DEMOS Project

Online Materials for Staff Disability Awareness

Modification of examination and assessment arrangements for disabled students: additional support or added advantage?

Mike Wray
Project Coordinator
DEMOS Project
All Saints
Manchester M15 6BH

May 2002

Table of contents


[Cartoon: Will it be fair?]
Description of cartoon:

This cartoon depicts a student standing outside 'Bolt-on Public Hall'. A sign that reads "Examination Candidates" points towards the entrance. The student is thinking: "Hmm... Will it be fair"

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Summary of content

Recently academic researchers and educational developers have written much about the way in which assessment methods in higher education can be designed more effectively and lead to improvements in student learning. Often assessment has been a bolt -on activity which is only considered once the course outline has been completed. However, increasingly course designers are considering assessment issues as part and parcel of the teaching and learning process.

Additionally, the needs of disabled students have generally been considered only after this process is complete and usually just before the assessment takes place in a largely ad hoc manner (Earle and Sharpe, 2000). Many disabled students are frustrated by provision made for them in higher education institutions (HEIs) and often their needs are not met. A push for more inclusive approaches and new legislation such as the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act (SENDA)(2001) is leading to consideration of the needs of disabled students at a much earlier stage.

This module will provide an introduction to some of the issues that are currently relevant to the assessment of disabled students. Inclusive approaches are introduced, and, coupled with more traditional arrangements, encouraged as the way forward for educational designers.

Such approaches should pave the way for more seamless educational provision for disabled students and may provide more equitable and effective education of all students.

N.B. : This module refers to the academic assessment of students. It does not cover issues relating to the assessment process that disabled students undergo in higher education in order to receive a grant (the Disabled Students' Allowances, DSAs) or to the assessment of dyslexia.

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Aims and Learning Outcomes


Learning Outcomes

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Introduction to some key areas in assessment

In the last 20 years or so educational developers have paid increasing attention to the effectiveness of assessment methods that are utilised in higher education. Various researchers have pointed out the need for more streamlined use of assessment that fits into the cycle of instructional design and is not seen as a bolt-on activity that occurs once the aims and learning outcomes of a course have been decided. Amongst the reasons given for such increased emphasis are:

Students are motivated by assessment

Students spend the majority of their study time out of class on assessment tasks (this is becoming the case on many courses where emphasis is increasingly placed on student-centred learning).

Gibbs (1999) describes two studies that have shown students' preoccupation with assessment:

'In both... studies the assessment system was found to be the dominant influence on the way students learn, on how much effort they put in and what they allocated this effort to'.

Quot from a student interview:

I ended up with 11,000 words to write and I ended up in the space of two months on three different things and I was just totally wiped out at the end of it. I was really, really tired mentally. I never wanted to see another book in my life.

Ruth 1st year, Diploma in Social Work

Assessment can be used to improve learning and teaching

Effectively designed assessment should focus students' learning activities on an approach that is appropriate for the learning outcomes of the course.

Gibbs (1999) describes case studies that show how changes to the assessment method or the assessment task can lead to improvements in student learning.

1. Education students on a Philosophy course were answering essay questions in examinations with factual details that showed little understanding of the subject area. The course leader switched the focus of the examination by adding a 10-minute video of a classroom situation. Students were then asked in what ways the classroom interactions could be described in philosophical terms. Students' learning activity became more appropriate and exam answers reflected a deeper understanding of philosophical concepts.

2. Engineering students submitted problem sheets to lecturers each week for marking as a precursor to an end of year examination. As student numbers increased the average mark fell to 45%. Peer marking was introduced which lead to an improvement in marks to 75%. Amongst other things this technique...

Assessment should be linked to the aims and objectives of course design

Much emphasis has been placed on the development of aims and learning outcomes in educational design in order to ensure transparency and quality of teaching. It is recommended that the assessment methods used on courses match these aims and learning outcomes. Brown (1999) has argued that ensuring assessment methods are fit for purpose is the single most important thing that academics can do that will improve teaching and learning in HE.

Course designers should use a variety of assessment methods

'the wholesale reliance upon formal end-of-session examinations as the sole mode of assessing students for the award of their degrees has effectively disappeared' [Glasner (1999)]

Many courses have moved away from only using traditional assessment methods i.e. examinations and essays, and are developing innovative ways of assessing students. Some of the reasons that course designers are having to reconsider assessment methods are:

A range of assessment methods are required to assess a range of skills across a range of students.

