Response Assessment Accommodations

What are response assessment accommodations?

Response accommodations allow students to respond to test questions in different ways or to solve or organize a response using some type of assistive device or organizer. Responses to test questions in alternate formats need to be carefully copied onto a standard answer form before submitting the test for scoring. Most states have detailed instructions in their test administration manuals for how this is to be done. Some states do not allow particular response accommodations on some tests or parts of tests.

Who can benefit from response assessment accommodations?

Response accommodations can benefit students with physical, sensory, or learning disabilities (including difficulties with memory, sequencing, directionality, alignment, and organization).

How are specific response assessment accommodations administered?

Express response to a scribe through speech, sign language, pointing or by using an assistive communication device
A scribe is someone who writes down a student's answers to test questions. If it is a writing test, the scribe might write a person's essay as the test taker dictates it through speech, sign language, or by using some type of assistive communication device. The test taker is responsible for telling the scribe where to place punctuation marks, for indicating sentences and paragraphs, and for spelling certain words. There is a lot of skill involved in using a scribe for writing extended responses, skill that requires extensive practice and competence in the classroom. A scribe may also be used on multiple choice tests to fill in the "bubbles" on an answer sheet or to write short answers. A single message communication device (e.g., BIG mack) may be used to express responses to a scribe. 

A scribe may not edit or alter student responses in any way and must record word-for-word exactly what the student has dictated. Scribes should request clarification from the student about the use of punctuation, capitalization, and the spelling of key words, and must allow the student to review and edit what the scribe has written. 

A person who serves as a scribe needs to be carefully prepared prior to testing to assure that he/she knows the vocabulary involved in the testing process and understands the boundaries of the assistance to be provided. In general, the role of the scribe is to write what is dictated, no more and no less. 

Type on or speak to word processor 

This option may increase the independence of the test taker and reduce the number of trained scribes needed on test day. Research has found that students who submit better essay tests on computers than hand writing are students who are very familiar with computers and have good keyboarding skills. Assistive technology that can be used for typing includes sticky keys, touch screen, trackball, mouth or headstick or other pointing device, and customized keyboards. 

Speech-to-text conversion or voice recognition allows a student to use his or her voice as an input device. Voice recognition may be used to dictate text into the computer or to give commands to the computer (such as opening application programs, pulling down menus, or saving work). Older voice recognition applications require each word to be separated by a distinct space. This allows the machine to determine where one word begins and the next stops. This style of dictation is called discrete speech. Continuous speech voice recognition applications allow students to dictate text fluently into the computer. These new applications can recognize speech at up to 160 words per minute. While these systems do give students system control, they are not yet hands free. 

Type on Bailler 
A Brailler is a Braille keyboard used for typing text that can then be printed in standard print or Braille (embosser). The Brailler is similar to a typewriter or computer keyboard. Paper is inserted into the Brailler, and multiple keys are pressed at once, creating an entire cell with each press. Through an alternative computer port, newer Braillers can simultaneously act as a speech synthesizer that reads the text displayed on the screen when paired with a screen reading program. 

Speak into tape recorder
Student responses are recorded on a tape recorder for later verbatim transcription by another person. Students using this accommodation need to be tested in a private setting with adult supervision. 

Write in test booklet instead of on answer sheet
This accommodation allows the test-taker to indicate responses directly in the test booklet and have someone transfer the answer to the answer sheet after the student has completed the test. Bubbled answer sheets (electronic scanning forms) may be difficult or impossible for some students to complete accurately and neatly. A student may have difficulty finding the right place to respond on a bubble sheet. 

Monitor placement of student responses on answer sheet
Students who are able to use bubbled answer sheets may benefit from having an adult simply monitor the placement of their responses to ensure that they are actually responding to the intended question.


Materials or devices used to solve or organize responses

Calculation devices
If a student's disability affects math calculation but not reasoning, he or she may request to use a calculator or other assistive device (e.g., number chart, arithmetic table, manipulatives or abacus). It is important to determine whether the use of a calculation device is a matter of convenience or a necessary accommodation. Several tests allow the use of calculation devices for at least a portion of a test for all students, not just those with disabilities. Some states allow students with disabilities to use a calculation device on portions of a test where use is prohibited by the general population of students. 

It is important to know what is being tested before making decisions about the use of calculation devices. For example if a test item is measuring subtraction with regrouping, using a calculator would not give a student an opportunity to show regrouping. On the other hand, if an item is testing problem solving skills and the problem includes subtraction (e.g., bargain shopping for items with a better value) it may not be necessary for a student to show whether regrouping has been mastered, making the use of a calculation device a valid accommodation. 

Calculators may be adapted with large keys. Calculators with voice output (talking calculators) are also available and need to be used in individual settings to keep from distracting other students. 

An abacus may be useful for students when mathematics problems are to be calculated without a calculator. The abacus functions as paper and pencil for students with visual impairments. 

Spelling and grammar assistive devices
The use of a dictionary may be allowed on tests that require an extended response or essay. Spelling and grammar can also be checked with pocket spellcheckers. Students enter an approximate spelling and then see or hear the correct spelling or correct use of the word. Students who respond using a word processor may be allowed to use a spell-check or other electronic spelling device. Some states require spell-check and grammar-checking devices to be turned off for writing tests. 

Visual organizers
Visual organizers include templates, highlighters, place markers, scratch paper, and graph paper. Some states do not allow any marks to be made in the test booklet except as a specific accommodation because the booklets are passed from school to school and reused. In some states, all students are allowed to use highlighters, underline words, and write in margins. Some states allow students to use scratch paper or graph paper to align numbers. 

Graphic organizers
Graphic organizers help students arrange information into patterns in order to organize responses and stay focused on the content. Graphic organizers are especially helpful on tests where students are expected to write an extended response or essay.