Universal Design: Assessment

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Section 6: Key Component of Universal Design: Assessment

One of the key barriers to student success in higher education is that students often do not fully understand what is expected from them. The reasons for this could be varied: they are underprepared for college, they struggle with higher order thinking, or they simply do not understand what it means to produce college-level work. Strategies to help students meet college expectations include:

Providing examples of good work helps students to see what they are aiming for in their own work. Some faculty hesitate to do this because they fear that they will stunt creativity, or students won’t reach for greater knowledge. In fact, the reverse is true. When students see good examples, they know the baseline of what they need to produce. Formatting, length, and quality expectations can be very clear. Examples of good work can also help students who are wondering if they want to take a specific course have a very clear understanding of what is expected of them. Whenever possible, a few examples of good work should be introduced with the syllabus.
Using rubrics is another way that faculty can set clear expectations. Rubrics meet a variety of learning style needs, and allow assessment strategies to be individualized. Rubrics also can help maintain a greater consistency to academic standards. When faculty allow for student choice of medium for projects, rubrics can be used to make sure all students are still demonstrating the same content knowledge. Finally, rubrics can make the activity of grading student work easier for faculty. The good news is there are a number of online rubric builders (http://rubistar.4teachers.org, http://www.rcampus.com/indexrubric.cfm )  that include examples from a wide variety of disciplines. Faculty who are unfamiliar with rubrics can easily find some good examples to use as a starting point. 
Throughout instruction, successful faculty also provide ongoing evaluation of “what is working and what is not.” This assessment can be informal or formal; low tech or high tech. For example, some faculty will ask students to raise their hands if they have any questions. Others may use index cards to have students write down (anonymously sometimes) key points they learned or questions they have about content. A more high tech option is having faculty use “clickers” or instant response systems to have students answer questions during the course. Many campuses use this technology, but even more are adopting systems that let students use their smart phones (or other devices) to respond electronically to questions.
To reach diverse learners, faculty also involve students in assessment—both the creation of the questions and giving them choices in the method of assessment. When students are involved in creating an assessment, it requires them to be creative and extrapolate the true learning objectives of the course. Another strategy to increase student involvement in the assessment process is to encourage learners to choose their medium (e.g. video, speech, paper). The content is still measured with a rubric (see above) but the medium is different.
Many faculty find it helpful to create lots of options for assessment, or to have students collect their work throughout the course or over multiple semesters. Online or paper portfolios are used in a wide array of departments in higher education. Nursing and business departments use them for students to collect their field experiences, and as a culminating project to help the students convert them into electronic resumes. Writing and history departments use portfolios to have students demonstrate how their knowledge has changed over a number of courses. 
A common barrier to test taking is anxiety. Many students with disabilities have accommodations for extended time for testing. Faculty have found that offering extended time or untimed assessments to all students can be very helpful. By eliminating the time pressures, students can focus on the quality and content of the work. Also, eliminating the time pressure often results in improved student performance. Faculty still use rubrics to establish the assessment expectations (such as page length), but the pressure of time is not a key factor.

Faculty who have incorporated Universal Design for Learning elements in their assessments report that students in their courses are both more engaged and more successful. When professors are ready to consider modifying how they assess students, the best strategy is to list their traditional forms of assessment and then brainstorm (with or without colleagues) how they could include more universal design strategies. 

Considerations for students with ID

The above tips for universally designing assessment will help all students, including students with ID. If a student with an intellectual disability is taking a course for credit, they are expected to meet all course requirements, including participating in and being graded on all course assignments. If a student is auditing the course, the student may or may not participate in the assessment activities of the course—depending on the course and the student. Some students want to participate fully in all assessments and get feedback from instructors that focuses on what was successful about their performance. Other students may benefit from having choice in the type of assessment to meet his/her particular learning style. 

To Learn More: 

This rubric template can be used to create course tasks or assignments that reflect universal design for learning.Read more

This form can be used by faculty to plan and record the objectives, instructions, time line, supplies and evaluation plan for course activities and assignments, and to record both traditional and UCD strategies for instruction and assessment.Read more