One of the prime tenets of Teachers of the Deaf is to raise awareness of linguistic difficulties experienced by deaf people. Access to all written forms of assessment has been high on our list of concerns. Read an examination question paper and you begin to wonder what is being tested, actual knowledge or linguistic or decoding skills.
If you were provided with three black painted metal rods, one of which is known to be made of brass, one of magnetised steel and one of unmagnetised steel, describe how, without scratching the black paint, you would identify each of the rods.
Without much re-ordering or simplifying the question becomes the more accessible:
You have three black painted metal rods. One rod is made of brass, one rod is made of magnetised steel and one rod is made of unmagnetised steel.
Describe how to find out what each rod is made of. You must not scratch the black paint.
No Awarding Body has a deliberate policy of confusing candidates by phrasing questions in obscure language. It is more usually the case that the Awarding Bodies explicitly recognise that a paper aims to test knowledge of its particular subject, not reading ability. However papers are written by subject specialists who understand the language used!
The development of using language modifiers began with the realisation of the rôle that can be played by Teachers of the Deaf with experience with prelingually profoundly deaf children. Joyce Sutton was a great crusader on behalf of NATED (National Association for Tertiary Education for Deaf people) and BATOD. Mike Hanson and Jenny Baxter followed closely in her footsteps and made great strides on behalf of deaf candidates in all examination situations. The growing group of Teachers of the Deaf who tactfully reworded questions, offered advice and demystified questions led the way to the success of the BATOD GCSE committee.
Early input and careful negotiations from this group of teachers encouraged Awarding Bodies to accept that these teachers have special expertise to offer and any suggested changes enabled access to the written assessment, not a simplification of the exam system. Increasingly the Awarding Bodies are building this into their procedures for producing papers, not just for deaf candidates but for the benefit of all candidates. The aim has always been to enable any candidate who has difficulty accessing and/or processing language equal access to a written examination paper. In addition, teachers involved in this process must adopt the attitude that their contribution is an agreed part of established procedure, not a favour.
The recommendations in the booklet ‘Language of Examinations’ are considered applicable to all examination papers for any Awarding Body. The principles would apply to any assessment where agreement can be reached. When papers are being modified it is not practicable to organise it with particular candidates or types of candidate in mind. The suggestions had therefore been drawn up with the needs of all prelingually profoundly deaf candidates in mind. Workshops have been organised to assist ToDs develop the necessary skills to a consistent and high standard. Recent research carried out for Ofqual has shown that these suggestions also cover the needs of many other groups of candidates who have difficulty accessing written assessments
The move now is to encourage teachers of other disability groups to take on board the importance of a professional level of language modification of assessments. To this end BATOD is in the process of creating a new training course that will create a body of well qualified language modifiers who can work with Awarding Bodies to ensure equality of access for all.
A major issue recently has been signing of responses in GCSE examinations. Although the arguments for such a provision would be in keeping with the spirit of the use of an amanuensis, no satisfactory conclusion has been reached about how the needs of such candidates could be accommodated within the examination system, which currently sets out to assess candidates via the medium of English. However in Scotland responses can be signed.
The work of the BATOD GCSE sub-committee had been extraordinarily successful and, even though this sub-group no longer exists, their work continues within BATOD. ToDs are represented, for example, at the Access to Assessment and Qualification Advisory Group meetings and the Access Consultation Forum with Ofqual. In addition BATOD responds to Ofqual consultations and contributes to the annual revision of JCQ’s ‘Access Arrangements, Reasonable Adjustments and Special Considerations’ – an invaluable document for all teachers working with examination candidates. It is important to remember though that these considerations are not all relevant to Scotland. A more recent move has led to BATOD’s co-ordinator of language modification having regular meetings, including an awareness training session, with JCQ and representatives from the five main Awarding Bodies. This has led to greater awareness of the importance of language modification for all candidates and an attempt to have the majority of papers modified at source - a positive move towards equal access for all. This is an ongoing process and one which would be even more successful with a greater number of qualified language modifiers.
The Assessment & Qualifications Alliance www.aqa.org.uk
Welsh Joint Education Committee www.wjec.co.uk
Northern Ireland Council for Curriculum Examinations & Assessment www.ccea.org.uk