Special Topics

Diversity

     Diversity Issues 

Disability

     National Joint Committee on Learning Disabilities

     Assessing Learning and Evaluating Progress: Issues of fairness and equity

     Disability Law

          Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973

          Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990

     Accomodations

          What accommodations and modifications are useful in testing situations?

          Disability Resource Center, formerly known as CAAR

     Accommodation Types

          Timing/scheduling accommodations

          Setting accommodations

          Presentation accommodations

          Response accommodations

Distance Learning

     Evaluation of Electronically Offered Degrees

     Best Practices

     Evaluation Resources

     Additional Resources

     Research


 Diversity

Diversity Issues

The Association of American Colleges and Universities has developed a guide to aid campuses in designing evaluation plans for measuring the outcomes of campus diversity initiatives.

In an effort to make the guide user-friendly, it is divided into three major sections. Part 1 covers tools that engage a broad range of issues in relationship to campus diversity. Part 2 includes tools that are primarily organized around specific, targeted diversity issues, and Part 3 covers a wide range of readings, websites and reports related to diversity and evaluation.

Many colleges and universities have developed their own rubrics which they use to foster and assess diversity outcomes.  Reviewing rubrics from several campuses can help focus local thinking about the range and quality of diversity learning expected: 

Additionally, the following books may be helpful when preparing for diversity assessment:

Mertens, D. M. (2005). Research and evaluation in education and psychology: Integrating diversity with quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Ponterotto, J. G., Casas, J. M., Suzuki, L. A., & Alexander, C. M. (Eds.). (2001). Handbook of multicultural assessment: Clinical, psychological, and educational applications (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Rhodes, R. L. (2005). Assessing culturally and linguistically diverse students: A practical guide. New York: Guilford.

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Disability

National Joint Committee on Learning Disabilities

Founded in 1975, the National Joint Committee on Learning Disabilities (NJCLD) is a national committee of representatives of organizations committed to the education and welfare of individuals with learning disabilities. There are 13 member organizations of the NJCLD, the organization related to college-level assessment is the Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD) (www.ahead.org). AHEAD is the premiere professional association committed to full participation of persons with disabilities in postsecondary education. As an international resource, AHEAD:

  • values diversity, personal growth and development, and creativity
  • promotes leadership and exemplary practices
  • provides professional development and disseminates information
  • orchestrates resources through partnership and collaboration
  • AHEAD dynamically addresses current and emerging issues with respect to disability, education, and accessibility to achieve universal access.

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Assessing Learning and Evaluating Progress

What issues need to be considered when assessing students with disabilities? Below is a segment from the 2001 book Adolescents and Inclusion - Transforming Secondary Schools by Ann Bauer and Glenda Myree Brown that focuses on the issue. View a larger portion of the book here.

What are issues of fairness and equity?

As Cliff Pope so succinctly put it, "If kids learn in different ways, then it just follows that you have to evaluate them in different ways." Lam (1995) suggested that assessment is unfair if students are 1) not provided an equal opportunity to demonstrate what they know, 2) judged on abilities and needs using biased assessments, and 3) limited in their educational opportunities because of assessment information. Although some teachers may insist that equality means that all students use the same test that is scored the same way, bias results from characteristics such as gender, ethnicity, race, linguistic background, socioeconomic status, or disability (Lam, 1995). It is unlikely that any group of students would have all of these characteristics. Therefore, administering the same tests to all students and scoring those tests the same way for all children is inherently unfair. As one of our teacher contributors stated, "We need to redefine what same means. Same is finding out where each student is and pulling him or her forward-that's what is fair and equal" (Jason Haap).

The National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing (CRESST) (1996) defined equity as the concern for fairness (i.e., that assessments are free from bias or favoritism). An assessment that is fair enables every student to demonstrate what they can do. At the minimum, teachers should review their assessments to make sure that the assessment is free from 1) stereotypes, 2) situations that may favor one culture over another, 3) language demands that prevent some students from showing their knowledge, and 4) form or content that exclude students with disabilities or limited English proficiency. Biases may occur because of unfamiliar language or format, not because the student does not grasp the concept (Nickell, 1993).

Fair assessment is adapted to the individual student's instructional context and background. It recognizes variations in prior knowledge, cultural experience, language proficiency, cognitive style, and interests (Lam, 1995). Using assessment methods and administration procedures appropriate to the student reduces bias because factors that could inhibit the student's performance are reduced. The student's performance is a truer measure of what he or she knows or can do.

What does fair assessment mean for teachers? For our teacher contributors, it meant that they frequently designed four or five forms of a test that covered the same content. Tests may be read to the student with responses recorded by a scribe, additional time may be given to take the tests, the tests may be taken in a different environment, or one sentence may be written instead of three. Most of all, it means that assessment is a daily part of the teaching process, and that instruction and assessment are integrated.

