Incorporating Accessibility into Remote Assessments for the Classroom and Beyond

By Marc Vanhasselt, Vice President Accessibility, Prometric

Remote assessments in the testing industry have evolved significantly within the past year. The pandemic accelerated the need for remote assessment options as alternatives to strictly in-person testing. But while the pandemic may have launched remote assessments to the forefront, the industry has been moving to a hybrid environment to provide more accessible options to all students over the past few years.

Remote exams, which were once considered an accommodation, have become a critical modality for organizations who want to meet test takers where they are (and can be largely attributed to the impacts of digital transformation). Twenty years ago, testing programs had only recently moved to computer-based test centers, providing a consistent, secure environment for candidates. Remote assessments were available, but typically on a limited basis for individuals with disabilities that made in-person exams more difficult to access or for assessments that were more formative. Now, testing organizations are broadly increasing accessibility by offering remote solutions to enable testing for all candidates and students, anytime, anywhere.

This transformation is incredibly important for the success of students and test-takers, but offering an accessible solution goes beyond the shift to remote assessments. Just because an assessment is remote, does not necessarily mean it is accessible.

According to the World Health Organization, more than 1 billion people live with a disability – 15 per cent of the world’s population – and the number continues to increase. Individuals may also face specific circumstances that limit their testing abilities, such as people who are chest feeding, candidates who live far away from test centers or individuals with mobility issues. Remote assessments must take into consideration all possible candidate circumstances and potential limiting factors to truly offer an accessible and equitable solution.

Test publishers and educators then have a responsibility to ensure all products and services are equally accessible so that students can fully and fairly demonstrate their knowledge, skills, and abilities. This summer, the Association of Test Publishers (ATP) launched an online proctoring services pledge to encourage the industry to continue to provide solutions so “every individual is provided with equitable and fair access to take an assessment.” The need for this type of industry pledge, which Prometric endorses to the extent it is applicable to our services, is supported by the feedback the industry has received from candidates who want access to assessments on their terms – anytime, anywhere, and on any device, with accommodation as needed. As technology becomes more and more integral to our everyday life, new generations will only continue to advocate for remote technology solutions that meet their needs.

Current Accessibility Capabilities for Remote Assessments

As the Vice President of Accessibility at Prometric, a global leader in test development, test delivery and data services, it is important to look at accessibility standards from every lens to ensure we do our part to provide seamless customer experiences to the seven million test- takers that we support annually.

So, what do we mean when we talk about accessibility? At Prometric, we think of accessibility as a multi-faceted topic that encompasses two main ideas:

  1. Determining and delivering appropriate accommodations for a wide range of conditions – cognitive and physical, permanent, and temporary – for both in-person and remote assessment scenarios.
  2. Deploying new technologies and innovations in a manner that will allow companies all candidates without creating new challenges or inequities for certain populations.

Accessibility ensures that anyone can equally demonstrate their skills or knowledge. Technology and accommodations play a vital role when developing and integrating accessible solutions into assessments. For example, if an exam is digital, accommodations can be integrated into the technology, such as ensuring there are no distracting graphics, fonts are easy to read, and the content is written in plain, non-biased language. While the two ideas can work together or separately, it is critical that both are considered to support an accessible solution.

To be effective, the assessment process must meet the needs of the candidate while also ensuring the integrity of the process and securing exam content. ProProctor™, Prometric’s secure remote assessment platform, aims to integrate accessibility into standard, secure test-taking. The ProProctor™ platform maintains several features that enhance accessibility for candidates. Some of these features include:

  1. Item Highlighting: Candidates can highlight items in the assessment as they move their way through the exam, helping them to focus on the important parts of the exam and digest content.
  2. Digital Scratchpad: Candidates have access to “scrap paper” to jot down notes or outline a response. This allows test takers to have a similar experience to that of an in-person exam.
  3. In-Exam Live Chat: Candidates can speak with the remote proctor in case of questions.
  4. Self-Guided Exam Setup: Candidates can confirm computer requirements to ensure their system is capable of running the test before the assessment starts.
  5. 24/7 Access: Candidates can take their assessment at a time that is most convenient for them.
  6. Hybrid Option: Depending on their test sponsor’s requirements, those who prefer in-center assessments or need additional accommodations can complete the assessment in person.

However, even with these features, Prometric is constantly looking for new capabilities to integrate into solutions as the needs of the people and organizations we serve are constantly changing. Prometric reviews new capabilities to integrate into systems based on emerging technologies and candidate feedback to anticipate these needs, as opposed to addressing access only when it becomes an issue. Although in-center testing is still a viable option for students that need specific accommodations, there is value in proactively removing barriers that come with strictly in-person testing or remote assessments. The ProProctor™ platform has helped Prometric pave the way in developing more solutions that support equity and accessibility for all students, regardless of circumstance.

