Back in May, Ofqual published updated guidance about how to make accessible assessments. Although the guidance was overarching and with a focus on improving accessibility for SEND students, the points raised can also serve as a useful reminder to those of us who regularly write or edit assessment materials.
With that in mind, this two-part blog offers some best practice tips from our Development Editor, Lauren. Part one gives advice on producing clear and effective paper-based assessments while part two hones in on digital accessibility. Scroll down for our assessment accessibility checklist.
1. Embed accessibility
This shouldn’t be an afterthought; it should be front and centre of your thinking. The best way to go about this will depend on your specific assessment, but here are some points to start the ball rolling:
- Don’t rely on students’ familiarity with specific cultural contexts and don’t assume universal experiences. Not all students will live in a house with a back garden, go on annual holidays, be familiar with certain foods, or have two parents of different genders.
- Ensure all images are created with colour blindness in mind. Use patterns or a warm-cool gradient if students need to distinguish between colours. Avoid using coloured text to denote meaning if possible. There are some brilliant tools for assessing whether something is colour-blind friendly: browser-based Coblis is my go-to.
- Consider photocopies. Paper-based assessments are almost guaranteed to be photocopied en masse at some stage, butchering image quality and legibility. To an extent, this is out of your hands, but it’s worth considering how your assessments will work in greyscale, even if you end up producing them in full colour.
2. Only test what you need to test
This is what Ofqual calls the overarching principle of validity. For every question in an assessment, ask yourself: does this test what it’s supposed to test? If the answer is no, revisit the question.
For example, you’re writing an assessment about managing climate change. One of the questions asks students to explain how climate change and global warming are different. Although it’s not a bad question and is topically related, it doesn’t specifically test managing climate change. Students’ results are not valid because their mark doesn’t reflect their understanding of the topic at hand.
3. Build from the basics
Launching students in at the deep end will do them no favours: it’s likely to demotivate them and may result in missed marks later on in the assessment because they’ve spent too much time on Question 1. Consider frameworks such as Bloom’s Taxonomy or the 5 E’s instructional model to guide your thinking. In general, start with the easier questions and gradually build on them. Asking students to calculate chemical reaction times shouldn’t come before asking them the difference between a reactant and a product.
4. Check layouts and space
This sounds like a no-brainer, but layout errors can slip through an initial proof stage. Make sure that written questions include enough space for students to write their answers: this will vary for different age groups. Consider line spacing and the size of the average student’s handwriting at the level you’re aiming at. If they’re asked to draw a graph or diagram, is there room allocated for them to do so? Typesetters may miss this kind of error, especially if a page layout looks neat at a glance.
If students need to select multiple answers, the question should state how many, and the number of marks should match. All of the answers should be on the same page, never split across a page break.
5. Consider your sources
Where an assessment requires students to analyse a source – whether this is a piece of text, an image, or something else – the source should be relevant, of good quality, and free from bias or stereotypes unless explicitly related to the topic. That’s a given. However, if you’re asking students to read a chunk of text, make it worth the investment. Reading three paragraphs for the sake of a single mark is not.
Comprehending and analysing a source are key skills, so bear in mind that any question involving a source is already fairly demanding.
This is by no means a comprehensive how-to of assessment. Different subjects, levels, and assessment aims necessitate different question construction and consideration. In part two of this blog, we’ll delve deeper into the perils and pitfalls of digital assessments and how best to harness them.
Assessment accessibility checklist
- Is accessibility front and centre in your writing?
- Does the assessment test what it’s supposed to test?
- Do the questions build from easier to more difficult?
- Is there enough space for students to write their answers?
- Is the source relevant, of good quality, and free from bias or stereotypes?