Stainback , Stainback, and Stefanich (1996) argued that one set of objectives cannot be expected to meet the unique learning abilities of all students in inclusive classrooms. They stated that although not everyone will achieve the same objectives, whatever knowledge can be gained is valuable and worthwhile. Jason Haap, however, suggested that alternative forms of assessment can cater to an inherent accommodation. For example, the same structure for a performance-based project can be used for various learners, but the expectations of outcomes based on individual student ability can be altered. The project is the same but the participants are different.

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Disability Law

Several laws are related to students with disabilities and some of these laws can affect assessment practices. 

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973

Following excerpt from College Students and Disability Law by Thomas (2000)

Section 504 stipulates that no otherwise qualified person due to disability may be denied the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance (29 U.S.C. § 794(a)). Note that this statute applies only to public and private "recipients" of federal aid (see Table 1). However, nearly all public and most private colleges are recipients. Moreover, if aid is received anywhere within a college, the entire institution is required to comply with the act's provisions. To demonstrate compliance, a college must file an assurance of compliance (i.e., a document attesting to the fact that the institution does not discriminate based on disability), provide notice to participants that the recipient's program does not discriminate based on disability, identify a specific employee to coordinate compliance, conduct a self-evaluation, engage in voluntary action to correct those circumstances that may have limited the participation of students with disabilities, adopt grievance procedures, and remediate violations of the act (McCarthy, Cambron-McCabe, & Thomas, 1998, p. 168). The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is responsible for much of the enforcement of Section 504 in educational institutions.

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Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990

Following excerpt from College Students and Disability Law by Thomas (2000)

In addition to Section 504, Title II of the ADA prohibits public entities (e.g., state government, public schools, public colleges) from denying qualified persons with disabilities the right to participate in or benefit from the services, programs, or activities that they provide, and from subjecting such individuals to discrimination if the exclusion or discrimination is due to the person having a disability (42 U.S.C. § 12132). The OCR also is responsible for the enforcement of Title 11 of ADA.

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Accommodations

Once a student has sufficiently documented that he or she has a qualifying disability, a college is responsible for providing reasonable accommodations or modifications that do not result in unfair advantage, require significant alteration to the program or activity, result in the lowering of academic or technical standards, or cause the college to incur undue financial hardship.

 What accommodations and modifications are useful in testing situations?

Following excerpt from Adolescents and Inclusion - Transforming Secondary Schools by Bauer and Brown (2001)

CRESST (National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing, 1999) defined accommodations and adaptations as modifications in the way assessments are designed or administered so that students with disabilities and students with limited English proficiency can be included in the assessment. The Center for Innovations in Special Education (1998) stated that the purpose of an accommodation is to help each student show what he or she knows and can do and to remove the impact of the disability. The intent is to provide equal footing. Accommodations do not change what the test is evaluating. Typical accommodations include modifications in

  • Time or schedule of the assessment
  • Test directions
  • Presentation of questions
  • Student response to questions
  • Test setting

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Disability Resource Center, formerly: Center for Access-Ability Resources

NIU's Disability Resource Center (DRC) is responsible for seeing that qualified individuals who request services are provided appropriate accommodations in compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Exam accommodations for students with disabilities minimize the impact of the disability by affording students an equal opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge and ability. Eligibility for exam accommodations is determined by DRC staff on the basis of the student's disability documentation. Some of the most typical accommodations include an alternate format such as an audiotape, large print, or braille version of the exam; a low distraction room; extended time; and scribe assistance.

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Accommodation Types

Landau, Vohs, and Romano (1999) provided additional examples of accommodations from state assessment policies. View the full article.

Timing/scheduling accommodations

  • At time of day or week most beneficial to student
  • Multiple testing sessions
  • In periods of ___ minutes followed by rest breaks of ___ minutes
  • Extended time to complete tests
  • Untimed testing sessions
  • Until, in the administrator's judgment, the students can no longer sustain the activity due to physical disability or limited attention span. (Allow test administrator to determine length of sessions and need for breaks based on observation of student's ability to successfully sustain the activity. Additional sessions would be scheduled as needed to complete testing.)

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Setting accommodations

  • In a small group, in a separate location
  • Individually, in a separate location
  • In a carrel
  • With student seated in front of classroom
  • With teacher facing student
  • Near student's special education teacher or aide
  • At the student's home
  • At the hospital
  • With special lighting
  • With special acoustics
  • Individual testing stations for students responding verbally
  • With adaptive or special furniture
  • In location with minimal distractions
  • Students with visual impairments may be separated from other examinees if their method of response is distracting to other students.

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Presentation accommodations

  • Large print editions of tests
  • Braille editions of tests
  • Directions read aloud by test administrator
  • Test items read aloud by test administrator
  • Test given by person familiar to child
  • Standard directions read several times at start of exam
  • Directions reread for each new page of test items
  • Directions given in simplified language
  • Key words in directions (such as verbs) underlined or highlighted
  • Directions provided for each new set of skills in the exam
  • Directions repeated as needed
  • Student asked to demonstrate understanding of directions
  • Directions given in any format necessary to accommodate student (signing, auditory amplification, repeating, etc.)
  • Directions provided on verbatim audiotape (for students who have difficulty with printed words or numbers and/or who acquire knowledge primarily through the auditory channel)
  • Student given a written copy of examiner's instructions (from examiner's manual) at time of tests
  • Additional examples provided
  • Practice tests or examples provided before test is administered
  • Student [physically] assisted to track the test items by pointing or placing the student's finger on the items
  • Spacing increased between test items
  • Size, shape, or location of the space for answers altered as needed
  • Fewer items placed on each page
  • Size of answer bubbles enlarged
  • Cues (e.g., arrows and stop signs) provided on answer form
  • Student cued to remain on task
  • Physical assistance provided
  • Paper placed in different positions
  • Student's test taking position altered
  • Opportunity for movement increased or decreased
  • Stimuli reduced (e.g., number of items on desk limited)
  • Test administered by special education teacher or aide
  • Directions and test signed by interpreter
  • Appropriate adjustment of any medication ensured to prevent interference with the student's functioning
  • Use of glasses, if needed
  • Proper functioning of hearing aids ensured
  • Students who use braille edition of test use braille rulers
  • Sign language interpreter, amplification, or visual display for test directions/examiner-led activities
  • Videocassette with taped interpreter signing test instructions and test items
  • Cued speech interpreters, and/or oral interpreters
  • Magnifying equipment (closed circuit television, optical low-vision aid, etc.)
  • Assistive technology (adaptive keyboard, word processor, voice-activated word processor, voice synthesizer, etc.)
  • Amplification equipment (e.g., hearing aid, auditory trainer)
  • Noise buffers worn by student
  • Augmentative communication systems or strategies, including letter boards, picture communication systems and voice output systems
  • Loose-leaf test booklet (allow student to remove pages and insert them in a device such as printer or typewriter for doing math scratchwork)
  • Placemarker, special paper, graph paper, or writing template to allow student to maintain position better or focus attention
  • Acetate color shields on pages to reduce glare and increase contrast
  • Masks or markers to maintain place
  • Visual stickers
  • FM or other type of assistive listening device
  • Closed-caption or video materials
  • Tape or magnets to secure papers to work area
  • Mounting systems, including slantboards and easel
  • Device to screen out extraneous sounds
  • credit for the question prorated. (Only use when inability to complete due to item format, not due to lack of competence in skills or knowledge being measured.)
  • Audiocassettes used in conjunction with a printed test to provide multi-sensory stimulation.
  • Assist the student to track the test items by pointing or placing the student's finger on the items.

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Response accommodations 

  • Student marks answers in test booklets
  • Student marks answers by machine
  • Student writes answers on large-spaced paper
  • Student dictates answers to proctor or assistant who records it
  • Student dictates answers to scribe or tape recorder to be later transcribed; students are to include specific instruction about punctuation on the Writing Assessment
  • Student signs or points as alternative responses
  • Student audiotapes responses
  • Periodic checks provided to ensure student is marking in correct spaces
  • Spelling, punctuation and paragraphing requirements waived
  • Use of Response Aids, such as:
  • abacus
  • arithmetic table
  • chubby, thin, or long well- sharpened pencils
  • Misspeller's Dictionary, if student identified as having a disability which interferes with ability to learn how to spell (not special accommodation - electronic dictionaries are special accommodations)
  • calculator, if documented disability interferes with mental or physical ability to perform math processes without calculator
  • word processor or typewriter
  • calculator/ talking calculator
  • communication devices such as language board, speech synthesizer, computer, or typewriter
  • other assistive communication device
  • additional answer pages for students who require more space for writing due to size of their handwriting
  • pencil adapted in size or grip diameter
  • slate and stylus, braille writers, and modified abacus or speech output calculators (re: braille only)
  • spell-check device (either separate device or as word processing function)
  • grammar-check device
  • Scribe - The students should know the identity of the scribe, who should have previous experience working with the students.
  •   Answers to questions designed to measure writing ability in English or in a second language may be recorded in an alternative manner (e.g., dictation). Spell check and grammar check devices are permitted. Students with severe spelling disabilities may be excused from spelling requirements.

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Distance Learning

Evaluation of Electronically Offered Degrees

In an effort to assure rigorous learning in distance learning courses, a Statement of Commitment by the Regional Accrediting Commissions for the Evaluation of Electronically Offered Degree and Certificate Programs was created and released. View the statement.

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Best Practices

The Higher Learning Commission and the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools released a document regarding best practices for electronically offered degrees. Below is an excerpt from that document. View the full document.

Best Practices have been developed by the eight regional accrediting commissions in response to the emergence of technologically mediated instruction offered at a distance as an important component of higher education. Expressing in detail what currently constitutes best practice in distance education, specifically electronically offered degree and certificate programs, they seek to address concerns that regional accreditation standards are not relevant to the new distributed learning environments, especially when those environments are experienced by off campus students. The Best Practices, however, are not new evaluative criteria. Rather they explicate how the well-established essentials of institutional quality found in regional accreditation standards are applicable to the emergent forms of learning; much of the detail of their content would find application in any learning environment. Taken together those essentials reflect the values which the regional commissions foster among their affiliated colleges and universities:

  • that education is best experienced within a community of learning where competent professionals are actively and cooperatively involved with creating, providing, and improving the instructional program;
  • that learning is dynamic and interactive, regardless of the setting in which it occurs;
  • that instructional programs leading to degrees having integrity are organized around substantive and coherent curricula which define expected learning outcomes;
  • that institutions accept the obligation to address student needs related to, and to provide the resources necessary for, their academic success;
  • that institutions are responsible for the education provided in their name;
  • that institutions undertake the assessment and improvement of their quality, giving particular emphasis to student learning;
  • that institutions voluntarily subject themselves to peer review.

These Best Practices are meant to assist institutions in planning distance education activities regarding the electronically offered degree and certificate program, and to provide a self-assessment framework for those already involved. For the regional accrediting associations they constitute a common understanding of those elements which reflect quality of technologically mediated instruction offered at a distance. As such they are intended to inform and facilitate the evaluation policies and processes of each region.

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Evaluation Resources

The following segments were written by Susan B. Millar, Director, University of Wisconsin-Madison LEAD Center, originally located here.

If you are a college instructor who is investing significant effort (and assuming risk) in using innovative technologies in your distance education courses, you surely want to determine whether, and if so why, students are learning better, more, and/or differently as a result of your efforts. You can obtain the answers you seek by using assessment techniques. Assessment refers to faculty efforts to obtain information about how and what students are learning in order to improve their teaching efforts and/or to demonstrate to others the degree to which students have accomplished the learning goals for a course…

Most faculty are interested in finding assessment methods that are effective but not too time-consuming. The National Institute for Science Education's College Level One team has produced a website that presents an integrated and tested set of assessment resources in order to meet this felt need. View the Field-tested Learning Assessment Guide (FLAG) website here. The website is a "one-stop" resource for faculty who want to ascertain how well their strategies to improve student learning are working... An assessment instrument located on the FLAG that faculty offering distance education courses may find of particular interest is the one called the "Student Assessment of Learning Gains" (SALG). The SALG instrument uses the Web to offer faculty a quick and easy way to obtain both mid- and end-of-semester feedback from students. The SALG is accessible to anyone with a browser and is offered as a free service.  

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Additional Resources

The Northeast Texas Consortium (NETnet) has developed several training modules for instructors of distance learning courses. The modules serve as interactive training materials assist instructors in the design and development of distance education materials, courses and programs. One of the topics discussed Instructor Assessment and determining one’s own readiness for teaching an online or distance learning course. Below is a segment from that discussion: 

Before teaching an online or ITV class, you should assess your own readiness for the distance learning environment. Take an interactive online instructor self-assessment, or simply ask yourself the following questions:

Will I be able to:

  • Project my presence in an online or ITV environment?
  • Cope with delayed feedback?

Do I know:

  • What I'm trying to achieve with my instruction?
  • What knowledge, skills and attitudes need to be taught?
  • How much content I need in my instruction?
  • What resources and strategies I can/will use?
  • How I'll structure the content?
  • How to assess whether students have met the objectives of the course?

Do I have good writing skills?

  • Can I communicate clearly and effectively through email?  

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Research

Iahad, N., Kalaitzakis, E., Dafoulas, G., & Macaulay, L. (2004). Evaluation of Online Assessment: The Role of Feedback in Learner-Centered e-Learning. Presented at the 37th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences.

The following website: The No Significant Difference Phenomenon provides selected entries from the book "The No Significant Difference Phenomenon" as reported in 355 research reports, summaries and papers - a comprehensive research bibliography on technology for distance education. This 1999 book was compiled by Thomas L. Russell and suggests that no significant differences in student outcomes exist between alternate modes of education delivery.

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