Student Perceptions of Assessment Accommodations: An Analysis of Power

Year: 2019

Author: Nieminen, Juuso

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This study investigates the issues of power that underlie assessment accommodations in higher education. Assessment accommodations, such as extended testing time or a personal room during testing, are commonly referred to simply as a 'menu of services'. However, these accommodations, even though often based on warm-hearted intentions, are also rarely built on evidence-based practice. Also, since they are known to be potentially controversial and even discriminatory, there is a need for analysis of the power structures that underlie them. Three contrasting notions of power (sovereign power, epistemological power and disciplinary power) were used to analyse the experiences of the students themselves. In this study, ten mathematics students with learning and/or mental disabilities shared their experiences of testing accommodations in a narrative interview. A data-driven thematic content analysis and a theory-based elaborative coding process followed. According to the results, the students had experienced unfair and shameful moments while participating in modified testing situations, a clear manifestation of unilateral sovereign power. Epistemological power could be identified in the ways in which the students normalised the idea of how mathematical knowledge should be tested. Also, disciplinary power could be seen in the ways in which assessment accommodations helped to construct exclusion through discourse rather than working as inclusive practices enabling equal access to assessment practices. This study suggests that it is crucial to hear the voice of the students who use the assessment accommodations administered for them in order to shed light on the power structures that might create inequity and injustice; a process that could be identified from these ten student interviews. To conclude, it is argued that there is a need to further understand power relations underlying assessment accommodations rather than framing them as simple, objective practices.