It’s exam time at NUIM, and so thoughts go to supporting candidates with disabilities in their examinations.
We currently have about 40 different configurations of examination accommodations in our system. These include
- Extra Time: The vast majority of candidates require additional time only, generally 10 minutes per hour. These students are generally those with specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia.
- Smaller Venue: Many candidates benefit from taking their examinations in smaller rooms as opposed to the large exam halls. This group can include those who are easily distracted, require rest breaks or use computers.
- Readers and Scribes: A reader is someone who reads the paper and script to the candidate. A scribe writes down what a candidate dictates. I’ll come back to these later.
- Use of a PC: Candidates with visual difficulties, specific learning difficulties (e.g. dyspraxia) or physical conditions that make writing by hand impractical can use a computer to write their answers.
- Other supports include enlarged papers, coloured papers, different furniture, separate venues.
With almost three hundred candidates to accommodate, you can appreciate that there needs to be a good relationship between the Disability Office, Computer Services and most importantly, the Examinations Office. This solid relationship is in place now, but some years ago, it wasn’t the case. Some years ago, NUIM was faced with rising numbers of students with disabilities who needed to be supported in their examinations. The need to have additional rooms, invigilators, computers and support for these candidates puts strain on existing services and the three offices found they needed to communicate more much earlier.
While it seems very obvious in retrospect, having the three offices talking, sharing expertise and solutions has rsulted in a successful and suatainable model of supporting students in examinations.
- The Disability Office with the student identifies what accomodations are required. An accomodation (or more likely a combination of accomodations) is represented by a code, and the candidate is tagged with this code on our University system. The student signs off on this accommodation.
- The Examinations Office can read this code in the system and they run off a report by an agreed date. The Disability Office and the student need to have signed off on the supports by that date. This allows the Examinations Office to begin thinking about the resources (buildings, staff etc) that will be needed. Note that the Disability Office does not provide or organise resources for the examinations; this is squarely the remit of the Examinations Office. After all, the Examinations Office are best-placed to ensure the integrity of the examinations.
- If computer equipment is needed, the Computer Centre makes arrangements for this. They configure, test and support candidates using standard equipment and software throughout the examinations. If a candidate needs assistive technology such as JAWS or ZoomText, the Disability Office works with the Computer Centre to ensure that this is available and functioning on the exam setup. The Disability Office are on call when assistive technology is being used.
All of this is achieved through early and open conversation. Now in our third year, I’m pleased to report that we have had no ‘crisis calls’ on the BatPhone (so far) this January. The system is working.
Our next step is to see if we can replace human readers and scribes with technology. But that’s a whole other post…
And let’s not get started on promoting alternative forms of assessment (yet).