Remote Assessments and Accessibility for English Language Learners

A recent example of this integrative success is Prometric’s recent partnership with the Michigan Language Assessment. Using the ProProctor™ platform, Michigan Language Assessment will administer the Michigan English Test (MET) both in-center and as an online, digital exam, beginning October 2021. As a digital exam, students will be able to take the MET in their homes on any day of the year from almost anywhere in the world.

Like Prometric, Michigan Language Assessment values incorporating accessibility into remote assessments. With the MET moving to a virtual format, the assessment will be offered to test takers, educators, administrators, and recognizing organizations around the world. This increases accessibility to candidates through:

  • Flexible Scheduling: Test takers choose their schedule – the MET is available at home any day of the year.
  • Accreditation: MET is backed by Cambridge Assessment English and the University of Michigan and is widely recognized by universities and employers around the world.
  • Rapid Results: Test results are typically available within five days of submission.
  • Second Chances: Students may have the opportunity to retake one exam section without the additional stress and cost of another full exam.
  • Shareable Scores: The verification process will allow students to share test results directly with universities, professional organizations, and other agencies.
This partnership is just one way that Prometric is building on its efforts to promote accessibility standards and more inclusive opportunities for students, specifically students that hope to grow in their English proficiency. This incorporation of accessibility is also being used in schools and in the classroom. The use of assistive technology is becoming more widely used to support all students, not just students that traditionally used technology as an accommodation. Electronic screen readers are a great example. This technology allows students to use spoken text across a screen to reinforce reading skills. Historically, most students that used electronic screen readers in the classroom had a disability or learning limitation, but now, we are seeing many teachers incorporate this technology classroom-wide as a concentration aide for students. For English teachers, there are other ways to incorporate accessibility into everyday remote learning. Educators can use sample questions in the same way a candidate would see them on screen to ensure students are comfortable with digital assessments. Educators can also make the connection clear between the testing environment and studying. The digital environment is simulated and on a different platform than the classroom, ensuring that students know what to expect and how to replicate an environment can help reduce anxieties when it is time for the assessment. Finally, as overlap between the digital education space and the digital testing space continue, educators can continue to facilitate this connection.
Additional Avenues to Incorporate Accessibility

As candidates and students continue to advocate for accessible and remote solutions, we have seen clients report business growth and stronger candidate satisfaction by utilizing remote assessments in their certification programs. For one client in particular, adding a remote delivery option for their certification exam led to eight percent business growth during the pandemic; for another client, 50 per cent of its candidates reported that they preferred to take their certifications via the ProProctor™ platform as opposed to in-person.

Companies and schools that look to incorporate accessibility into their assessments should consider the following for success:

  1. Inclusive Design: Design systems that allow the same access to products and services, regardless of needs, so there are no barriers to entry for candidates.
  2. Section 508: Adopt Section 508/WCAG standards as a core component to ensure clear understanding of content for those with disabilities.
  3. Look Beyond the Assessment: Consider all system applications, not just the ones that are traditionally used for registration and delivery. For example, is your website up to date? Is it 508-compliant?
  4. Learn More: Educate yourself and others to ensure thoughtfulness about accommodations, as the needs of populations continue to change and broaden. Learn and strive for inclusivity to anticipate needs before they are requested.
  5. Adjust Accordingly: Be prepared to grant more accommodations. As technology and needs continue to evolve, solutions that are accessible now might soon be outdated. Be prepared to solve challenges that may not have presented themselves yet.
Conclusion

The industry was already heading in the direction of remote assessments and the pandemic was the catalyst to rapid integration of remote assessments into education. At Prometric, we have witnessed a 500 per cent increase among clients that needed to move to remote assessments due to COVID-19. With considerations, companies and schools can better prepare to meet the future of remote assessment needs.

Programs are likely to keep utilizing remote assessments as an option if it is already in place but there will be a greater focus on the future of remote assessment technology to support secure, multimodality solutions. There is no returning to strictly in-person only testing or learning; hybrid models are the future and must incorporate accessibility to continue candidates’ success.

The remote testing industry has significantly advanced over the past few years to offer more accessible solutions to test takers but the work is not done. Consistent evaluation and innovations will be needed to ensure all students and test takers have access to fair, accessible assessments; it’s up to all of us who serve these populations to continue doing our part in working towards this solution.