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Maidstone mother creates petition to help dyslexic students during exam time

Alexandra Castle with her daughter Maddie

A mother in Maidstone, Kent, UK, started a petition for dyslexia-friendly exam papers after witnessing her daughter’s struggles with exams.

The petition has found many supporters, having already been signed by almost 10,000 people, reported Kent Online.

Alexandra Castle, whose 15-year-old daughter Maddie has dyslexia, began the campaign after failing to see any action from the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance (AQA) and Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) since first filing a complaint last December.

The petition asks for the creation of a standard double-line spaced format of exam papers, specifically for dyslexic students.

The 49-year-old mother said the only accommodation currently available is larger text for students with vision disabilities.

Alexandra said the new suggested format is a ‘cost-free’ option that will help to improve dyslexic students’ reading skills and overall performance in exams.

Maddie attends Invicta Grammar School for Girls in Maidstone.  She was diagnosed with dyslexia at age 10, after a teacher saw a notable decrease in her grades. He noticed that as she got older, Maddie ran out of time on her exams because it was taking her longer to read the questions.

The AQA responded to Alexandra in July, stating that students could get the same effect of double-line spacing by simply placing a blank sheet of paper over the line below the one that they are reading.

She said, “That statement shows they know full well there’s a problem, and they’re not willing to solve it. They are expecting the student to make this adjustment that is within their gift to make.”

Alexandra launched the petition feeling she “had been left no choice” after so many requests and no effort to change on the Department of Education’s end.

The JCQ said it had not adopted a double-line spaced format specifically for dyslexic students because it had never been recommended by experts.

The spokesperson explained dyslexic students can, however, benefit from access arrangements that have been created to assist students with vision disabilities.

A JCQ spokesperson said, “The Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) has tried and trusted access arrangements, which allow candidates with special educational needs, disabilities or temporary injuries to access examinations and assessments.

“Exam boards already provide papers in a variety of formats for dyslexic and other students, including in enlarged fonts with extra line spacing.

“JCQ and the exam boards ensure the views and professional opinions of disability groups are taken into consideration when developing access arrangements.

“The provision of modified enlarged exam papers for candidates with visual impairments has been developed and refined over many years. JCQ and the exam boards have, and will continue to, consult with organisations such as the British Dyslexic Association, Royal National Institute of Blind People and Qualified Teachers of the Visually Impaired to ensure the available access arrangements remain appropriate and reasonable.”

The current accommodations for students with reading disabilities include reading pens, coloured paper, enlarged exam papers from A4 to A3, and a human or computer reader.

The Maidstone mother disagreed with JCQ’s statement, saying the extra line spacing and enlarged font are not enough.

She said, “You can make the letters bigger, and yes, the space does get bigger. But the point is, the space between the words and letters remains exactly the same, the page still looks crowded.”

She added that the current access arrangements are very expensive for schools.

Technology such as reading pens – which scan the text and read it out loud – could cost up to £240 each, bearing in mind each student needs two – one for class and another for exams. An alternative method would be having someone read the text aloud to the student, but many students don’t like this option as it singles them out.

Alexandra hopes this petition can at least raise awareness for the issue, saying, “With a 10-15% of the population estimated to be dyslexic, people would just assume this support exists.

“I’ve tried all reasonable avenues and a few spurious ones to boot, just trying to get exams in an accessible format.”

To sign the petition, go to https://www.change.org

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