might include text-to-speech screen readers, refreshable Braille displays, adaptive keyboards, raised grid graph paper and other tactile tools, screen enlargement, and assistive technologies such as eye-gaze, switch, or sip-and-puff systems.

CETE is a nationally recognized research center specializing in large-scale assessment and on-line test delivery systems. For more than 30 years, CETE has developed cutting-edge testing programs and technology tools. Through its partnership with the Kansas State Department of Education, CETE offers assessments to all 286 Kansas school districts. During the 2011-2012 school year, CETE administered 4.6 million test sessions online, and 99.8% of the Kansas general and modified assessments were administered by computer using CETE testing software.

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