These are the problems some California teachers had when they tested students with disabilities

By the time students with disabilities sat down to take California’s standardized tests last spring, they had been promised a set of new tools to help them better access the questions. But some teachers and administrators across the state have reported that this didn’t exactly happen.

The California Department of Education says it did not track issues related to the tools created for disabled students using the new tests, which were tied to the Common Core State Standards. Here are some examples of technological problems that popped up.

  • An overly robotic text-to-speech voice. Gabriela Aguirre, a curriculum specialist for special education in the Santa Ana Unified School District, said she was concerned that students using a text-to-speech tool could be distracted by the voice, which she described as “a bit robotic.”
  • Text-to-speech tools that read passages too quickly for students to follow. For students in Los Angeles, the problem occurred on their iPads. The district had them continue tests on laptops or desktop computers. San Francisco Unified assigned staff members to read the tests aloud to students. One of those teachers, Amy Buffington, gave the test to students at Glen Park School. “So we’re sitting there reading them questions while another student is working on a different problem,” she said. “It was distracting to them.”
  • American Sign Language signing that disappeared into a light-colored background. Gloria Olamendi, the coordinator for special education services for the Santa Ana Unified School District, said that students watching a video on the test had difficulty reading the hand signs over the interpreter’s light-colored clothing.
  • American Sign Language videos that used dialects unfamiliar to students. At the California School for the Deaf in Riverside, Stacey Hausman, the school’s testing coordinator and teaching specialist, said that interpreters were using signs unfamiliar to students. Students taking the math exams, for example, did not understand the sign used for the math term absolute value. “Their teacher used a different sign in class,” she explained.
  • Tests that didn’t allow Braille or screen magnification to be used at the same time as the text-to-speech tool. Stephanie Herlich of the California School for the Blind said that the problem was “a limitation of the test,” because the software for Braille and text magnification that students are accustomed to using is designed to have speech read out loud at the same time. “This affected all of the students” who used those programs, and the school had to assign staff members to read the test individually to them.
  • Braille that took so long to print out that students’ testing was constantly interrupted. Herlich estimates that 20% of staff time at the California School for the Blind was spent waiting for portions of the test to be printed out.

This article was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Read more about Common Core.