Guideline 2: Provide options for language and symbols in directions and stimuli.

Students vary in their facility with different forms of representation , both linguistic and non-linguistic. Vocabulary that may sharpen and clarify concepts for one student may be opaque and foreign to another. A graph that illustrates the relationship between two variables may be informative to one student and inaccessible or puzzling to another. A picture or image that carries one meaning for some students may carry very different meanings for students from differing cultural or familial backgrounds. As a result, inequalities arise when information is presented to all students through a single form of representation. An important assessment strategy is to ensure that alternative representations are provided, not only for accessibility but for clarity and comprehensibility to all students.

Image of student and materials (a) image of a pig, (b) block letters P I G, and (c) paper and pencil used to write the word "pig".

Using multiple methods to practice spelling words, student sees Image of a pig, places the letter blocks "p" and "i" in place to spell pig and then uses a pencil to write the word.

2.1 Options that define vocabulary and symbols

The semantic elements through which information is presented—the words, symbols, and icons—are differentially accessible to students with varying backgrounds, languages, lexical knowledge, and disabilities. To ensure accessibility of the assessment for all, construct irrelevant vocabulary, labels, icons, and symbols should be linked to, or associated with, alternate representations of their meaning (e.g., an embedded glossary or definition, a graphic equivalent) when appropriate. Construct irrelevant idioms, archaic expressions, culturally exclusive phrases, and slang should also be translated when appropriate.

" Doing What Works: Teach Vocabulary" - an informational website for teachers on vocabulary instruction for English Language Learners:

Resources on "Doing What Works: Develop Academic English" - see this informational website for teachers:

"Windows to the Universe" - informational website for teachers in providing science content in different areas:

2.2 Options that clarify syntax and structure

In assessment situations, single elements of meaning (like words or numbers) can be combined to make new meanings. Those new meanings, however, depend on students' understanding the rules or structures (like syntax in a sentence or the conventions of a formula) with which those elements are combined. When the syntax of a sentence or the structure of a graphic presentation is not obvious or familiar to students, intelligibility suffers. To ensure that all students have equal access to information, provide alternative representations that clarify, or make more explicit, the construct irrelevant relationships between elements of meaning.

Two images of AT. The first image, student using mouse at computer.

Student at computer using AT hears the text as it is entered and displayed with a grid structure to assist in composing sentences and stories.

The second image, screen the student sees and use of the mouse to select images for sentence.

Image of computer screen where student hears the text as it is entered and displayed.

2.3 Options for decoding text or mathematical notation

The ability to fluently decode words, numbers, or symbols that have been presented in an encoded format (e.g., visual symbols for text, haptic symbols for braille, algebraic numbers for quantity) takes years of practice for any student, and some students never reach automaticity. That lack of fluency or automaticity greatly increases the cognitive load of decoding, thereby reducing the capacity to comprehend and process information. To ensure that all students have equal access to assessment items, when the ability to decode is not the focus of the item, it is important to provide options that reduce the barriers that decoding raises for students who are unfamiliar or disfluent with the symbols.

2.4 Options that promote cross-linguistic understanding

The language of assessments are usually monolingual, but the students in the classroom often are not. Especially for new learners of the dominant language (e.g., English in U.S. schools), the accessibility of information is greatly reduced when no linguistic alternatives are available to provide entry points for non-native speakers of the dominant language. Providing alternatives as an option, especially for key information or vocabulary, is an important aspect of accessibility when language proficiency is not being tested.

2.5 Options that illustrate key concepts non-linguistically

Assessments are often dominated by information presented in text. But text is a weak format for presenting many concepts and processes. Furthermore, text is a particularly weak form of presentation for students who have text- or language-related disabilities. Providing alternatives—especially illustrations, simulations, images, or interactive graphics—can make the information presented in text more comprehensible for any student and accessible for some who would find it completely inaccessible in text.