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Apple iOS 6 Guided Access Boon for High-Stakes Testing with iPads

Screen shot of Apple iOS 6 running Guided Access on an iPad
Guided Access in iOS 6 disables the Home button and restricts touch input to certain areas of the screen.

During its Worldwide Developers Conference 2012 in San Francisco this week, Apple introduced a new feature that addresses both user accessibility and testing needs when its mobile devices are used in schools. "Guided Access" allows for the lockdown of an iOS 6 device to limit its use to a single app. The feature disables the Home button and restricts touch input to certain areas of the screen. iOS 6, which is expected to be released in fall 2012, is compatible with iPad 2 and the next version of the iPad, as well as the iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, and iPhone 4S.

Apple touted Guided Access as being especially useful to students with disabilities such as autism, since it can help them remain on task and focused on the current content.

The feature also will surface as an important one in schools with iPad programs that hope to use the tablet devices for state-mandated testing. By being able to lock down the environment, educators will ensure that students won't be able to go outside of the high-stakes online testing environment, for example, to access a browser. That's an important consideration as the Common Core for State Standards are introduced in schools all over the country and the two assessment consortia--Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) and Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC)--introduce their state-created online assessments starting in 2014.

One education technology company already has plans for Guided Access. Immediately following Apple's keynote news, Pearson Education announced its intention to use the new feature to bring TestNav to the iPad soon after the release of iOS 6. TestNav is Pearson's online test delivery system. Current versions of the application work on Macintosh computers running OS X version 10.4 or later and Flash. iPads aren't currently supported. (The program also runs on Windows and Linux machines.)

In a statement, the company said, "With the new capability of Apple's Guided Access feature for the iPad, we look forward to working with increasing numbers of educators in all states and districts to accelerate the transition to innovative assessment--and moreover to expand access to digital learning for all students."

Another accessibility-related feature announced in iOS 6 is integration of VoiceOver, a screen reader for blind and low-vision users with three Apple components:

  • Maps, the company's newly announced mapping and navigation app;
  • AssistiveTouch, a feature that replaces hardware buttons with software equivalents for easier navigation, introduced with iOS 5; and
  • Zoom, Apple's screen magnifier.

Last, Apple said it was working with "top manufacturers" to introduce "Made for iPhone" hearing aids for the iPhone 4S that will deliver a "power-efficient, high-quality digital audio experience." No release date was attached to that announcement.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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