Small toy dinosaur paired with text.

An object (toy dinosaur) representing the word "dinosaur" is paired with the term in the text.

Decades of cognitive science research has demonstrated that the capability to transform accessible information into useable knowledge is an active process, not a passive one. Constructing useable knowledge—knowledge that is accessible for future decision-making—depends not on merely perceiving information but on active "information-processing skills," like selective attending, integrating new information with prior knowledge, strategic categorization, and active memorization. Individuals differ greatly in their skills in information processing, and in their access to prior knowledge through which they can assimilate new information. Proper design and presentation of assessment items can provide the construct irrelevant cognitive ramps that are necessary to ensure that all students have access to the information presented in test items.

3.1 Provide flexible directions and stimuli that supply or prime background knowledge

Information—facts, concepts, principles, or ideas—is more easily understood when it is presented in a way that primes, activates, or provides any prerequisite knowledge. Differential barriers and inequities exist when some students lack the background knowledge that is critical to answering test items correctly. Those barriers can be reduced when options are available that supply or activate construct irrelevant prior knowledge, or link elsewhere to the construct irrelevant prerequisite information.

Resources on "Teaching Strategies: Activating Prior Knowledge" - see this informational website for teachers, administrators and students: http://esolonline.tki.org.nz/

Resources for "TeacherVision: Activating Background Knowledge" - see this informational website for teachers, administrator, and students: http://www.teachervision.fen.com/skill-builder/reading-comprehension/48540.html

3.2 Provide flexible directions and stimuli that highlight critical features, ideas, and relationships

Wax circle around an important word in a sentence illustration of tactile highlighting.

Sentence in text and symbols with the word dinosaurs circled using wax string as a tactile highlight. www.widgit.com

One of the most effective ways to make information more accessible is to provide explicit cues or prompts that help individuals attend to those features that matter most while avoiding those that matter least. Depending upon the construct that the item is measuring, highlighting may emphasize (1) the critical features that distinguish one concept from another, (2) the ""big ideas"" that organize domains of information, (3) the relationships between disparate concepts and ideas, and (4) the relationships between new information and prior knowledge.

3.3 Provide flexible directions and stimuli that guide exploration and information processing

Successful transformation of information into useable knowledge often requires the application of mental strategies and skills for ""processing"" that information. These cognitive, or meta-cognitive, strategies involve the selection and manipulation of information so that it can be more effectively summarized, categorized, prioritized, contextualized, and remembered. While some students in an assessment situation may have a full repertoire of these strategies and the knowledge of when to apply them, most students do not. Well-designed assessment directions and stimuli can provide customized and embedded models, scaffolds, and feedback to assist students who have very diverse abilities and disabilities in using those strategies effectively.

3.4 Provide flexible directions and stimuli that facilitate memory and transfer

Cognitive scaffolds are likely to enhance retention for some students; however, other students have weaknesses or disabilities that will require explicit supports for memory and transfer in order to improve cognitive accessibility. In assessment directions and stimuli , construct-irrelevant supports for memory and transfer may include techniques that are designed to heighten the memorability of information, and those that prompt and guide students to employ explicit strategies.