Saturday, January 14, 2017

For nursing students with learning disabilities: Is speed associated with ability?



Jamie Axelrod, AHEAD President and Nicole Ofiesh, Ph.D., Learning and Education Specialist, Lecturer, Stanford University wrote a letter to the Chronicle of Higher Education in response to an article by Ari Trachtenberg titled Extra Time on an Exam: Suitable Accommodation or Legalized Cheating? (http://www.chronicle.com/article/Extra-Time-on-an-Exam-/237787

The letter to the Editor included the following:

....The first incorrect assertion is that there is no research evidence connecting accommodation to disability. In fact, there is a substantial base of research dating back to the 1980’s.... There continue to be researchers contributing to this area today including Educational Testing Services, College Board, National Center for Educational Outcomes.... What we know is that the largest population of students with disabilities in post-secondary settings are students with cognitive impairments such as Specific Learning Disabilities, Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity disorder and various Mental Health conditions. What all of these conditions have in common, other than being covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act, is that they are associated with functional limitations which require more time be provided to best ensure the student has an opportunity to demonstrate what they have learned in an academic setting.... 

What is often misunderstood is that the various disabilities whose impacts require more time are not all the same nor is more time provided for the same reason. For example, a student with a reading disorder such as dyslexia may need more time to actually read sentences and process the questions and answers being presented on the exam. A student with AD/HD (of which there are three subtypes) may need more time to focus and attend to the task at hand, read and reread information to ensure that they comprehend the questions being asked, and attend to the visual details in sentences and problem sets..... These individuals may need more time to hold and manipulate a test item or question in their mind and retrieve the appropriate answer, a facet of cognition known as working memory..... 


The second issue raised in the article seems to be an assumption that all exams need to include speed as a test construct. This appears to arise from a belief that speed is associated with ability. However, similar to other research in the field, Horn and Blankenship (2012) report that in homogeneous samples of young adults “…measures in which there is much emphasis on speediness correlate near zero, perhaps negatively, with tests that require solving difficult problems.”(p.91)..... While it is true that assessments designed to measure proficiency on some types of tasks, such as responding with particular actions in a medical emergency, may require time as an element, most academic exams do not fall in this category..... 


Prof. Trachtenberg’s assumptions that students without disabilities might be disadvantaged by the provision of time accommodations given to students with disabilities is also contradicted... Published research..... in this area reveal that, in general, students without disabilities tend to see no statistically significant benefit if they are provided more time than what is typically allotted to complete scientifically validated, standardized exams... 


Prof. Trachtenberg’s call for specific accommodations for specific disabilities.... assumes that human cognition can be quantified in the same terms as an engineering or mathematical solution. Moreover, his suggestion places the responsibility, and to some degree blame, squarely on the person with the disability......


The final, and the most unfortunate, assertion is that “time extensions re-victimize some of (his) students”. ... Victims of what? The A.D.A. recognizes... that disability is a natural and normal part of the human experience and not an affliction which victimizes otherwise “normal” individuals....


 Students with disabilities are well aware that what accommodations provide is a level playing field upon which they can demonstrate that they have achieved the level of mastery in their academic coursework which rises to the standards of the institutions they attend. In the end, this does not diminish their achievements but in fact highlights their abilities, which is all that that they are asking for and justly deserve.



The complete letter to the editor can be read at:
https://www.ahead.org/hub/04-November2016/Chronicle

Please feel free to share your thoughts about speed and testing accommodations for students with learning disabilities in nursing education and clinical practice settings. 

With thanks!
Donna