Testing students who are visually impaired or blind: What am I missing?

NWEA recently integrated accessibility and accommodations capabilities into its MAP assessment, removing barriers for students with visual disabilities.Did you ever have to a take a test and not know what you were missing in the way of graphs, charts, diagrams, and photographs? You may have missed all of the visual cues that sighted peers could see, but you were expected to get a comparable score. Frequently, this was the testing experience for students who are visually impaired or blind.

When the Arizona State Schools for the Deaf and the Blind started using the MAP test with our students who are visually impaired or blind, it was a learning experience for the students, teachers, and administration. For the first time, we were using a computer-based assessment that would level to the students’ abilities so the students could actually demonstrate what they knew — and the score reports were available almost immediately.

Within the School for the Blind, the students have varying degrees of vision loss through total blindness. To administer MAP, we decided to use screen enlargement programs for students with low vision and refreshable braille devices for students who use braille as their primary reading medium. Our greatest challenge to overcome was using the braille devices to access MAP.

The first experience I had in the lab was with a high school student using a refreshable braille device to take the Science test. Right away she raised her hand and asked, “What is a graphic?” What did she mean by “what is a graphic?” She proceeded to tell me that she frequently came across the term “graphic” when using her braille device on the internet and wanted to know what it was. After a few minutes of discussion with her, I realized what she read as “graphic” could be an unlimited array of graphs, charts, diagrams, or photographs. “Graphic” was nothing and everything. This was when I reached out to NWEA, and our journey to remove the test barriers began.

And we were determined to remove the barriers. The central question we had to answer? How could we offer a real-time assessment that purposefully pulls items from an item bank, provides a reader who uses braille with the information they needed to independently take an assessment, and delivers readers who use braille with the same information their sighted peers were getting. We decided to try combining Braille with Audio Description. Like it sounds, Audio Description adds narrative to visual media describing what is happening on the screen for visually-impaired audiences.

Within the MAP test, NWEA added short and long descriptions of each graphic associated with a test item. Students have the option to access both, if needed. With two options for descriptions, the MAP test supports students with a varying range of visual impairment.

At the School for the Blind, the next time one of our students heard the word “graphic” during an assessment, they could drill-down and listen to a clear-systematic description of the graph, chart, diagram, or photograph. Not only could our readers who use braille get the information, they could toggle through the test completely independently. Now, this is student empowerment!

NWEA recently integrated accessibility and accommodations capabilities into its Measures of Academic Progress® (MAP®) assessment, removing barriers for students with visual disabilities from taking the test. You can read more about how this was achieved in our previous blogs in this series, Making MAP accessible for students with visual disabilities, What does equity and accessibility look like within assessment and Three field study pro tips: Going rogue by creating accessibility in the classroom. Guest blogger Lisa Jackson, Ph.D., is the Agency Accountability Specialist for the Arizona State Schools for the Deaf and the Blind.