A separate certification process is geared toward assistive-technology companies, which make products that link to a computer and enable students who have disabilities to access tests. Examples include specialized text-to-speech readers and devices that allow students with mobility impairments to move a cursor around a computer screen without the use of hands.
Assistive-technology companies would pay
Assessments tied to the Common Core State Standards are slated to be in place by the 2014-15 school year, and the
Smarter Balanced has already said that its tests are designed to work on the most commonly used computer operating systems, including recent versions of the Windows and Mac systems, Google Chromebooks and some tablets.
But those operating systems and the computers that run them represent only some of the new hardware and software devices that are now being marketed to schools, said
Tablet devices, computers that run operating systems other than Windows and Mac, and computers that run "virtual" operating systems from a server are all making inroads in the education market.
The Smarter Balanced certification process is set up to ensure that the devices and software accurately display all the elements of the tests, and also make sure that using those products will not open up security holes,
To pass muster, devices have to be able to handle test questions that involve animation, video, or drag-and-drop features, for example. They also have to be able to block access to search engines, prevent students from sharing information, and cut off any ability to capture what is being shown on the computer screen and then send it to someone else.
Though most current operating systems are compatible with the upcoming common-core tests, Smarter Balanced wants large technology companies such as
For assistive-technology manufacturers, the benefit of the certification process is that companies will be able to assure districts that the devices will meet the tests' requirements,
Assistive-technology makers also have to communicate with Smarter Balanced to make sure that their devices' functionality doesn't change the construct of what the tests are measuring.
For example, Smarter Balanced will not allow the use of text-to-speech on reading passages of the English/language arts tests that it is developing for students in elementary school, though middle and high school students can use such an accommodation because the tests are measuring reading comprehension, not reading fluency. For earlier grades, the consortium has said that text-to-speech alters the construct that is being measured.
Civil Rights Issue?
The other consortium creating general common-core tests, the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, is not using a certification process for its tests, said
If an assistive-technology device cannot be used on the PARCC-developed tests, a student will have the option of taking paper-and-pencil versions, according to a recently updated manual on accommodations and accessibility from PARCC, which includes 18 states and the
The tests being developed by both consortia have a variety of built-in technologies intended to assist students with special needs, such as text-to-speech readers, magnifiers, glossaries, and calculators. But disability-rights advocates have argued that built-in accommodations may not meet the needs of students who are accustomed to using different assistive techologies on a daily basis as part of regular instruction. Some organizations are warning that certification could interfere with the opportunity of students with disabilities to access the tests using the technologies that are most familiar to them, because it will likely be harder for companies to guarantee that their devices will be compatible with the online tests unless they pay.
Instead of Smarter Balanced requiring manufacturers to meet its needs, the consortium should be reaching out to hardware and software companies to make sure its tests work with what's already on the market, said
"I question whether security can actually trump a civil right,"
Plus, there is work required to make those standards compatible on all types of devices. "When you're asking a global company to make a technical change, it is not trivial," he said.
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