Teachers’ and students’ views of Access Arrangements in high stakes examinations

Teachers’ and students’ views of Access Arrangements in high stakes examinations

14 Sep 2022 (15:53)

Teachers’ and students’ views of access arrangements in high-stakes assessments. Carmen Vidal Rodeiro and Sylwia Macinska, BERA conference 5-8 September. 2022.

Video transcript

[00:00:02] Thank you for listening to this presentation. My name is Carmen and I work in the research division at Cambridge University Press and Assessment. This presentation shares the outcomes of a research project that looks at teachers' and students' views of access arrangements. I will start very briefly with the definition of access arrangements. They are pre-exam arrangements that help students with their specific needs. For example, special educational needs, disabilities, temporary injuries to access the assessment and demonstrate their knowledge and skills by removing unnecessary barriers without changing the assessment amount or reducing its validity. Access arrangements need to be agreed in advance of the assessment and need to be based on evidence of need and should as much as possible be the same or similar to lessons, classroom tests and high risk assessments. In other words, requested arrangements should represent the normal way of working for a candidate. The principle of the arrangement to align with the candidate's normal way of working aims to ensure that candidates are not introduced to an unknown procedure or technology during the examination. Evaluating how access arrangements are working in schools and how effective the arrangements are, is important to ensure that the diverse learning needs of students are addressed and that the performance outcomes are a true reflection of the student's knowledge and skills. An evaluation of arrangements should look at the provision of access arrangements, the types of students who are granted access arrangements, the results of assessments when the arrangements are used, and the students' and teachers' perceptions of how well the arrangements are working.

[00:01:40] There is quite a bit of research looking at provision of arrangements and their impact on performance. However, evidence regarding students' and teachers' perceptions of how well arrangements work, for example, if they are appropriate or effective, is rarely gathered. This research focussed on that. Before describing the current research, I thought I would show you briefly what the literature says about the importance of gathering stakeholders' views of access arrangements. So in the context of examinations in England, Woods highlighted that the lack of data relating to the perspectives of students with special education needs and disabilities and the perspectives of their parents and teachers is a particular obstacle to the effective evaluation of access arrangements. There have been several studies that show that feedback on provision of arrangements is particularly important to develop effective arrangements. Work by Lovett and Leja indicated that it is important to hear students' feedback on the usefulness of access arrangements. They mention in particular that if students are provided with arrangements that they do not believe to be helpful, they might not want to use them. The same authors also reported that the students' feedback is needed to determine how well the arrangements are working. And the results of research showing that it is important to communicate with the students taking the exams and the centres delivering the arrangements in order to know about the strength of the provision of arrangements and areas for further development.

[00:03:13] With all this in mind, the aim of this research study was to gather teachers' and students' feedback on their experiences with access arrangements. The focus was on access arrangements provided by Cambridge International, which is one of the awarding bodies within Cambridge University Press and Assessment. Cambridge International offers qualifications such as International GCSE and AS and A levels in more than 150 countries around the world. Usually, once access arrangements are approved, there is no further communication between the awarding bodies and the centres to learn whether the students actually use arrangements or how effective they found them. But having this information will allow awarding bodies not only to improve their service, but also to demonstrate their commitment to students and centres and provide arrangements that are in line with best practice. So their specific research aims were, first of all, exploring the experiences and perceptions of teachers regarding arrangements procedures and exploring teachers' and students' perceptions of access arrangements, focusing on their views on the benefits they provide, for example, if they are useful, effective or fair. This research used data from a survey questionnaire designed by the researchers to investigate views of teachers and students on the access arrangements available for Cambridge International exams. The survey questionnaire included a mixture of closed and open ended questions covering the following themes. So awareness of access arrangements, including the most common arrangements used by the schools, school resources to provide access arrangements, students' views on access arrangements, but to avoid data protection and consent issues which can be different depending on the country centres allocated.

[00:04:55] And the survey was administered in many different countries. Teachers, instead of students, were asked to answer the questions in this section and they were asked to base their responses on observations and feedback from their students. The final section of the survey asked all participants about their views on access and inclusion more generally, whether or not the students use access arrangements. So for this research, scholars in Cambridge International provided us with a list of eight countries where there was a particular interest to find out about their use and implementation of access arrangements. These countries are Indonesia, Italy, Malawi, Malaysia, Myanmar, Oman, South Africa and Switzerland. The survey was sent via SurveyMonkey to centres in these eight countries. All Cambridge International centres in these eight countries were invited to take part in the survey. The total number of responses to the questionnaire was 258 out of 587 invitations, resulting in a participation rate of 44%. This figure here shows that around three quarters of the centres that participated in the research that is that responded to the questionnaire were in Indonesia, Italy and Malaysia. The participation rate was highest in Italy, where over half of the invited centres took part and lowest in Oman and Malawi. So let's move to the results. Due to time constraints, I'm only going to show you a selection of the findings. But our survey covered many of the issues and we will be happy to share the full report when it's published.

[00:06:36] So the first section of the questionnaire looked at awareness of access arrangements. This first graph shows the responses to the question 'Are there provisions in the education system of your country for access arrangements in exams?' Just below 60% of the respondents said yes, but almost 30% did not know. Only 13% of the respondents mentioned that there was no provision for access arrangements in the education system in their country. The countries with the highest percentage of respondents being aware of provision for access arrangements where South Africa, Italy and Malaysia and the highest lack of awareness was in Indonesia and Myanmar. This next figure shows the access arrangements available to request in schools that took part in the survey. The arrangements are for any exams and not just for Cambridge International ones. Extra time was available in 98.5% of the schools. The use of word processors, readers or having supervised breaks was available in more than half of the schools. Just below 20% of the respondents said that other arrangements were available to request in their schools. These are listed in this table here and include modified papers, colour overlays, prompter, severity modulation and colour naming amongst other arrangements. The majority of the respondents and just below 95% reported that they knew that Cambridge International offered arrangements for the exams. This figure here shows that amongst those who were aware of Cambridge International's offer, 75% applied for arrangements for their students at some point.

