The use of computer readers in exams

05 June 2018

Claro Software has released information to help examination and assessment centres make informed decisions about whether to use human readers or Computer Readers with text to speech software in examinations.

The Equality Act 2010 means that an awarding body has to make reasonable adjustments where a disabled person would be at a substantial disadvantage in undertaking an assessment. 

Many schools recruit and train human readers for the short examination season while others redeploy teaching assistants and other support staff. Whichever route schools and colleges choose, there is a considerable cost.

Who is eligible for reading support?
The JCQ (Joint Council for Qualifications) has issued guidance on 'reasonable adjustments' for candidates who have such disabilities or conditions.

Among others, these conditions include:
• Persistent and significant difficulty in reading and understanding written material in the person’s native language
• Difficulty understanding or following simple verbal instruction
• Persistent distractibility or difficulty concentrating
• If a student has trouble reading, it may be caused by visual discomfort and distortion of print on the page or screen causing eye-strain or headaches.

The second most frequently granted access arrangement is a reader - either a person or computer software that reads out the questions to candidates with a learning difficulty or a visual impairment that affects their reading.

A candidate is entitled to a reader (human or text to speech software) if they have scored below the average range in a standardised test of their reading.

The JCQ’s view is that a computer reader must only be available to a candidate who is defined as disabled under the meaning of the Equality Act.

To qualify as the candidate’s ‘normal way of working’, text to speech must be used in routine schoolwork, class tests, end of year examinations and mock examinations. 

In facts and figures:
• £5 million per year is spent on human readers across England and Wales
• There were 58,950 approved requests for a reader in 2014/15.
• The most frequently granted reasonable adjustment is 25% extra time. 
• There were 284,300 requests for access arrangements in 2014/2015, 255,850 of which were approved.  

Computer readers vs human readers: 
A human reader may stress particular words which could give an unfair advantage to a candidate or repeat phrases at different speeds which could cause confusion.

Computer readers recite the same text at the same speed in the same voice time after time.

Text to speech software may help candidates who:
• Read slowly or with difficulty
• Find they get visual stress when they read large quantities of text
• Have problems concentrating when they are reading
• Find it hard to follow lines of text with their eyes.

There are two key advantages of text to speech in schools and colleges:
• Computer Readers with human quality text to speech improves a candidate’s ability to work independently and can be used in more examinations than a human reader.
• Cost. An increasing number of candidates require reading support.

What Claro offers: 
ClaroRead is one of Europe’s most popular examples of a Computer Reader software with human quality text to speech voices. It is simple to use and helps candidates
access text independently, in many languages.

ClaroRead SE does not include a spell check or homophone check, so is ideal for students sitting exams.

ClaroRead can speak any on-screen text out loud and is perfectly integrated with Microsoft Word and Adobe Reader. With ClaroRead Plus and Pro, scanned books
and documents are read back with complete clarity.

Claro also offers popular tablet Computer Reader app ClaroPDF and Claro ScanPen app. See more at www.claro-apps.com.

Sean Douglas, the founder of Codpast and who has dyslexia, said: 
"When you’re in a pressurised environment and need to read quickly and accurately, text to speech can be a godsend. I wonder why text to speech isn’t more widely used
in exams..."

The next step for schools: 
The JCQ stipulates:
• The special educational needs coordinator (SENCO) must lead the access arrangements process within his/her centre.
• Teaching staff and senior leadership team must support the SENCO.
• The SENCO must work with staff and exams office personnel to ensure that approved access arrangements are put in place for internal school tests, mock examinations and examinations.
• The centre must assess each potential learner and make judgements about the learner’s potential and the support that will be made available to them.

Schools need to identify pupils who require extra support in exams and train them as early as possible, ideally from when they join the school. If they are using a Computer Reader, they need to have it available in class and for homework.

Claro Software will be exhibiting a the Tes SEN Show (5-6 Oct, London). Find out more about them here or register now to visit them on stand P28 at the show.