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New Industry Standard Promises Accessibility for Assessments

A new development in the assessment world could make tests more accessible to students with disabilities, and more portable, experts in the field said earlier this week. One of the experts that worked on the project likened it to the development of HTML coding, which created a common language for the Web.

The news is that a new, voluntary industry standard has been created for test-writing for all types of students. If widely adopted, it would essentially mean that tests would be written with a shared set of codes, or "tags," that create a common language describing their content. This would allow states, for instance, to switch test vendors without having to undertake a laborious translation process from one test-maker's digital "language" to another's.

The new standard also would mean that assessments could be designed with adaptations for various learning disabilities up front, rather than having to make accommodations at the test site and risk changing the test or test items in ways that could undermine their validity. With the new standard, the digital files in which test items are written would be embedded with adaptations—such as a Braille or audio version of an item—that could be used instantly by the test-taker.

The new standard is a set of "interoperability" specifications, since it aims to make test language understandable industry-wide by creating common coding language. It's called the "Accessible Portable Item Profile," or APIP, and it was produced by the IMS Global Learning Consortium, a group of educators, corporations, and government organizations that work on digital education issues. The group has posted the specifications online to garner feedback. More background on the APIP project can be found on the project's own website, too.

This new industry standard could get legs from another big project currently afoot: the state assessment consortia that are designing tests for the common standards. One of the groups, the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium, has already decided to require potential vendors to be "APIP compliant," its executive director, Joe Willhoft, told me. No word yet from the folks at the other consortium, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. UPDATE: PARCC officials are discussing whether they will require APIP compliance from vendors, but no decisions have been made yet.

There are signs that states could pick up on it, too, even before they adopt the assessments designed for the consortia. Minnesota, for instance, is already requiring the standard in its requests for proposals, according to the IMS Global Learning Consortium's press release on the project.

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