Further to a ruling by the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ), students with learning difficulties such as dyslexia who were typically challenged in exam conditions can now legally use text-to-speech software, such as Read&Write GOLD from Texthelp Ltd. Read&Write GOLD has been designed to improve reading and writing and aids comprehension of on-screen text.
According to the Department for Education, 17% of school children have some form of special educational needs (SEN) such as dyslexia and may have visual difficulties in reading on-screen or tracking where they are on the page or screen.
Mark McCusker, CEO of Texthelp states, “A reduction in coursework, which in the past has contributed significantly to each student’s overall grade, has put many SEN students at a disadvantage due to difficulties they may have with their thought processing speed and reading and writing. However, there are tools that can level the playing field and it is important that schools and students are aware that support is available.”
Depending on the results of the student’s SEN assessment, they may also have the option to use a spell checker and a homophone checker (to help distinguish between words which sound the same but have different meanings – e.g. there and their) in the exam. This can be switched on or off within Read&Write GOLD and helps improve the accuracy of written answers.
Julie Yaxley, Student Assessor and Educational Consultant, uses the software with her students and states, “The benefit of this technology is to make students as independent as possible and ready for the workplace or further education. Reading software helps those students that need to have something read aloud for comprehension and frees them up so that they are not stuck on decoding a single word and forgetting what the question was about.”
Many schools and students are unaware that support tools are available to help students with SEN, as Mandy Thompson, SENCO, Harvue House explains. “Schools thinking of providing literacy aids for children with learning difficulties should be assured that the technology is easy to use and can benefit the student enormously. The fact that assistive technology can be used in exams is good news and needs to be publicised more to students and teachers.”
A greater focus on exams over coursework puts students with dyslexia at a disadvantage as Dominic Llewellyn-Jones, Communications Officer, the British Dyslexia Association explains, “The move to more exam-based qualifications will affect those with dyslexia who have difficulty trying to recall information under time pressure. The use of technology in the exam room is a step in the right direction and will benefit students with SEN.”
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