AAC Fair Testing Practices: Implementation & Beyond

November 22, 2021 by - Leave your thoughts

AAC Fair Testing Practices: Implementation & Beyond
A- A+

Fair testing practices based on individual needs, abilities, and priorities can be a game-changer for people who use AAC. These are created when teams* come together to engage in collaborative problem-solving and develop a set of guidelines that address an important question: How can we assess this individual so that we are tapping into what they actually know? 

You can see previous posts in this series here.

Today, we explore two final topics. First, we’ll think about the transition from planning our AAC fair testing practices to actually implementing them. Secondly, we’ll consider ways to continue the conversation about these practices with an eye on continuing to refine them over time.


Implementation: How can we ensure that FTPs are implemented as designed?

It’s no small thing when teams come together for honest and productive dialogue around meeting the needs for individuals who use AAC and cannot be meaningfully assessed in the standard way. Finding the time to collaborate. Having the courage to release control and share power. Negotiating differences of opinions. There is no shortage of obstacles to this process.

In a perfect world, when teams DO come together to develop AAC fair testing practices for an individual student, we honor that work through careful and thoughtful implementation. In reality, though, that outcome can be elusive. Here are some tips for helping teams move from thinking and planning these guidelines to actually using them

  • Memorialize the Plan: As teams are developing the plan for how to test individuals in different assessment situations, lots of ideas will be shared and considered. Keep notes and records of the things that are being discussed. To quote David Beukelman’s editorial from 1985, “The weakest ink is stronger than the strongest memory.” 
  • Formalize the Plan: Name the work and give the plan a name, whether it is official-sounding and professional (e.g., AAC Fair Testing Practices for StudentName, StudentName’s Guide to Assessment) or playful and approachable, it can help to make this into a formal document. This legitimizes the decisions that the team made and makes it more likely that this important information will be used over time by the individual’s current and future services providers.
  • Add it to the IEP: Referring to the AAC Fair Testing Practices in the IEP can help team members recognize the important role that these play in the lives of AAC learners. It may be helpful to include these in the accommodations section of the document to ensure that all evaluators use the procedures developed by the team.
  • Create a Cheat Sheet: Develop a short, easy-to-read document that practitioners can use to remind themselves of specific aspects of the individual’s AAC Fair Testing Practices. Consider having sections for the most commonly used types of assessments that the AAC user encounters (e.g., quizzes requiring fill-in-the-blank responses; tests with multiple-choice questions). These can be a-priori checklists, one-page reminder documents, or visual supports regarding the steps or processes that need to be adapted.
  • Empower the AAC User: Teach and support the AAC user’s ability to know what their AAC fair testing practices are and interrupt assessments that fail to honor those. Provide access to pre-stored vocabulary, when appropriate, to make it easier and less stressful for AAC users to self-advocate. For example, we might work together to identify messages such as ‘Wait. This doesn’t seem right. Please re-read my Personal Testing Guide’ or ‘Where is the picture schedule for this? It helps me to have that so that I can see what you’re expecting me to do.’
    • In some situations, teams may also want to help AAC users develop the skills to discuss the testing experience with others and provide vocabulary/messages that can facilitate those conversations. For example, students can share positive experiences (e.g., “I liked it when she let me point to my answer.” “There was a picture schedule so I knew what was coming.”) as well as reporting back to the rest of the team about situations that did not go according to plan (e.g., “We were supposed to practice first so that I could get used to things. That didn’t happen.” “It was too long. I was so tired that I said anything just to get it over with.”).


Debriefing: What worked/didn’t work? What should be changed for future assessments?

No matter how skilled and insightful the team members are, and no matter how dedicated they are to testing with integrity, there will be hiccups and speed bumps when the plan is put into action. These are to be expected and are by no means a sign of failure. Instead, teams should look at this as a process that requires self-reflection and ongoing refinement.

This can be addressed in a variety of ways, such as:

  • Collaborative meetings to discuss what worked, what didn’t, and what changes need to be made;
  • A shared document where team members leave comments and feedbacks about their implementation experiences;
  • A group text, with appropriate permissions, to engage in e-conversations about the testing situation; and
  • Email threads to engage team members in ongoing problem-solving.

While AAC users have an important role in this whole process, their perspective is critical when debriefing. Consider getting their input on things like:

  • How they perceived the experience;
  • Whether the plan was implemented as designed;
  • Whether any problems were encountered, and, if so, how those were handled; and
  • Candid suggestions for future assessments.

While not all AAC users have the ability to fully describe their thoughts and experiences about AAC assessment, each of them can provide feedback in a meaningful way. For example, Olivia used Talking Mats to explain how she felt when using test adaptations for the first time. Marco was able to use rating scales to weigh in on how the assessment modifications worked for him. Other students may use their SGDs, manual signs, and other modes of communication to provide feedback on the experience. Consider what supports are needed to get their opinions and ideas.


For people who use AAC and are unable to show what they know through standard assessment procedures, adaptations such as the ones discussed in this series can make a big difference. Have you tried this high-impact strategy? We’d love to hear about it.


*Teams always include the AAC user, prioritizing their perspective whenever possible.

This series is based on the work of Proctor & Zangari (2009).

Proctor, L. A., & Zangari, C. (2009). Language assessment for students who use AAC. In G. Soto & C. Zangari (Eds.), Practically speaking: Language, literacy, and academic development for students with AAC needs (pp. 47–70). Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes. 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Filed under:

This post was written by Carole Zangari

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.