Survey Which Aims to Establish the Opinion of Students with Dyspraxia/DCD on Accommodations in Examinations.
Trish Keane BSc Hons and Special Needs Assistant Fetac level 6.
Time period: 16th July – 6th August 2018.
Number of respondents: 78, (Dyspraxia/DCD Ireland Members).
This survey is looking at the needs of students with dyspraxia/DCD in education and state examinations. It gathered data on how having dyspraxia/DCD effects students in expressing their knowledge and their experiences of accommodations which they have used. It will also ask students to think about different options which may help them to better represent their ability and knowledge in an exam. This data aims to establish which accommodations will better assist students to express their thoughts thereby putting them on a level playing field with their peers.
It is hoped that this information will assist in the understanding of the challenges faced by students with dyspraxia/DCD in education, with a view to having their needs met, including in state exams.
Investigation into accommodations in other jurisdictions.
Excerpt from 'Dyspraxia/DCD and examinations' Dyspraxia foundation UK. www.dyspraxiafoundation.org.uk
They may have difficulties with:
- Speed of processing information.
- Organising their thoughts on paper.
- Short term working memory.
- Reading fluency and accuracy
- Handwriting difficulties (legibility and fluency) Poor muscle tone resulting in physical pain and exhaustion.
- Visual learning difficulties (tracking words or letter confusion).
- Stress/anxiety which may exacerbate their difficulties.
- Concentration issues.
Every individual with dyspraxia/DCD will present with different requirements.
Students with dyspraxia/DCD will usually need some additional arrangements in place to put them on equal footing with their neuro-typical peers. These may include...
- Extra time (usually 25%)
- A reader and or scribe.
- An oral language modifier
- Access to technological adaptions such as a word processor.
- Assistive software (voice recognition programme for example).
- The use of coloured paper to avoid visual strain.
- Supervised rest breaks.
- A separate room/area to avoid disturbance.
- Accessible exam papers (font and colour considerations)
This survey was undertaken having taken note of five cases of students with dyspraxia/DCD and their journeys through applying for accommodations in state exams. Their needs included; extra time for maths and practical subjects, extra time for written work where the student was unable to type and an exemption from the study of Irish where the student had severe difficulties in this subject due to having dyspraxia/DCD. Each of the above students proceeded though applying for accommodations on an individual path, incurring a variety of obstacles, from late diagnosis to navigating an information chain re accommodations. Their success in having their needs met varied considerably.
A survey was put together to look at the experiences of a larger number of students with dyspraxia/DCD in education and examinations in Ireland.
Main points revealed by the survey.
Points raised of interest to the Department of Education and Skills (DES).
- Importance of early diagnosis and intervention: Many students are not proficient typists by the time they reach exam age. Answers to Q15. from students who are soon to sit state exams highlights a major problem with late intervention. 95% of respondents were granted accommodations in state exams Q11. This is a false representation of success if consideration is given to the lack of familiarity some students have with assistive technology and the difficulties that are still being experienced. It would be very beneficial if these students were encouraged to develop good computer skills from an early age.
- More time: 96% of respondents stated that they write slower than their peers. This result indicates that these students will need to produce written work using which ever method suites them best e.g. word processor, recording device. If they have not become proficient in using assistive technology, then they will need more time to produce work by hand. They will also need more time in practical subjects where coordination and planning issues slow them down.
- Permission to use assistive technology for planning difficulties that students with dyspraxia/DCD can have. 72% of respondents have difficulty in expressing their thoughts in writing. They stated that this is due to problems in the following areas Q10: Organising their thoughts and planning what they want to say, being easily distracted, essay writing, memory problems and difficulties with formulating thoughts. These difficulties result in a significant difference between oral answers and written answers. A speed of handwriting test is currently used to determine a need to type. Permitting a student to use a word processor/lap top can help greatly with the afore mentioned difficulties, and should be considered under these categories also.
- Irish exemption: These problems should also be taken into account when considering a student for an exemption from the study of Irish, as they can greatly impact on ability to study languages. Currently an exemption may be granted in circumstances where a student presents with a standardised score on a discrete test in word reading or reading comprehension at/below the 10th percentile. This does not cater for the specific needs of students with dyspraxia/DCD in studying languages.
- Importance of accommodations in school exams: Q16 illustrates areas to be considered in preparation for in-house exams. These exams are important opportunities for students to gain confidence and ability in using accommodations. A student’s ability is also being assessed based on their results, possibly leading to decisions on whether they continue to study higher level subjects.
- Accommodations in school maths exams: Students who are allowed to type due to slow handwriting also need a scribe or more time to complete maths questions.
Proposed requests/recommendations for department of education:
- That the need for extra time in producing school/home work and school exams is understood.
- That difficulties in planning and organising work is understood and allowed for.
- Earlier promotion of computers and assistive technology, would help students greatly.
- That students can be considered for an exemption from the study of Irish due to difficulties in planning, memory and formulating thoughts which can impact on ability to study languages.
Points raised of interest to the State Examination Commission (SEC)
- Extra time in exams: 96% of respondents stated that they write slower than their peers. They will need to produce written work using which ever method suites them best in state exams, e.g. word processor/lap top/recording device/scribe. If a student has not become proficient in the use of an alternate method by the time they sit a state exam, then they will need more time to complete their written paper by hand. Extra time is needed for a variety of reasons. Slowness in handwriting also effects writing maths answers. Coordination and planning difficulties effect the speed at which students can draw diagrams and produce technical drawings. All practical subjects can take longer for these reasons. These include home economics, art, wood work, metal work etc.
- That the use of assistive technology can be applied for due to planning difficulties that students with dyspraxia/DCD can have. 72% of respondents have difficulty in expressing their thoughts in writing. They stated that this is due to problems in the following areas: Formulating and organising their thoughts, being easily distracted, essay writing and memory problems. These difficulties result in a significant difference between oral answers and written ones. The current criteria for being granted the use of a word processor in exams is identified using a speed of handwriting test. The afore mentioned difficulties should also be taken into account.
- That multiple accommodations can be applied for in one subject. Students need to be allowed to submit answer papers which include typed content, alongside answer papers with drawn (diagrams) and maths answers (completed by hand) for one subject e.g. physics.
- Accommodations in maths: Students who are allocated accommodations due to slow handwriting to produce text also need accommodations in maths which is produced by hand.
- Digital format answer sheets: Soft copies of answer sheets would remove the need for students to type more content to reproduce the sheet.
- Earlier RACE decisions: Accommodations need to be granted sooner, so they can be practiced in in-house exams and mocks. If a student knew at the end of first year/early second year, they would have time to develop word processing skills for their exams. The lateness of RACE decisions currently makes schools, parents and students afraid of becoming reliant on using assistive technology in case they are refused it for RACE.
- Cost: Consideration to the cost of supervising extra time versus granting individual scribes: Example - 20 students (junior and leaving) in one school who could be supervised in one exam centre by one supervisor would be more cost effective than the cost of 20 scribes. (in cases where students find extra time caters for their needs better than a scribe.)
Proposed requests/recommendations for the State Examination Commission.
- That extra time can be applied for as a stand-alone accommodation, (a) for written work when students haven’t learned to type, (b) to complete maths papers and practical exams, and (c) along with a word processor for subjects which have text and maths problems to be completed e.g. physics.
- That the use of assistive technology in state exams can be applied for due to planning and organisation of thought difficulties that students with dyspraxia/DCD can have.
- Earlier decisions for RACE.