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Removing barriers to access for disabled students

Disabled students have difficulty completing various forms of assessment to the best of their ability without some kind of intervention or alteration to the assessment implementation.

For example, the most widely used alteration at present is to allow dyslexic students extra time in examinations. This is because they generally:

My reading speed is a) slow, b) then I interpret it wrong and c) I panic as well.

Saptal, 3rd year, BSc, Quality Management

If examinations are seeking to assess how well students know their subject knowledge and not how well one copes with a timed, speed of writing test it is unfair for this group of students not to be given extra time so that they can relay the same amount of information as their peers.

Levelling the playing field

In order for disabled students to complete assessment to the best of their ability attempts have been made to 'level the playing field'. Until recently this was generally only attempted at the point of assessment and assessments were altered as and when required or requested by the students. However, this can lead to problems when organising resources and places the emphasis on the individual student rather than the institution's responsibility under legislation such as the SENDA (2001). Proactive approaches to the problems encountered by disabled students especially the idea of inclusive design are now being suggested as the way forward for course designers.

Want to learn more? See the appendix on:
The Special Educational Needs and Disability Act (2001).

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Current approaches to levelling the playing field

There are various terms used to describe the changes that are made to assessment practices in order to 'level the playing field' for disabled students. Some confusion arises when these terms are used interchangeably. A commonly used term in the UK is 'alternative' or sometimes 'additional arrangements' and in the US the most popular term seems to be 'accommodations'.

Want to learn more? Read the appendix on:
Assessment practice as commonly employed for disabled students.

We would like to offer our interpretations of these terms and suggest examples of arrangements that fit into each category.

1. Alternative assessments

Offering an alternative assessment to a disabled student means just that. The student would be given a 'different' assessment to other students on the same course.


N.B. : If you offer an alternative assessment you should try to ensure that you are assessing the same learning outcomes as the original method. This approach has been criticised recently for failing to take this consideration into account (Sharpe & Earle 2000).

2. Additional arrangements

In these circumstances examiners offer additional tools or resources to the assessment scenario than that offered to other students. The learning outcomes that are assessed should stay the same but the tools of assessment may be different.


N.B. : These arrangements cause administrators the most headaches since they can require substantial additional resources and organisation.

3. Adjustments/accommodations/adaptations

The assessment method is altered in its implementation. Assessors therefore must ensure that the fundamental focus of the assessment remains the same and that it measures the same learning outcomes.


N.B. : The provision of extra time for disabled students has been criticised recently by Zuriff (2000) who found that non-disabled students also benefited when such provision was made for all students.

4. Combinations

Often alterations to the assessment method result in a combination of the above three methods - for instance if a viva is offered as an alternative it also means additional arrangements need to be made i.e. an extra room is required alongside additional members of staff to carry out the interview.

Yes normally the papers are enlarged. My English I got someone to write it because my spelling isn't very good because of my sight. I dictate what I want and they write it. I think that's the way they are going to do it here as well. And I think I will get about 50% extra time.

Kashaf, 1st year, Business Information Technology

Learning activity

How would you classify the assessment arrangements (a) and (b) below using the categories discussed above? i.e.:

(a) Extra time in an interview situation.

Want to learn more? Read this:
Assessment case studies : Extra time.

(b) Coursework instead of examinations.

Want to learn more? Read this:
Assessment case studies: Coursework.

Learning activity: Answers

Extra time - this case study is an example of an adaptation to the method of assessment. However, it may have further implications in providing extra resources because the timetable of the assessment of the other students might need to be latered.

Coursework - this case study is an example of an alternative assessment. The coursework was given as an alternative to the examinations.

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Inclusive design of assessment

Difficulties with traditional approaches

For many years disability organisations have campaigned for the inclusion [?] of disabled people into education. In order to ensure inclusion of disabled students it is important that the learning environment is designed so that no barriers to learning exist. These can be environmental ones, such as ramps into buildings, but also educational, such as not providing handouts in accessible formats. This idea also extends to the assessment methods that are used.

Want to learn more? Read the appendix on:
Assessment methods.

Although the traditional methods of assessment of disabled students can be extremely successful they often cause problems :

The biggest problem is with attitude. You don't need people giving you a hard time and top of what you have to cope with. You're not doing this for fun. When you've got people having a go at you because you haven't handed an essay in on time.

Helen, 2nd year, Drama

Academic staff should be involved in the process of course design for all their students and many of the principles that have been investigated for improvements in assessment design also apply to disabled students.

