These days, instruction and assessment go hand-in-hand. So, when state departments of education collaborate with test vendors to produce accountability assessments, they do so with principles of universal design for assessment in mind. This way, educators can be assured that tests are accessible to the greatest number of kids. This has some benefits:
1. Fewer kids may need fewer accommodations. Although it is important to have accommodations when kids need them, there are potential pitfalls to using accommodations on a test. For example, what if the kid doesn't want to use the accommodation? What if the school forgets? Even under the best of circumstances, the logistics of providing accommodations on testing day can be tricky.
2. Fewer kids may need to take an alternate assessment. Alternate assessments should be used only for those kids who really need them. Since the accountability movement started, alternate assessments have probably been used too much. The federal government has told states that they can only include a small number of kids taking an alternate assessment as proficient for accountability purposes(1% of the total number of kids). When a kid has a significant cognitive disability and needs an alternate assessment, it's important for the student to have it available. But, alternate assessments should not be overused.
3. All kids benefit from universal design. Universally designed tests are better tests overall because they were built from the ground up by thinking about what the test is trying to measure and making sure that the item development and the overall look and feel of the test is as accessible as possible.
According to the National Center on Educational Outcomes, some key elements of universal design of assessment include the following:
- Inclusive assessment population
- Precisely defined constructs
- Accessible, non-biased items
- Amenable to accommodations
- Simple, clear, and intuitive instructions and procedures
- Maximum readability and comprehensibility
- Maximum legibility