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Remote assessments in the testing industry have evolved significantly within the past year due to COVID-19. But while the pandemic may have launched remote assessments to the forefront, the industry has been moving to a hybrid environment to provide more accessible options to all students.

According to the World Health Organization, more than 1 billion people live with a disability – 15 percent of the world’s population – and the number continues to increase. Individuals may also face specific circumstances that limit their testing or learning abilities, such as people who are chest feeding, candidates who live far away from test centers, or individuals with mobility issues.

Remote exams, which were once considered an accommodation, have become a critical modality for organizations who want to meet test takers where they are. Twenty years ago, testing programs had only recently moved to computer-based test centers, providing a consistent, secure environment for candidates. Now, testing organizations are broadly increasing accessibility by offering remote solutions to enable testing for all candidates and students, anytime, anywhere. The Association of Test Publishers (ATP) recently launched a remote accessibility pledge that encourages the industry to provide solutions so that “every individual is provided with equitable and fair access to take an assessment,” supporting feedback the industry has received from candidates who want access to assessments on their own terms.

The industry was already heading in the direction of remote assessments, and the pandemic was the catalyst to remote assessments’ rapid integration into education. At Prometric, we witnessed a 500 percent increase among clients that needed to move to remote assessments due to COVID-19. Consistent evaluation and innovations will be needed to ensure all students and test takers have access to fair, accessible assessments. It’s up to all of us who serve these populations to continue doing our part in working towards this solution.

When we look at accessibility standards, it is important to consider how assistive technology can be deployed to individuals that have limits to their learning abilities. Electronic screen readers, for example, allow students to use spoken text across a screen to reinforce reading skills. Another example includes 508 compliance, designed to ensure individuals with disabilities have a clear understanding of content. Adopting 508 as a core component to assessment testing is another way companies can improve accessibility standards.

In addition to having technology compliance that meets accessibility standards, there are other features that can be implemented to ensure an assessment is accessible from the start beyond traditional accommodations:

  1. Flexible Scheduling: Test takers can choose their own schedule any day of the year.
  2. Item Highlighting: Candidates can highlight items in the assessment as they move their way through the exam, helping them to focus on the important parts of the exam and digest content.
  3. Digital Scratchpad: Candidates have access to “scrap paper” to jot down notes or outline a response. This allows test takers to have a similar experience to that of an in-person exam.
  4. In-Exam Live Chat: Candidates can speak with the remote proctor in case of questions.
  5. Self-Guided Exam Setup: Candidates can confirm computer requirements to ensure their system is capable of running the test before the assessment starts.
  6. Second Changes: Students may have the opportunity to retake one exam section without the additional stress and cost of another full exam.
  7. 24/7 Access: Candidates can take their assessment at a time that is most convenient for them.
  8. Hybrid Option: Depending on the test sponsor’s requirements, those who prefer in-center assessments or need additional accommodations can complete the assessment in-person. 

Many of these features are included in Prometric’s ProProctorTM remote assessment platform, however, even with these features, we must constantly look for new capabilities to integrate into solutions as the needs of the people and organizations we serve are constantly changing. The industry, test sponsors, and their assessment development and delivery partners must review capabilities based on emerging technologies and candidate feedback to anticipate needs, as opposed to addressing accessibility only when it becomes an issue. True accessibility starts at the beginning.

As we move away from the COVID-19 pandemic, programs are likely to keep utilizing remote assessments as an option, but there will be a greater focus on the future of remote assessment technology to support secure, multimodality solutions. There is no returning to strictly in-person only testing or learning; hybrid models are the future and must incorporate accessibility to continue candidates’ and students’ success.