Assessment of disabled students should not be bolt-on

Wherever possible course designers should use a proactive approach to assessment for disabled students. This approach requires academic staff to consider the needs of disabled students from the design stage of the course. Just as architectural changes to buildings (such as ramps) can be extremely expensive and awkward to implement if not incorporated at the design stage so too can changes to the curriculum or assessment methods of a course (Orwiss 1999). Often when course designers take into account disabled students from the initial stages many other students benefit. This wider consideration of access for all groups of users is beginning to be recognised by educationalists and is an extension of the idea of universal design (see appendix) first considered by architects when designing the built environment.

A range of assessments should be considered

If a range of assessments are used disabled students will be given more of an opportunity to show their competence wherever it lies (as long as it matches the learning outcomes of the course). This will also give flexibility in how you assess disabled students because if they can't complete one type of assessment you may be able to offer different ways if there is already a culture and room in the course schedule to do this.

It was decided that I don't do exams because there could be so many times when I am ill and it would affect my performance on the day. So I do essays instead. So if a course requires two assignments and an exam, I have to do three assignments.

Helen, 2nd year, Drama

Innovative solutions should be considered

At times it can be difficult to imagine how a disabled student could meet the aims and objectives of a course of study. However, course designers should consider innovative solutions to these difficulties before deciding that the barriers are impossible to overcome.

Read more?

The following link discusses some of the issues in assessment of blind or visually impaired students undergoing courses which involve fieldwork: [External link: Open in new browser window]

The paper found at this link discusses general issues of implementing innovative assessment: [External link: Open in new browser window]

Learning Activity

Recently a number of tools have been developed to help course designers check that their teaching methods are accessible for disabled students. One such tool has been developed by the Disability Office at UMIST.

The tool has three sections that have been designed for use at the level of a department, a course team or an individual module developer.

We have provided the questions that are relevant to assessment methods for an individual module developer here:

Download Gerard's Audit Tool as MS Word document here:

[ Downloading instructions: To download to your harddrive, right-click (PC) / click-hold (Mac) and select 'Save link as' or 'Save target as'. ]

If you would like full copies of the complete tool please contact Gerard Conroy at UMIST:

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Universities are under increasing pressure to meet the support needs of disabled students. However, in the past, support for disabled students has been arranged in many universities in the UK without coherent policies and systems. Universities have made arrangements for disabled students in assessment on an ad hoc basis (Sharpe and Earle 2000).

Unfortunately, in many cases the level of support disabled students received has been inadequate. Support varies between universities, departments within universities and even between courses within the same department. To improve support HEFCE have funded a number of disability initiatives ( [External link: Open in new browser window] ) in HE and introduced the disability premium to the mainstream funding allocation for each university.

Recently there have also been three significant pieces of public policy that will directly affect how universities deal with disabled students. These are listed below:

The Special Educational Needs and Disability Act (2001)

This act makes it unlawful for HE institutions to discriminate against disabled students in all areas of educational provision. [See appendix]

The Human Rights Act

The implementation in British law of the European Convention on Human Rights. [See appendix]

Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) Code of Practice

The QAA have produced a useful guide by which HEIs may analyse their provision for disabled students and their assessment procedures. [See appendix]

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Administration issues

I don't know if it was agreed or not, because it was so close to the exams when they were asking, anyway, it is quite an intimidating atmosphere - there were about 200 people... I just felt very small and didn't want to put my hand up now in front of all these people and say, 'Can I have extra time?'

Ruth, 1st year, Diploma Social Work

On occasion academic staff will be approached by a disabled student for a request regarding assessment issues.


Most universities now have an assessment policy that is intended for use across all departments. In all cases when dealing with such a request you should refer to your own university's assessment policy.

However, it is good practice to be proactive in providing arrangements for disabled students and below are a few suggestions that you might consider:

Local policies

If you are a member of staff in the Demos universities you may refer to your local policy which is listed below. Staff from other universities should refer to their own policies but may wish to read the policies of our universities to get an idea of what is available.

University of Manchester :
Awards and Examinations Office: Arrangements for Students with Additional Support Needs. [External link: Open in new browser window]
Manchester Metropolitan University :
Learning Support Unit: Examination and Assessment for Disabled Students. [External link: Open in new browser window]
University of Salford :
Salford Exams Policy (Rich Text Format file, 18Kb).
Guidelines on the use of readers in examinations (Rich Text Format file, 19Kb).
Guidelines on the use of amanuenses (scribes) in examinations (Rich Text Format file, 16Kb).
(available soon)

This website is a useful starting point for staff from other universities in the UK :
[External link: Open in new browser window]

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The Human Rights Act (1998)

This Act came fully into force in British law on 2nd of October 2000. It implements the European Convention on Human Rights. Higher Education providers are covered by the legislation as they are classed as 'public bodies'.

