Guideline 5: Provide options for expressive skills and fluency that maximize interaction and expression with the demands of an assessment item.

Image of an AT adaptive keyboard made by Intellikeys

An adaptive keyboard and custom overlay designed with eight cells providing points of entry to write a sentence. Images are seen in this example for the user to touch and make audio or printed output for communication.

There is no medium of expression that is equally suited for all students or for all kinds of communication. On the contrary, there are media that seem poorly suited or create barriers for some forms of expression and for some students. While a student with cerebral palsy may be able to communicate with oral story-telling, his ability to communicate may falter drastically when attempting to express that same story in writing due to fine motor challenges. Alternative modalities for expression should be provided both to level the playing field among students and to introduce all students to the full range of media that are important for communication and literacy in our multimedia culture. Additionally, students vary widely in their familiarity and fluency with the conventions of any one medium. Within media, therefore, alternative supports should be available to scaffold and guide students who are at different abilities of expression and communication without altering construct relevance.

5.1 Options in the media for communication

Unless specific media and materials are critical to an objective (e.g., the objective is to learn to paint specifically with oils or to learn to handwrite with calligraphy) or construct to be assessed, it is important to provide alternative media for expression. Such alternatives reduce media-specific barriers to expression among students with a variety of special needs but also increase the opportunities for all students to develop a wider palette of expression in a media-rich world.

Sentence created with a visual images paired with text.

A sentence created by a student using a writing grid is cut out and displayed on the page of a notebook as a record of the topic of a story.

Resources on "Create to Educate" - see this informational website for teachers:

Resources on "Augmentative and Alternative Communication" (AAC) - see this informational website:

5.2 Options in the tools for composition and problem solving

There is a pervasive tendency in schooling to focus on traditional tools for literacy rather than on contemporary ones. This tendency has several liabilities: (1) it does not prepare students for their future; (2) it limits the range of content and teaching methodologies that can be implemented; and, most important, (3) it restricts the kinds of students who can be successful. Modern media tools provide a more flexible and accessible tool kit with which students who have a variety of abilities and disabilities can more successfully articulate what they know. Unless an assessment or test item is focused on demonstrating ability to use a specific tool (e.g., draw with a compass), assessments and curricula should allow many alternatives. Of course, each assessment item should be evaluated to see that the alternative tool does not interfere with the construct relevance of the assessment item.

Two images of a picture book. In the first image there are 3 picture cards above the book.

Student using a picture book selects a symbol from three response options to answer a question posed in a story.

In the second image, a student is selecting one card in response to a question posed in the book.

Student has a picture book and cards with images. The story poses a question and the student selects an image card to indicate the response to the question.

Resources on "Dragon Naturally Speaking" - see this commercial website for teachers, administrators, and students:

5.3 Options in the scaffolds for practice and performance

Students who are developing a target skill often need multiple graduated scaffolds and multiple supports to help them as they practice and develop independence. The same supports used for access in the instructional setting should be available to the student in the assessment setting. Assessments should offer alternatives to the degree of freedom available, with supported opportunities (e.g., templates, physical and mnemonic scaffolds, procedural checklists, etc.) that do not interfere with the construct relevance of the item.

Image of 2 plastic rings overlapping one another, with 2 toy sailboats and 1 toy car. The toys are placed to categorize by mode of transport (wheels and not wheels).

Use of objects, plastic rings and toy vehicles to create a Tactile Venn diagram as a physical scaffold to help classify objects.

Resources article from Walden University "Autism Augmentative Communication & Assistive Technology" - see this article for teachers and administrators: