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Text to Speech and Assessment Accommodations

April 6, 2021 by Amy Foxwell

Thankfully, there are a growing number of accommodations in today’s learning landscape. With continued focus on accessibility, assessment accommodations are key to giving all learners an equal opportunity to exhibit the knowledge and skills they have acquired.

Assessment accommodations involve changes in how an assessment is presented, or how the individual is required to respond.  They are meant to provide equal access to the examination for any applicant, even those with disabilities or learning difficulties.  Accommodations are intended to lessen the impact of the learner’s functional limitation without:

  • Fundamentally changing the nature of the examination,
  • Compromising security, validity, or reliability 
  • Giving an unfair advantage to the individual with the disability
  • Creating undue hardship on the educational organisation

For early education, accommodations are individually determined for a given student by his or her IEP team. And while accommodations are of course important for reading assessments, they are important for all subjects so participants can be tested fairly in all subjects.

What Kind of Assessment Accommodations Are There?

Accommodations in testing are used so that a student with a disability can more fully show what they know or can do. Assessment accommodations, much as those in the classroom, fall into 4 main categories:

  • Presentation Accommodations — students may access information in ways that do not require them to read standard print. These alternate modes are auditory, including text to speech or read aloud accommodations, multi-sensory, tactile, and visual (such as larger text or different fonts)
  • Response Accommodations — students may complete assessments in different ways or to solve or organize problems using some type of assistive device, technology (such as text to speech) or special organizer
  • Setting Accommodations — location in which a test or assignment is given, or the conditions under which it is given, may be altered
  • Timing and Scheduling Accommodations — completion times lengthened or changes in the way the time is organized

The Role of Text to Speech in Assessment Accommodations 

As education technology advances, text to speech is a key tool to assist in delivering accommodations, including those for assessments. Text to speech helps institutions provide presentation and response accommodations by reading text and answers out loud. At the same time it reduces undue hardship on organisations to provide accommodations by replacing human resources with technology. 

Text to speech supports both the individual test taker, the teacher giving the assessment and the organisation that is required to provide accommodations.

And it succeeds. Results for assessments taken with text to speech accommodations are systematically better than those without.

Universally Designed Assessments

In the past, students with documented disabilities, English learners (ELS), and English learners with disabilities were allowed accommodations. As more learning institutions are embracing Universal Design for Learning, these concepts are now being rolled out for all students, and content, including assessments. This increases the access to assessments for all students, not just those with registered IEP plans, disabilities, or English as a second language learners.

As more institutions use technology-based assessments, many assessments offer new ways to provide all students with access to the content. 

They may have features such as:

  • zoom and highlighting (either as embedded technology or provided by a person)
  • embedded features (such as text to speech or picture dictionaries) or non-embedded features (such as read aloud or bilingual dictionaries)
  • changes in testing materials or procedures that allow students with documented disabilities to exhibit their knowledge (for example, a human sign language interpreter

These new approaches to accessible content allow for more accurate measurement of all students’ knowledge and skills and are an increasingly important part of technology-based testing.

COVID and Beyond

Due to the COVID pandemic, many schools and universities have been unable to offer in person exams. So it’s never been more important for educators to provide robust, reliable alternatives to traditional assessment practices.

Digital assessments are inherently more flexible at supporting accessibility than traditional methods of testing:

  • students can complete their assessment on a variety of devices and in different settings
  • assessment platforms offer dashboards that can pinpoint areas for improvement, making it possible to tailor a learning plan to the individual
  • cheating and plagiarism are easier to detect. Invigilators can see an audit log of a candidate’s test attempt at any time, in real-time. 
  • the technology that enables secure exam management and remote invigilation (known as proctoring) is complex, and assessment platforms are resilient against data security breaches, ID falsification, tampering, loss of student responses, etc. And tests can be run in a locked-down environment.

Bridging the Inequality Gap

The ethos behind [accessibility within online assessments] is to ensure equal opportunity to education. Online assessment supports those with disabilities. Platform features can be adjusted using a disability adjustment code to better suit students with visual impairments, learning difficulties, mental health issues or language challenges, making the assessment experience as smooth, and as fair, as possible.

By readily combining assistive technology such as text to speech with digital assessment, all learners can be supported with fair adjustments that allow them to access and answer questions independently. Imagine a learning disabled student taking an exam with their peers thanks to a read aloud application, as opposed to having someone read the questions and answers out to them.

Now more than ever before, learning institutions must provide digital learning platforms that students have the best possible learning experience, no matter where they are or what their learning ability is. Incorporating online assessment tools, is an important element for institutions to deliver on this.

Reducing the Burden

An integral part of assessment accommodations requirements is that they must not place ‘undue burden’ on the institution. In todays’ environment, with decreasing budgets and increasing strain on staff, human assessment support can be prohibitively costly. With traditional accommodations support institutions may struggle, and ultimately fail, to provide what their learners need. But in the new era of educational technology advances, digital tools such as text to speech are an effective and cost efficient way to ensure the best assessment accommodations without straining human and financial resources. With advancing developments text to speech has become both easy to integrate, intuitive to use and cost efficient to put in place, making effective accommodations within reach of most institutions.

Assessment Accommodations for Corporate Learning

Accommodations for assessments are not only appropriate for schooling institutions, but can and should be provided across all areas of education, including adult education and corporate learning. While text to speech assists employees in learning material, providing accommodations will enable applicants to better demonstrate their mastery of job-related competencies or knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) and complete required training successfully.

Embracing Digital Assessment Accommodations

Assessments are a critical element of the teaching and learning process. Using technology is the next logical step to replace outdated, cumbersome, paper-based assessment processes. Education technology companies and digital learning platforms such as Learnosity (link to Learnisity page) are supporting educational institutions by helping make digital assessments standard practice in today’s increasingly blended education environment. Learning management systems are even able to integrate text to speech plug-ins such as ReadSpeaker for Brightspace D2L. This provides assessment and assignment solutions directly in the Learning Management System interface, making the process intuitive and easy to use for both students and educators.

The most successful and innovative organisations will be embracing digital assessment accommodations. 

Find out how ReadSpeaker can help your institution with assessment accommodations:

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