Some relevant parts of the Act for HEIs are :

It is unclear at this stage how the legislation can be interpreted for higher education because there are considerable complications. For instance, the UK government has a restriction on Protocol 1, Article 2 (the right to education) that it can only be enforced 'in so far as it is compatible with the provision of efficient instruction or training and the avoidance of unreasonable public expenditure'.

More information is available from various online sources :

BBC News : Human rights in society - Education [External link: Open in new browser window]

General information is available from the government website on the Act: [External link: Open in new browser window]

The Disability Rights Commission has produced a report on the Human Rights Act which can be downloaded from its website at: [External link: Open in new browser window]

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The Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) Code of Practice for Students with Disabilities

In January 1999 the Quality Assurance Agency published the first section of its 'Code of Practice for the Assurance of Academic Quality and Standards in Higher Education'. Although the QAA have scaled down their process of educational review for HEIs these documents are extremely useful in providing guides to best practice and may well play an important role in how the QAA assesses quality in the future.

There are 8 sections in the Code and Section 3, which was published in October 1999, relates to ' Students with Disabilities'. Section 6 deals with the 'Assessment of Students'. Each section of the Code contains a series of precepts and associated guidance notes.

Section 3: Students with Disabilities contains 24 precepts [External link: Open in new browser window]
Section 6: Assessment of Students contains 18 precepts [External link: Open in new browser window]

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The Special Educational Needs and Disability Act (2001)

This act was passed by Parliament in May 2001 and is an amendment to the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA)(1995). Previously much of the provision of HEIs in England was excluded from the DDA. However, the SENDA compels HEIs :

Provisions under the Act will be phased in from September 2001.

The Act is available from the HMSO at : [External link: Open in new browser window]

Part 2, Chapter 2 deals with provision of Further and Higher Education.

A draft Code of Practice has been produced by the Disability Rights Commission. The Code deals with the implementation of the act and gives practical examples of what is considered to be a reasonable adjustment and what is meant by treating students less favourably.

It can be viewed at : [External link: Open in new browser window]

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Guidance when marking the written work of Dyslexic students

These guidelines are taken from the Access Summit booklet (Dyslexia - Guidance for Staff) and are an adaptation of those produced by Joyce Lilley at Bournemouth University (1997/8).

The first time I handed in an assignment I was really worried about that. I thought it would shatter me because that's all I had in my school life and college life - your spelling's this, your grammar's wrong and all this kind of stuff. But they just pointed out the weaknesses in my assignment and the areas I had covered - which was good.

Saptal, 3rd year, BSc, Quality Management


Below are some generalisations about dyslexic students performance when writing. Remember, dyslexia affects individuals in very different ways. It is rarely the same for any two people. All our students have different experiences of learning, their needs have been identified at different times in their academic careers, they have received differing amounts of support and they have developed different coping strategies.

• Dyslexic students tend to think in a holistic, non-linear way i.e. a non-verbal way, which is difficult to convert into the linear nature of many academic assignments.

Result: Dyslexic students may use more time and mental energy than other students to put ideas into words but may grasp the global picture very easily.

• Dyslexic people usually have a strong perception of what they intend to write. They retain the mental image of the ideas they want to convey in spite of the actual way this is ultimately expressed in writing.

Result: Dyslexic students are unable to see that their writing does not reflect their ideas. They are unable to proof read their work. Mistakes in exams will not be identified or corrected.

• Dyslexic students do not learn language skills automatically. They cannot improve these skills through the process of error identification alone.

Result: Detailed explanations of underlying spelling, grammar, punctuation and syntax rules are needed to develop language skills.

N.B. : The standard feedback normally provided is insufficient for the needs of most dyslexic students.

• Dyslexic people may find it hard to 'read between the lines'.

Result: Dyslexic students need direct but positive comments e.g. "this was good because...". Telling a dyslexic student not to do something without providing a reason can be completely useless.

• A dyslexic person can find it difficult to present ideas in organised and structured formats e.g. essays, reports, examination scripts etc.

Result: The principles of good presentation need to be taught. Samples and model answers for each format should be presented and explained.

