Letter: Online Accessibility

In the June 28 issue of Metro Pulse, Joe Sullivan made several valid points and also raised a few questions about online assessments either currently in use or planned for students in Tennessee. ["Online Assessment," Insights] Some school systems are already using online assessments other than PARCC. Given that the PARCC assessment is federally funded, there are requirements for accessibility that must be included in the development of all online products, such as those needed by students who are blind, those with learning disabilities (print blindness), and those with physical disabilities who can't use a standard keyboard or mouse. It's going to take time, effort, and planning to put into place a system that is indeed accessible to all students. A back-up paper test is not necessarily an equivalent test. The PARCC's technology architecture is to be integrated into each participating state's existing technology, and that may vary from school system to school system within the state. I strongly urge parents of students with disabilities to be asking if and how their children are accessing existing online assessment systems and what accommodations are being built into the infrastructure to make sure that they are fully included, with their test results included with those of other students. If these accommodations are needed, they should be built into student's IEP's. Students may need extra time to learn to navigate a system, particularly if they use something like a screen reader or magnification (for students with low vision/blindness). If this is addressed in the design stage, we will have a greater likelihood of having valid and reliable testing results.

Lois Symington, Ph.D.,

Executive Director,

East Tennessee Technology Access Center

Knoxville