Historically, many instructors and students have relied extensively on the Assessment Center to provide test proctoring services for students with disabilities including those eligible for a
'distraction-reduced environment' for exams. When the SAC campus transitioned to remote instruction and support services due to the COVID pandemic, students largely self-managed their testing environments. During the Fall, 2021 semester, SAC began the gradual process of restoring on-campus instruction and support services.
As part of the campus reopening process, the Assessment Center re-opened for test proctoring for students with testing accommodations----though on a limited basis on specific days and times. While this limited reopening will meet the needs of many instructors and students with disabilities, it won't address the scheduling requirements for every situation. Until test proctoring for students with accommodations--including those eligible for a distraction-reduced environment--is fully restored,
instructors may need to be more flexible and creative in collaborating
with students and the Assessment Center to ensure that this
accommodation is available for students.
Characteristics of Distraction-Reduced Environments
There is no single, authoritative set of criteria that define a distraction-reduced testing environment for purposes of compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). For that reason, the guidance below is intended as a starting point that may be tailored to the specific resources available from the campus, the course department, and the course instructor. DSPS Faculty advisors are available for consultation to answer questions, address concerns, and brainstorm solutions. Our goal is to ensure that students receive their prescribed accommodations while minimizing to the fullest extent possible the logistical demands associated with providing these accommodations.
General Considerations for Both Face-to-Face and Synchronous Online Courses
- Recommendation: When feasible, deliver assessments online rather than face-to-face.
- Rationale: Online assessments provide more flexibility for students with disabilities to select a location that meets their accommodation needs (e.g. reduced distractions, access to prescribed adaptive software/hardware).
- Recommendation: When feasible, allow students who request distraction-reduced testing to complete their assessment in a smaller group during a different time of day (if faculty or staff schedules allow this option and there are no significant, reasonable concerns regarding academic integrity).
- Rationale: This reduces the amount of potential auditory or visual stimuli that may occur during the assessment.
Specific Considerations for Face-to-Face Courses
- Recommendation: If there is
a suitable workspace (e.g. offices, labs, or meeting rooms) adjacent to
the classroom available during face-to-face assessments, consider
allowing students with a distraction-reduction accommodation to use
that space (unless there are significant, reasonable concerns
regarding academic integrity).
- Rationale: This most closely meets the intended purpose for prescribing a reduced distraction assessment environment.
- Recommendation: If the department has access to materials that support limited visual masking (e.g. carrels, opaque plexiglass), explore the feasibility of this option.
- Rationale: This can significantly reduce the impact of both auditory and visual environmental stimuli.
- Recommendation: Allow students to select their seating location within the assessment location (e.g. facing the corner or away from windows and doors).
- Rationale: This allows students to position themselves to minimize or avoid distracting stimuli.
- Recommendation: Allow students to wear earplugs or noise-canceling headphones (disconnected from devices for reasons of academic integrity).
- Rationale: These devices help reduce the extent of distracting auditory stimuli in the environment.
- Recommendation: If the assessment space permits it, allow students to physically position themselves so they are facing away from other students. Alternatively, allow students the option to wear hats that restrict their peripheral field of vision.
- Rationale: These devices help reduce the extent of distracting visual stimuli in the environment.
- Recommendation: Provide clear guidance to students regarding late arrivals and those who finish early. Set an expectation that entering/leaving will be conducted in the least disruptive manner possible.
- Rationale: This both reduces distracting stimuli for all students and is part of nurturing a culture of respect.
- Recommendation: Provide clear guidance to students regarding the discrete use of personal items during assessments.
- Rationale: While some instructors want to support adequate hydration during long exams, some plastic water bottles can cause loud noises if they compress while the student is drinking.
- Recommendation: Disallow the use of pencil sharpeners during assessments. As an alternative, allow students to borrow pre-sharpened pencils.
- Rationale: Pencil sharpeners can be quite loud and distracting for many students.
- Recommendation: Confirm that the classroom features either a digital clock or an analog clock that does not feature a ‘ticking’ sound.
- Rationale: While the noise from an analog clock is typically not loud, its persistence can be extremely distracting for some students.
Specific Considerations for Synchronous (Zoom-based) Online Courses
- Recommendation: When feasible, provide students a range of time for completing online assessments.
- Rationale: Providing a range of time allows students to complete their assessments when their available environments are most conducive (presence of fewer people, more internet bandwidth).
- Recommendation: During Zoom proctoring, consider muting your microphone except when there is a need to directly communicate with students.
- Rationale: While Zoom now enables background noise masking by default, some instructor microphones are sufficiently sensitive that students can hear background noise (e.g. ceiling fans, AC units, cars driving by, etc.).
- Recommendation: During Zoom proctoring, allow (or perhaps encourage) students to hide the video frames for the other students.
This both reduces distracting visual stimuli and avoids triggering
anxiety for students concerned well after other students.
- Recommendation: During Zoom proctoring, do not
require all students to leave their microphones on at all times (unless
there are significant, reasonable concerns regarding academic
- Rationale: This reduces distracting auditory stimuli and—when paired with students hiding the video frames of other students—reduces the likelihood that students will become distracted by other students finishing before them.
- Recommendation: If you plan to provide ‘time-remaining’ announcements, consider providing them via Chat post instead of (or in addition to) oral announcements.
- Rationale: Students who are easily startled by sudden noises may turn down their volume during exams but will still see the Chat post. Students with auditory processing issues may better understand the visual reminder in the Chat.
- Recommendation: During Zoom proctoring, position yourself so that students cannot see activity occurring around you or behind you (or activate a background that masks these activities).
- Rationale: Movement or changes to light behind you may be very visually distracting to students.