• Technical mistakes in written English and poor presentation may mask the ideas and knowledge the student wishes to convey, which can be frustrating for the student and difficult for the marker.

Result: In marking look beyond the poor language skills for knowledge and ideas.

Typical Mistakes made by Dyslexic students

Please note: The assessment criteria for individual courses should apply to the marking of a dyslexic student's scripts. If written English skills are an important element of the course then these guidelines should be used alongside the criteria as a means of developing an individual's skills.

Marking Aims

In course and exam work:
In coursework only:
General Guidelines for Marking
Further points to consider:
Error Analysis Marking

Despite marking without penalising for mistakes in English, students do need help to develop their written English skills. The following marking system will help a student to aim towards independent learning. When you use this scheme please make sure students are aware of the meaning of the abbreviations.

Self-checking is a powerful tool to learning. Error analysis marking encourages the student to find and correct errors identified by a tutor through a coded mark in the margin.


Sp - spelling.
G - grammar.
SS - sentence structure.
P - punctuation.
V - vocabulary.
O - word omission.
R - repetition.
T - tense.

Using this guidance the student will examine the line of writing, identify the highlighted error and attempt to correct it. Once a student learns to identify particular types of error, s/he can begin to check her/his own work and re-draft accordingly.

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Assessment methods

Timed examinations

Relatively easy to administer to large groups. Traditional approach. Can assess a broad range of issues from the currciulum.
Memory test, undue stress. Problems for students with writing difficulties, memory difficulties.
Accommodations applied:
Extra time, use of a separate room, use of a computer, use of a dictionary.
Further reading:
Examination arrangements available for disabled students.

Essays and dissertations

Not as stressful as examinations. Students can take more time and use their strengths.
Requires good essay writing skills. May require a proofreader. Plagiarism. Only assesses a specific area of the overall curriculum.
Accommodations applied:
Use of a computer with spell checker. Extra tuition on essay writing, English tuition. Compensation for spelling and grammar.

Oral presentations

Use of skills other than writing. Some groups of students (e.g. dyslexic) have abilities in this area.
Problems for students with speech difficulties. Problems for students who are acutely shy/ experience panic attacks or who have difficulty in oral articulation.
Accommodations applied:
Student composes presentation but doesn't speak it. Student works in a group and other is nominated to present information. Student submits video.
Further reading:
Case study : Presentations.

Peer marking

Can increase students' attention to task. Improves students' ability to provide themselves with internal quality control.
Students need to be aware of good practice when providing feedback. Need to be aware of the needs of dyslexic students for instance. A visually impaired student will require copies of scripts in accessible formats.
Accommodations applied:
Excellent opportunity to increase the awareness of the entire group to equality issues by referring to good practice in marking etc. Ask students to provide electronic version of script.

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Examination arrangements available for disabled students

Extra time

Students to whom it might apply:
Any student who cannot compose essays under timed restrictions (dyslexic students). Students who need to take rests (students who experience severe pain, students with ME). Students who take longer than usual to complete a written test (students with manual impairments).
Exams, any timed assessment (essays, reports).
Some writers have argued that this is not a fair way of assessing all students. See Zuriff (2000). Must ensure that exams don't run into one another when concurrent.
Further reading:
Case study : Extra time
Unspeeded Examinations ( [External link: Open in new browser window] )

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Separate room

Students to whom it might apply:
Students who can't attend the exam hall (acute hay fever sufferers, people who experience panic attacks). Students who need to use a computer where a computer isn't the usual mode of communication for the examination (e.g. students with visual impairments).
Exams, timed tests.
Requires extra resources, extra invigilators.

[Back to Current approaches.]


Students to whom it might apply:
Students unable to write or unable to express themselves in writing e.g. students with manual dexterity problems or physical disabilities, students with severe dyslexia.
Examinations, any timed assessment.
Requires additional resources. Also need separate room so that dictation doesn't disturb other students. And near to exam room as student may need to question examiner about a point on the paper. Needs practice by both parties (student and scribe).

Questions produced on audio tape

Students to whom it might apply:
Students who are blind. Students who have difficulty understanding written word (dyslexia).
Needs forward planning to ensure availability of resource.

