In the past, students with disabilities, English learners (ELs), and ELs with disabilities were provided access to participation in general assessments only through the provision of accommodations. An emphasis on universally designed assessments was initiated as a way to increase the access characteristics of assessments for all students, including students with disabilities, ELs, and ELs with disabilities.
Now, as more states use technology-based assessments, many assessments offer new ways to provide students with access to the content. Often they have levels of accessibility features that include:
- Universal features such as zoom and highlighting that are either embedded in the assessment and are immediately available for all students, or are non-embedded and provided by a human.
- Designated features that are embedded in the assessment (such as text to speech or picture dictionaries) or non-embedded features (such as read aloud or bilingual dictionaries) are available to any student, if needed. These features must be determined before testing so that they can be available to the student.
- Accommodations, which are changes in testing materials or procedures that allow students with documented disabilities or ELs to show their knowledge and skills (for example, a human sign language interpreter for an EL with a hearing impairment who does not use American Sign Language). These may be either embedded or non-embedded.
These new approaches to accessibility allow for more accurate measurement of the student's knowledge and skills and are an important part of technology-based and paper-pencil testing.