Passing a test is often a gateway to life chances, so it’s important that tests give all young people the chance to demonstrate their capabilities, otherwise our garden world will lose much of its diversity and beauty.
Different countries take varied approaches to making exams more inclusive and equitable. In this blog I’d like to share some recently published regulatory guidance from the UK exams regulator, Ofqual.
Much of the guidance is purely pedagogical. But pedagogy and technology are often linked, and much also has a technological impact for those delivering computerized assessments.
In our work at Learnosity, for example, we must ensure that on-screen layout and instructions are clear and unambiguous for all learners. Images need to be presented in a clear and effective way. Online exams need to be compliant with WCAG 2.1 AA. And all screen formats and question types need to work in practice with screen readers and other accessible technologies.For most testing organizations and edtech vendors worldwide, accessibility is obviously no longer a “could” or a “should” have, it’s a “must” have—and an urgent one at that. Click To Tweet
The new guidance can be found here. While its main focus is on accessibility, it also covers other inclusivity issues such as learners who do not speak English as a native language or who have different cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. As the chief regulator at Ofqual puts it:
“It’s crucial that assessments in every subject have integrity and are accessible, to give all students a fair opportunity to demonstrate what they know and can do, and to achieve results which reflect this.”
The guidance is well worth reading in its entirety, but here is my summary of the 13 main points it covers:
1. Validity is the overarching principle.
2. Place harder tasks or questions towards the end of an assessment.
3. Make instructions on how to answer the assessment clear
4. Use appropriate and simple language in question wording
5. Each sentence in a question should contain just one clause or idea.
6. Only use source text or ancillary material when needed for measurement purposes
7. If putting questions in a particular context, ensure the context will work for all kinds of test takers
8. Only use images or graphics when needed
9. Some learners may be colour blind, so don’t require distinguishing colours
10. Use consistent and clear layouts
11. Design for accessibility
12. Make technology accessible to disabled test takers
13. Embed accessibility and inclusivity within a testing organization’s processes
The full accessibility guidance is embedded in the Ofqual legally mandated regulations at the foot of section D.
As the guidance itself says: “Designing and developing assessments that are accessible for the widest range of Learners is not always straightforward.”
Ofqual consulted widely in framing their guidance including from specialist organizations for different accessibility challenges. Different sectors and countries may have slightly different perspectives, but the above points and the full guidance will make sense in a lot of contexts.
For those subject to UK Ofqual regulations, the new guidance is a call to action to significantly improve exam accessibility and inclusivity. This pressure is mirrored in society by widespread expectation that tests need to encourage inclusivity and diversity and be fair for people of all backgrounds. It’s good to see the UK taking a lead in this area.For those subject to UK Ofqual regulations, the new guidance is a call to action to significantly improve exam accessibility and inclusivity. Click To Tweet
Accessibility and inclusivity is a journey, not a destination. Education is a human right and everyone, including the different and the diverse, deserves an opportunity to obtain educational and workplace life chances.
For most testing organizations and edtech vendors worldwide, accessibility is obviously no longer a “could” or a “should”, it’s a “must”—and often an urgent one at that.
If you are looking at how to improve the accessibility of your assessment or edtech solution, talk to us. We’ve put many, many thousands of developer hours into getting accessibility right in our assessment engine to simplify the challenges of authoring and delivering accessible and inclusive assessments.