Use of a PC

Students to whom it might apply:
Various groups of disabled students may require the use of a PC in examinations and as a tool for completion of assignments. Generally the PC will be used in conjunction with specialist software or input devices.
Coursework and sometimes in examination situations.
Security of file system. May need to ensure the PC is not networked etc. The invigilator may need some specialist knowledge so that student doesn't cheat.
Further reading:
Guidelines for Using Technology in Examinations ( [External link: Open in new browser window] )

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Voice recognition software

Students to whom it might apply:
Dyslexic students, students with physical diasabilities who can't input into a PC using standard methods.
Usually used for completion of assignments. Sometimes used in examinations.
Security of file system. May need to ensure the PC is not networked etc. Ensuring that the students' voice profile is recognised on the PC being used in the examination.
Further reading:
Using Voice Recognition Software for Examinations ( [External link: Open in new browser window] )

Marking strategies

Students to whom it might apply:
Dyslexic student and some deaf students.
Any written assessment
Further reading:
Guidance when marking the written work of Dyslexic students.
Marking the work of Deaf Students ( [External link: Open in new browser window] )


Students to whom it might apply:
Students who are unable to write at a reasonable speed or ability to complete a timed examination.
Written examinations.
Question over whether course at HE require demonstration of literacy skills that can't be demonstrated in a viva.
Further reading:
Managing Oral Examinations ( [External link: Open in new browser window] )

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Assessment case studies


Students are required to give a presentation at the end of each semester in each year of study to describe the piece of interactive art that they had produced for that semester... [Read more]

Extra time

Students are required to interview fellow students in order to obtain information... [Read more]

Viva voce

Student felt that he couldn't express himself to the best of his ability in writing... [Read more]


Student was unable to write at any great speed therefore timed examinations were out of the question. [Read more]

Assessment case studies : Presentations

Course of Study : Interactive Arts.
Year of Study : Level 1.
Level of Study : undergraduate.

Assessment method

Students are required to give a presentation at the end of each semester in each year of study to describe the piece of interactive art that they had produced for that semester. After the first semester feedback is formative so that students can improve on their technique. Presentations in semester two are for progression to the next year of study. Presentations are delivered to the year group and tutors and are followed by a questions and answers session.

Skills assessed

Although the development of presentation skills is a desirable outcome of this method of assessment, it was not felt that the ultimate purpose was to develop these practical skills. The ultimate purpose was for the student to articulate, by what ever means necessary, to the rest of the group, how the piece of art had been developed.

What barriers does the student face in completing this assessment?

The student has been supported by the Learning Support Unit of the university and has been assessed for dyslexia. It is difficult to ascertain any cause-and-effect but the student is extremely shy and lacking in confidence. This may be due to her difficulties in articulating or from previous educational experiences.

She felt unable to give a presentation to the whole group but was willing to be present to answer questions at the end.

The student had also transferred from another course within the department so was lacking in experience in this assessment method.

How was the assessment method altered?

The Learning Support Adviser discussed the difficulty with the course tutor. After consultations and discussions with course team staff and the student it was decided that the student would be allowed to video the presentation and that this would be played to the group. The student would then be available for the questions and answers session.

After working with the student, providing feedback on presentation style and ability, course staff felt that the student may actually be able to give the presentation. However, the video would be prepared anyway as a back up.

Further notes

The use of video may eventually be written into the overall assessment methodology so that it could be available to all students. In this way it would be inclusive for all learners. Indeed a further student on the course requested a similar alteration to the assessment method and may be submitting a CD-ROM/website in place of the presentation.

Videoing is often used as a preliminary step on presentation training and would be of use in this situation so that students can gain confidence but also as a further learning aid to elicit self-reflection.

There was a history of collaboration between the Learning Support Unit (LSU) and the Faculty of Art and Design. The LSU had given talks to students at Induction and delivered Study Skills sessions. They had also given a presentation to course leaders in the department.

Possible difficulties

May be inappropriate if the course insists on this work-based skill as an essential criterion in order to pass the course e.g. in vocational Law courses. However, video could still be used as a preliminary teaching aid to increase confidence.

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Assessment case studies : Extra time

Course of Study : Law - Legal Practice Course (LPC).
Year of Study : Level 1.
Level of Study : postgraduate.

Assessment method

Students are required to interview fellow students in order to obtain information.

Skills assessed

Interview skills that would be applicable in legal practice.

What barriers does the student face in completing this assessment?

The student had a hearing impairment and used radio-aids. The student's written skills were excellent and it appeared that his ability to receive and convey spoken information was of a similar level.

Student was unable to complete the interviews in the allocated time. After discussions with course tutor and Learning Support Adviser it was discovered that he was unable to articulate fully under these time restrictions. In normal day-to-day activity these were skills that usually caused him no difficulties.

