NWEA strives to support our customers and not to be a barrier for them. That’s the thought that hit me in the middle of a recent education conference I was attending. And with each speaker that I listened to, that realization became clearer.
But first – some background. As you might have read last year, NWEA made huge strides for students taking computer-based assessments using assistive technology (AT) devices by creating innovative capabilities within MAP Growth (you can watch a great video about it here). In the process, NWEA introduced Image Description Guidelines, which use words to describe graphics, charts, images, and pictures that would otherwise be inaccessible to AT device users.
Back to the conference – that morning I had dropped in to scout a pre-session at the National Conference on Student Assessment (NCSA), an annual summit that features some 80 representatives from every facet of the educational landscape, including the state department of education, numerous districts, and testing vendors. The main topic was how to address differences in terminology for text readers. This is an important one for NWEA – and one that we will be addressing this winter with text-to-speech. Text-to-speech is an assistive technology that reads digital text aloud, and this capability is now incorporated into MAP Growth to ensure that our assessments are accessible to all students.
Now, I know what you might be thinking: our individual branding of online assessments and instructional materials is important. And that’s true. But when we listened to real world concerns from administrators, it’s clear that consistency is paramount, and this would provide school districts with the most accurate information. By supporting our districts and schools with consistent terminology, we become the link between school policies and assessments. After all, no school should need to pack a thesaurus just to figure what our assessments are helping them test.
To address this need for consistency, we turned to the experts at the conference who initiated this conversation at the National Center of Educational Outcomes (NCEO) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). The research NCEO conducted can be found here. We aligned our MAP Growth terminology to the CCSSO Accessibility Manual to ensure consistency for our partners. This will help to alleviate the pain of having to know whether masking is a line reader or if strike through is the same as answer eliminator and whether those are considered “features” or “accommodations.” NWEA is now adopting this framework and releasing it to partners this winter, which will allow for a common language for our partners because it should resemble their own state accessibility manuals. If other assessment vendors follow suit, then the burden will be lifted from the districts, schools, and teachers to understand the terminology variations. The definition of each category is as follows:
Universal features are accessibility supports that are either digitally embedded or are non-embedded that are provided during instruction or assessment. For example, highlighter and answer eliminator are both embedded and can be used digitally. A non-embedded universal feature would be scratch paper. These are features all students can use anytime throughout instruction or assessment.
Designated features are available for use by any student that has been indicated by an educator. For example, embedded designated features may be color contrast or magnification and a non-embedded designated feature may be a hundred chart or dictionary.
Accommodations are provided to students who need a change in procedures or materials to ensure equitable access to instruction and assessment. An embedded accommodation may be text-to-speech, while a non-embedded accommodation maybe refreshable braille or calculator.
Our hope is by following consistent terminology, district administrators and teachers will be able to align all their online assessments and instructional features to the student needs. More information regarding this terminology is available in our Accessibility and Accommodations FAQ.