Hipkiss, A., Woods, K. A., & McCaldin, T. (2021). Students’ use of GCSE access arrangements . British Journal of Special Education , 48 (1), 50–69. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-8578.12347

Journal Article

Hipkiss, A., Woods, K. A., & McCaldin, T. (2021). Students’ use of GCSE access arrangements. British Journal of Special Education, 48(1), 50–69. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-8578.12347


Dictated response; Dictated response (scribe); Extended time; High school; International (non-U.S.); K-12; Language arts; Math; Multiple accommodations; Oral delivery; Oral delivery, live/in-person; Reading; Science; Word processing (for writing)





Test conditions incorporated various accommodations—termed "access arrangements" in the United Kingdom (UK)—in combination: (a) extended time ("extra time") only, (b) extended time and oral delivery (live in-person reader), (c) extended time and word processing or dictated response (documented by a scribe in-person), and (d) extended time and reader and word processing or scribe. Extended time was given at an amount of 25% more time than typically provided to non-accommodated assessments.


Students in year 11 in one secondary school ("senior school") in England participated [Note: year 11 is equivalent in age and academic level as grade 10 in the U.S. educational system]. Of the 240 students in year 11 at this school, 45 had been designated eligible for accommodations at the end of the previous grade level (year 10), and 61 were eligible for accommodations at the end of the (year 11) school year. These 61 potential participants were students with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). From the 61 students with accommodations, the researchers purposively selected a subset of 18 students based on their being eligible for extended time and at least one other accommodation; these students received various accommodations: (a) 6 got extended time only, (b) 7 got extended time and oral delivery live/in-person (reader), (c) 1 got extended time and word processor or dictated response via scribe, and (d) 4 students got extended time and reader and scribe or word processor. All 18 accommodated students were approached to participate in interviews, and 10 students completed interviews; for additional comparison purposes, six (6) students not receiving accommodations also participated in interviews.

Dependent Variable

Student performance on mock (initial practice) General Certificate of Secondary Education examinations (GCSEs) and final (end-of-term) exams for GCSEs was reported for all students, as well as for students receiving and not receiving accommodations. The exams covered English language, English literature, mathematics, and science; mean performance of each participant group was compared separately for each academic subject. Exam scores were reported as letter grades with decimals based on the amount of content mastered for that letter grade, and were described as either low, middle, or high for each letter grade. Mean performance data for all year 11 students that was available for each content area were reported, along with group means for students not provided accommodations and group means for students provided accommodations. Students' teachers also provided predictions of all students' final exam performance (reported as a letter grade), and differences from actual final exam scores were noted. The Desk Information and Feedback Form (DIFF), developed by the researcher and school staff, was used to record each student's permitted accommodations; students reported whether they used each accommodation during exams, and reason/s for using or not using them. Researcher observations were documented, including records of exam procedures. Interview protocols yielded student perceptions from a subset of accommodated students (n=10) and students not receiving accommodations (n=6).


Analyses of the entire year 11 student population yielded a series of results. Across all four content areas (English language, English literature, mathematics, and science), students receiving accommodations had significantly lower scores than students not receiving accommodations. In English language and literature, students with accommodations had a mean score that was half a grade lower than comparable peers not receiving accommodations (low-C vs. high-C). In math and in science, students with accommodations had mean scores that were about a full grade lower than students not receiving accommodations (math: mid-D vs. high-C; science: low-C vs. very low-B). These results indicated that it was unlikely that students with accommodations were given an unfair advantage, because these students, even with accommodations, performed lower than students without accommodations. Further, teachers' predictions of final exam scores for those receiving and not receiving accommodations did not significantly differ from their actual performance scores. This result indicated that the accommodations allowed students to demonstrate their knowledge and skills appropriately without giving them an advantage over students without accommodations. Interview responses and other documentation provided information on extended time use incidence. For the 18 students provided extended time alone (n=6) or in combination with other accommodations (n=12), 16 students used extended time on at least one final exam; 2 students elected not to use extended time on any final exam. Data on actual use of extended time yielded that, of the 249 tests (all content) when it was provided, students used extended time on 103 tests (41%), and did not use it on 140 tests (56%); some tests were missing use-incidence data. Data on actual use were also reported by content area tests: on 1 English language test, 50% of tests; on 2 English literature tests, 66% of tests; on 2 math tests, 59% of tests; on 3 or 9 science tests, 40% of tests. Reasons students gave for using extended time included: (a) to finish, 38; (b) helpful, 8; (c) to get closer to finishing, 6; (d) to finish and not rush, 5; (e) to finish and review, 4; (f) to review and check, 4; (g) to do what can, 2; and (h) no reason given, 33. Reasons that students receiving extended time gave for not using this accommodation included: (a) did not need, 109; (b) did not need help, 28; (c) did what they could without it, 3. Further explanations included that they could finish quickly and did so; they did not know the answers so indicated that there was no need to take more time to complete; and they did not want to stay longer than required for the exam. For the 16 students using extended time, the use ranged by person from 8% to 95% of final exams. Some results indicated students' use of extra time was influenced by their reaction to the content on each test, for example, their knowledge of the content when they worked through the exam or if they feel they need to rush to finish. Researchers also report that when test purposes are not speed of completion, allowing all students to take their time on exams may be beneficial and allow for more accurate assessments. Future research possibilities were suggested.