Moving Towards Universal Design in Assessment of Student Learning

Moving Towards Universal Design in Assessment of Student Learning

This is a case for mostly using untimed, open book tests, and allowing ‘cheat sheets’ for some tests.

There are different reasons students respond well to this type of testing. This includes students with various disabilities, those not native English speakers, students with high test anxiety, and others.

What is the purpose of testing? Is it important that you:

  • Differentiate the A from the B student?
  • Weed out those who score below the standard?
  • Assess learning?
  • Reinforce learning?

One surprising finding is that untimed, open book tests generally yield the same array of scores as you would find with timed and closed book tests. Those who have read the materials before the test know where to look for the information. Those who have not done the prerequisite work will stumble.

By using untimed, open book tests you do not have to have separate procedures for students with disabilities, and you reduce anxiety for all students.

We as professionals rarely are called upon to memorize formulas, diagnostic criteria, wording of laws—we look things up by knowing where to look. This is one of the fundamental skills we want for our students, i.e., knowing where information is housed and how to access it. Application of that information generally is more important than memorization.

What is an allowable ‘cheat sheet’? This can only be answered by each program and by those with some expertise in the subject matter.

It is strongly recommended that programs develop allowable ‘cheat sheets’ prior to the need, rather than after being asked for one by a specific student. This way the development is untainted by any impressions of the specific requesting student.

Example 1: Allow use of the DSM-5 in assessing diagnosis, and focus questions on making differential diagnoses or making fine distinctions among diagnoses.

Example 2: Allow a page of formulas in assessing statistics, and focus questions on applying the correct formula and understanding the results of a derivation.

Example 3: Allow a list of curriculum requirements, and focus questions on development of lesson plans and application of activities.