[00:08:11] However, the percentage of students with arrangements in each centre was small. The majority of the centres had less than 5% of the students with access arrangements. And for example, only four centres reported having more than 10% of the students with access arrangements. Schools that never apply for arrangements for Cambridge International exams, were asked the reasons for that. All respondents to this question said that none of their students required arrangements. This is encouraging because they did not select any of the other options they were given. For example, the school does not have the resources to provide the arrangements, the school did not know how to apply for the arrangements or the school was not able to provide the required evidence of the students' need for the arrangements. Next, the survey gathered information about resourcing to provide access arrangements. The first question in this section of the survey asked participants if their schools had the appropriate resources to provide the access arrangements required by their students. The vast majority of the schools did not have resourcing issues. If you look at the first bar for all countries together, you can see that 94% of the respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the statement: My school has appropriate resources to provide the required access arrangements. A handful of schools mentioned how difficult it is to request and administer arrangements. In this table you can see the main constraints mentioned by the schools. Technology and physical space were the most prevalent ones, and some of the participants mentioned multiple constraints.

[00:09:44] Also when access arrangements such as reader scribes and word processors were not available, respondents mentioned that other arrangements, like extra time or supervised breaks, were used instead. A key set of questions were asked in the next section of the survey. And this looked at the students' views on access arrangements. Remember that these are teachers' responses based on observations and students feedback. The first question in this section asked teachers if their students only use the access arrangements in the exams. If that was the normal way of working in the classroom, this is an important characteristic of the arrangements, as I mentioned earlier. The majority of the respondents confirmed that the alignment principle was met. The majority of the participants reported that when access arrangements were requested, the students used them in their exams. Only two centres in Indonesia and one in Italy disagreed with this statement. Teachers would also ask if the students awarded arrangements for the examinations found them useful. And their responses, as you can see in this first graph, are reassuring. All but one respondent agreed or strongly agreed with the statement. The students found access arrangements useful. The majority of the respondents did not think that the students awarded arrangements felt ashamed or embarrassed because they needed assistance in their exams. You can see that in this graph here where 66% disagreed with the statement and 17% strongly disagreed. The final section of the survey asked all participants about their views on access and inclusion more generally, whether or not their students use access arrangements for their Cambridge International exams.

[00:11:19] In this first graph, we can see that almost all participants agreed or strongly agreed with the statement. Access arrangements are a fair means for helping students with disabilities and special needs. Only one centre in South Africa disagreed with that statement. The next question shows that the majority of the respondents did not agree with the statement. Students who need access arrangements in exams should be taught in special education schools. This resonates with recent policy changes which have led to the integration of students with special educational needs or disabilities in mainstream schools so that they receive the same education and opportunities as their peers. However, this pattern was not seen in all countries. For example, in Indonesia and Malaysia, high percentages of participants agreed with the statement above. That is, they thought that students with special needs should be taught in special schools. Regarding access arrangements given to students with disabilities or special needs and unfair advantage this graph shows that in general, participants did not think that was the case. There was, however, a small minority of the respondents, 22, who believed that access arrangements provided an unfair advantage. This one respondents were mainly in Indonesia and Malaysia. The vast majority of the respondents thought that the access arrangements made a difference in the education of the students with special education needs or disabilities. Finally, participants were asked if they wanted to add any further comments about their views on access arrangements.

[00:12:48] There were 33 participants who left responses to this question. There were a wide range of comments which we group into positives, issues and suggestions. So positive points included the fact that access arrangements allow students with difficulties to share what they can do. Centres are happy with the current provision of access arrangements, and access arrangements are more necessary during the pandemic. Issues included the cost of providing the arrangements being too high, teachers not understanding the guidance to apply or implement arrangements. And the fact that in some countries special education needs are a taboo topic and parents prefer their children to be treated as normal as possible. Respondents also made some suggestions and these related to the need of additional guidance and who needs the arrangements and how to request them. Similarly, there were suggestions that more training for exam officers might be needed regarding the request and use of arrangements. And there were some further points which suggested a cautious view of access arrangements used, for example, that they only be given when there was a real need for them. Just a couple more slides and I want to share some conclusions. Although the results of the survey represent the views of a limited set of stakeholders, they indicate that there is fairly widespread satisfaction with the use of the available access arrangements for Cambridge International exams. Overall views on access and inclusion were positive and this was quite encouraging.

[00:14:18] In particular, the research shows that the levels of awareness and provision of arrangements was high. This is important because inclusion of students with special education needs or disabilities in general education settings rather than special schools means that they will receive access to the curriculum and assessments through the use of access arrangements. The students awarded arrangements found them useful, making them feel more comfortable and relaxed when taking the exams. Most teachers agreed with access arrangements being necessary when assessing students with disabilities and special education needs, and that access arrangements made a difference in the education of such students, providing them with a fair chance to demonstrate their knowledge and skills without giving them an unfair advantage. The majority of the survey respondents did not think that students awarded arrangements felt ashamed or embarrassed because they needed assistance in their exam. And furthermore, the students without arrangements did not think that arrangements provide an unfair advantage. It was noted, however, that some cultures stigmatised learning difficulties, making parents reluctant to have their children assessed and that some students felt embarrassed and either refused access arrangements or had to be persuaded by their teachers to use them as a final thought. Teachers' and students' views on arrangements should be gathered more regularly. This will provide evidence for timely and effective evaluation of the provision, the administration and the impact of access arrangements. Thank you very much for listening. Please get in touch if you have any questions.

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