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Considerations for Universally Designed Assessment Items

Assesments in Classroom-Universal Design Learning

Does the item measure what it intends to measure?


  • Reflect the intended content standards (reviewers have information about the content being measured)?
  • Minimize knowledge and skills required beyond what is intended for measurement?

Does the item respect the diversity of the assessment population?


  • Sensitive to test taker characteristics and experiences (consider gender, age, ethnicity, socio-economic level, region, disability, and language)?
  • Avoid content that might unfairly advantage or disadvantage any student subgroup?

Is there a clear format for text?


  • Is there a standard typeface?
  • Twelve (12) point minimum size for all print, including captions, footnotes, and graphs (type size appropriate for age group), and adaptable font size for computers?
  • Is there a high contrast between color of text and background?
  • Are there sufficient blank spaces (leading) between lines of text?
  • Are the margins staggered to the right, not just right justification?

Are there clear visuals — when essential to the item?


  • Visuals are needed to answer the question?
  • Visuals have clearly defined features (minimum use of gray scale and shading)?
  • Sufficient contrast between colors?
  • Color alone is not relied on to convey important information or distinctions?
  • Visuals are labeled?

Is the text concise and readable?


  • Commonly used words (except vocabulary being tested)?
  • Vocabulary appropriate for grade level?
  • Minimum use of unnecessary words?
  • Idioms avoided unless idiomatic speech is being measured?
  • Technical terms and abbreviations avoided (or defined) if not related to the content being measured?
  • Sentence complexity is appropriate for grade level?
  • Question to be answered is clearly identifiable?

Can changes to the format be made without changing the meaning or difficulty of the text? (This includes visual or memory load)?


  • Allows for the use of braille or other tactile format?
  • Allows for signing to a student?
  • Allows for the use of oral presentation to a student?
  • Allows for the use of assistive technology?
  • Allows for translation into another language?


Source: Johnstone, C., Thurlow, M., Moore, M., & Altman, J. (2006). Using Systematic item selection methods to improve universal design of assessments (Policy Directions 18). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, National Center on Educational Outcomes. Retrieved February 2007, from the World Wide Web: http://education.umn.edu/NCEO/OnlinePubs/Policy18/.