Student Assessment

Assessment Non-Profit Demos New Accessibility Features at ISTE 2016

A non-profit known for its K-12 formative assessment program has added features to let blind and visually-impaired students more fully participate in the assessment process too, allowing them, as one educator put it, to focus on the questions and not the technology limitations. The Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) has added accessibility and accommodations features to its flagship product, Measures of Academic Progress (MAP).

Beginning this fall, students who use a JAWS screen reader will be able to take the MAP assessment online. The organization is also developing a guide that it will make freely available to developers to help them do a better job of describing images in their programs.

Using Universal Design for Learning (UDL) as a framework, the assessment application, which is compatible with computers and tablets, now supports:

  • The JAWS screen reader, which converts computer text into speech and braille;
  • ZoomText magnification and color contrast software;
  • Mouse-free keyboard navigation; and
  • Refreshable braille devices that convert computer text into braille characters.

Students at the Governor Morehead School for the blind in Raleigh, NC and the Arizona State Schools for the Deaf and the Blind in Tucson, AZ served as test pilots for the new capabilities. The association reported that their feedback was "positive," and some of their suggestions were incorporated into rebuilds of the software. Now seven schools have signed on to start using the accessible MAP assessments in math, science, language usage and reading.

"For our students, equity means they can access information just as easily as sighted students," said Sarah McManus, director of digital learning at Governor Morehead School, in a prepared statement. "It doesn't mean they are doing it the exact same way, but it means it's just as easy. With this particular product they know this was built for them and they can actually access it. They don't have to struggle with the technology side of it; they just have to focus on the questions themselves."

The association has also taken what they've learned and are putting it into a style guide for use by developers, to help them better describe images using words or phrases, known as alt text (alternative text), or alt tags. This latter project is being helped along by the Carl and Ruth Shapiro Family National Center for Accessible Media (NCAM), based at Boston's public media operation WGBH.

"NWEA has really embraced universal design, accessibility, and has taken great care to infuse these into MAP," noted Bryan Gould, NCAM's director of accessible learning and assessment technologies. "The new alt text guidelines they're providing should prove to be an invaluable resource to others looking to deliver online accessibility and accommodations."

That guide is expected to be available in about a month.

At the ISTE conference in Denver this week, the association will give attendees the opportunity to try on special eyewear that simulates MAP with the new accessibility and accommodation features. NWEA's booth is 3714.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.