How was the assessment method altered?

The student was allowed additional time. He took very short breaks after each section of the interview.

The practical skill of interviewing was being assessed and although in some areas of legal practice time may be an issue it was felt that ability to interview was more to do with gaining the necessary information from the interviewee. Also in many situations interviews would take place in less restrictive circumstances.

The assessment could have been made open-ended for all students and this would make it inclusive for all. Students could be told that they are to continue interviewing until they felt they had enough information. They could also be given guidelines for the amount of time that was considered appropriate in this scenario so that overall assessment time did not become excessive.

Further notes

Course tutor and Learning Support Unit Adviser had a good working relationship and innovative use of assessment was received in a positive manner.

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Assessment case studies: Viva voce

Course of Study : Computation.
Year of Study : Level 3.
Level of Study : Undergraduate.

Assessment method

Standard written timed examinations.

In total 12 examinations across the academic year in two blocks of 6.

11 were assessed by viva, it was felt that the remaining one was inappropriate because it involved a high level of mathematics content.

Skills assessed

Knowledge of curriculum.

What barriers does the student face in completing this assessment?

Student felt that he couldn't express himself to the best of his ability in writing.

Student had been assessed as dyslexic.

How was the assessment method altered?

Student started each examination at the same time as other students.

At each viva an examiner and an invigilator were present.

In each examination the student was given one hour to prepare his answers. The examiner then entered the room. The student was given more time if he wasn't ready. Although the time limit on the vivas was open the student finished most of the examinations within the standard three hours allocated to other students.

Members of the department developed a protocol for delivering vivas. The Head of Department was involved in this process and was the examiner for some of the vivas.

The examiner was allowed to verify that he/she understood what the student was saying, but was not allowed to prompt if parts of the question were unanswered.

At the end of the viva all parties were asked if they felt the examination had proceeded fairly.

The student was asked at the end of each viva whether he wanted to add any further information.

Further notes

This method was resource intensive and the Department felt that if all students were given the option of vivas they would be unable to meet the demand.

[Back to Table of Contents / Appendices / Case studies]

Assessment case studies: Coursework

Course of Study : Computation.
Year of Study : Level 3.
Level of Study : Undergraduate.

Assessment method

Standard written timed examinations.

Skills assessed

Knowledge of curriculum.

What barriers does the student face in completing this assessment?

Student was unable to write at any great speed therefore timed examinations were out of the question.

Vivas were also not an option as the student's speech was very difficult to understand.

A scribe was also not a solution because of communication difficulties.

How was the assessment method altered?

Student was given coursework instead of examinations.

In total the student was assessed over the year on ten pieces of coursework.

Further notes

Although the student was given unlimited time to complete the assignments she was tutored to develop and abide by a timetable so that work did not pile up.

The course team were not worried about plagiarism or collusion with other students as the student found it very difficult to communicate with others in the course. Indeed this lack of communication was of some concern to course staff because the student was often isolated from her peer group.

[Back to Table of Contents / Appendices / Case studies / Current approaches]

Universal Design

Architects and designers have recently begun to consider the principle of universal design when developing plans for buildings and technological devices (Vanderheiden and Tobias 2000). The principle is based on providing access for all people and has often been implemented when the needs of disabled people are considered in access to the urban environment. A ramp for example, has benefits not just to people who are traditionally considered as disabled but also to the elderly, children, people with prams and people delivering heavy parcels.

Universal design, is design that provides access to objects, technological devices, urban spaces and learning environments, for as broad a range of people as possible without the need for assistive devices or where this is not possible it is at least compatible with the use of assistive devices.

[Check the glossary for a note on terminology]

Universal design in the production of learning materials for education has become known as universal design for learning (UDL) or universal instructional design (UID). Orkwis (1999) has described universal design for learning:

'A more efficient way to provide student access is to consider the range of user abilities at the design stage of the curriculum and incorporate accommodations at that point. This 'built-in' access for a range of users, those with and without disabilities, is the underlying principle of universal design.'

Many of the requests that disabled students make to departments and disability offices are for such things as untimed tests, notes, prepared materials before class, and study guides. As Silver et al (1998) note 'such accommodations are typically helpful to all students, and in fact may be representative of effective instructional practices'.

Most teachers want all students to do well on their courses and want to be responsive to the needs of all their students. Universal design offers a way forward.

