Management of Accommodations for Learners who experience Barriers to Assessment and Learning

When you have handed out the standard assessment to a learner at exam/test time, have you ever felt that there is really no chance of him making it?

We know there are learners whose writing or language skills are poor but, if they are given more time and a different type of assessment, they are able to convey their understanding of the work.

Department of Education Policy guidelines provide solutions to this. An example is applying for assessment accommodations regarding barriers to learning and/or immigrant status requests for assessment purposes for learners who require them.

The following guidelines are extracts from WCED Circular 0017/2016:

Which learners are eligible for accommodations?

  • Those who experience barriers to learning arising from a disability, learning difficulty, learning disability or behaviour and/or psycho-social disorder which prevent them from achieving according to their potential during assessment.
  • Learners who, during the assessment or examination period, experience medical, social or emotional challenges and who have addressed a direct submission to the Western Cape Education Department (WCED).

When are accommodations not granted?

  • Where the primary area of difficulty is with the language of learning, teaching and assessment due to the fact that the said language is not the home language of the learner;
  • To enhance scholastic performance; or
  • Where there is no record of any School-based Support Team (SBST) support previously provided.
  • The determination of learners who are eligible for assessment accommodations must be identified as early as the Foundation Phase or at least by the end of March of their Grade 10 year, except in a situation where an emergency or specific need is manifested at a later stage.
  • As a learner’s assessment accommodation needs may change over time, the assessment accommodation must be progressively re-evaluated at the beginning of each new phase.
  • If an assessment accommodation is not approved by the District Assessment Accommodations Committee, the SBST may lodge an appeal within two months of receipt of the original decision. Only the original application will be considered on appeal. No additional information will be considered. The WCED reserves the right to request further assessment from the District-based Support Team (DBST) or SBST.
  • The barrier experienced and the assessment accommodation granted must be clearly indicated on the learner’s application form and must be entered on the Central Education Management Information System (CEMIS) by the school.

Barriers to learning that may require assessment accommodations

  • Sensory impairments
    • Visual impairment which includes blindness and partial sightedness or low vision requiring the adaptation of content, adaptation of the format of the assessment as well as the need for assistive technology. Colour blindness may pose a barrier that needs to be addressed through assessment accommodations in this category.
    • Deaf and hard of hearing which can be measured on a continuum of intensity and can present barriers in terms of the acquisition of both receptive as well as expressive language competencies.
      • In the case of deaf learners, their first language may be South African Sign Language and assessment accommodations can be provided for the mode of examination as well as for certain adaptations in structure and content.
      • In the case of learners who are hard of hearing, depending on the extent of hearing loss, assessment accommodations should make provision for both the mode of examination as well as for differentiated structure and content.
    • Deaf-blindness is a condition in which the combination of hearing and visual loss in learners could cause severe communication and other developmental and educational needs. The assessment accommodations for these learners must be determined on an individual basis and should include multiple approaches of intervention and support.
    • Physical impairments may result in barriers to assessment because of impaired functioning of the hands, arms, legs, upper body and/or neck.
    • Speech or communication impairments which involve the inability to speak and difficulty in expressing themselves can create barriers for some learners with physical sensory disabilities. Aphasia is such a condition which can impair both receptive and expressive speech. Assessment accommodations need to be applied in oral assessments.
    • Learning difficulties refer to a range of barriers experienced in receiving, processing, expressing or retrieving information, any of which may affect the person’s ability to function effectively in one or more areas (such as understanding, interpreting, transferring knowledge or skills, receptive or expressive language, spelling, grammar, following directions, spatial relations, numbers, etc.).
    • A difficulty with expressing own knowledge in written form, in particular, difficulty with spelling and/or grammar, can present itself in various degrees but may be such that it is almost impossible to evaluate the learner’s written work. Difficulties may involve spelling which is so poor that it is impossible for the assessor to understand the work presented by the learner or the learner may express him/herself by using phonetic spelling (particularly in English), which, however, can still be deciphered. These learners include those who have been diagnosed with dyslexia.
    • A difficulty with numbers and numerical concepts, which manifests as Mathematics anxiety or dyscalculia, is a dysfunction in the reception, comprehension, or production of quantitative and spatial information.
    • Behavioural and psycho-social disorders can become barriers during assessment when they have been diagnosed as either mild or severe behavioural or psycho-social disorders, where the learner needs support to mediate the barriers that they experience during assessment. These difficulties may be temporary (e.g. responding to a recent traumatic experience) or long-term. Learners on prescribed medication may be affected by drowsiness, thirst, visual and/or co-ordination difficulties.
    • Autistic Spectrum Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders are conditions where learners may become disorientated during assessment and/or examinations, thus preventing them from answering the question paper to the best of their ability. Assessment accommodations include assistance with either planning or through consistent encouragement and monitoring to prevent the learner from giving up and handing in incomplete assessment work or examination scripts.
    • Psychological/Psychosocial/Psychiatric Disorder (e.g. Anxiety and Depression) may need assessment accommodations.
    • Specific medical conditions may also require differentiation or assessment accommodations, for example, severe diabetes, epilepsy, chronic pain, back injury, and HIV/AIDS.

Responsibilities and processes    

  • The principal of the school is responsible for the overall management of support for learners in need of assessment accommodations.
  • Assessment accommodation support should be introduced as early as possible in the learner’s school career and not only during end of year examinations or the Grade 12 year.
  • The school is responsible for screening and identifying learners, completing application forms, attaching all the relevant supporting documents, forwarding the documentation to the relevant district office, capturing the application electronically and implementing the decision of the district office.

Process for applications for assessment accommodations in Grades R – 9 from 2016 onwards

  • Schools should screen learners and the SBST should identify those who may require assessment accommodations.
  • The SBST must apply to their district office regarding assessment accommodations for learners with barriers/immigrants. All supporting documentation must be provided during this engagement with the district office.
  • Once all supporting documentation has been received, the district will open the assessment accommodations system for the school to capture their application on CEMIS.
  • The application will be reviewed by the DBST who will make a final decision.
  • The final decision from the DBST will be communicated to schools via email.
  • Approved assessment accommodation letters will be posted on CEMIS

Compiled by Charlene Petersen-Voss