Learning activity

Can you think of an example of a way in which the design of an everyday environment/object has been altered so that it has become accessible for all?

As discussed above the most oft-cited example is of a ramp. Although most people think of the benefits to wheelchair users it has actually become useful for people pushing prams, people delivering large parcels on trolleys and people who have a range of mobility impairments.

Universal Design

Learning activity: Answers

Other examples include:

Further discussion of universal design can be found at: (PDF file).

[Back to Table of Contents / Appendices / Inclusive design]

Web resources

General pages on assessment issues

9 Principles of Good Practice for Assessing Student Learning
Internet Resources for Higher Education Outcomes Assessment
Assessment resources from Deliberations
online learning and teaching database
Assessing Students Realistically
Useful article from RMIT University in Australia
Discussion of key aspects in assessment
A Practical Guide to Assessment Methods for Lecturers

Disability specific pages

A guide for staff and students with disabilities about managing oral examinations
Using voice recognition software for examinations
Examinations / Assessments - RNIB advice to students
Teachability advice about providing strategies for students with disabilities in examinations and assessments
Information for academic staff teaching deaf students
includes a section on modifying language for multiple choice questions
Computer based science assessment: implications for students with dyslexia or specific learning difficulties
Assessment issues in higher educational settings for deaf students (PDF document)
Information about dyslexia and guidelines for marking the work of dyslexic students

Subject specific pages

Art and Design
The Learning and Teaching Subject Network Subject Centre for Art, Design and Communications
Assessment practices in art and design: a contribution to student learning?
Assessment and transferable skills in Art and Design
Hospitality, Leisure, Sport and Tourism
Defining learning outcomes from assessment criteria
in Learning through Innovations, Networks and Knowledge Newsletter, Issue 2 October 2001, of the LTSN Subject Centre for Hospitality, Leisure Sport and Tourism
Designing more inclusive forms of assessment & integrating disability issues into the curriculum
in Learning through Innovations, Networks and Knowledge Newsletter, Issues 3, February 2002 of the LTSN Subject Centre for Hospitality, Leisure Sport and Tourism
Ensuring successful assessment
Physical Sciences
Writing Learning Outcomes: Advice on defining courses using an outcomes-based approach
Designing assessment to improve physical sciences learning
Assessment Strategies and Standards in Sociology

Social Work

Assessment issues in social work practice

[Back to Table of Contents]

References / Further Reading

Brown, S. (1999) 'Institutional Strategies for Assessment', in Brown, S. & Glasner, A. (eds) Assessment Matters in Higher Education, OU Press and SRHE.

HMSO (2001) Special Educational Needs and Disability Act (HL).
Online in PFD format:

Gibbs, G. (ed.) (1995) Improving Student Learning - Through Assessment and Evaluation. Oxford: Oxford Centre for Staff Development.

Gibbs, G. (1999) 'Using Assessment Strategically to Change the Way Students Learn', in Brown, S. & Glasner, A. (eds) Assessment Matters in Higher Education, OU Press and SRHE.

James, D. (2000) 'Perspectives on Student Experience of Assessment in Higher Education', in A. Filer (ed.), Assessment: Social Practice and Social Product, Routledge Falmer, London.

Orkwis (1999) Curriculum Access and Universal Design for Learning. ERIC Clearing House on Disabilities and Gifted Education. (viewed on 29th March 2001).

Quality Assurance Agency Code of Practice for Assessment.
Quality Assurance Agency Code of Practice for Students with Disabilities.

Scott, S.S. (1997) Accommodating College Students with Learning Disabilities: How much is enough? Innovative Higher Education, 22, 2, 85-99.

Sharp, K. & Earle, S. (2000) Assessment, Disability and the Problem of Compensation. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 25,2, 191-199.

Silver, P., Bourke, A. and Strehorn, K.C. (1998) Universal Instructional Design in Higher Education: An Approach for Inclusion. Equity and Excellence in Education, 31,2, 47-51.

Vanderheiden, G and Tobias, J (2000) Universal Design of Consumer Products: Current Industry Practice and Perceptions. (viewed on 29th March 2001).

Williams, W.M. & Ceci, S. J. (1999) Accommodating Learning Disabilities Can Bestow Unfair Advantage, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Colloquy, (viewed on 14th May 2001).

Zuriff, G.E. (2000) Extra Examination Time for Students with Learning Disabilities: An Examination of the Maximum Potential Thesis. Applied Measurement in Education, 13(1), 99-117.

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Last updated: 5 February 2003
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