A Voice for Accessibility in Standardized Testing

As a student double majoring in Professional Writing and Journalism, senior Emily Cervone has always enjoyed writing and doing research. She is using those skills, as well as her position as an Educational Technology staff member with the College of Arts & Letters, to research issues in standardized testing.

portrait of a girl with brown hair and glasses sitting on white window sill
Emily Cervone

Last year, Cervone researched race, class, and ethnic biases in standardized testing. But after speaking to an intelligent high school student who received a 15 on his ACT due to his dyslexia, she switched her focus to addressing accessibility issues that affect students with learning and cognitive disabilities.

“I am able to take these students’ experiences and become a voice for people who typically wouldn’t have a platform to speak about this,” Cervone said.

To begin her research, Cervone contacted the Resource Center for Persons with Disabilities (RCPD) on MSU’s campus and requested to speak with students who may have dealt with accessibility issues when taking standardized tests. Within 48 hours, she received about 30 emails, phone calls, and text messages of students who were interested in sharing their stories.

I try to go about everything in my life with a humanistic perspective.

“The first interview I had lasted two hours; I didn’t think it was going to last that long,” Cervone said. “There were people crying and just talking about the struggles they’ve had with standardized testing, and that’s when it became bigger than just a research project for me.”

After collecting quotes from about 15 interviews, Cervone found that it becomes increasingly difficult for students to receive accommodations on standardized testing as they advance in their academic careers. For many of the students, the topic was incredibly emotional.

“I’ve written or helped write a lot of articles on some pretty hard-hitting stuff, including sexual assault, teen pregnancy, and transgender issues,” Cervone said. “Even so, I have never had the amount of emotional responses from any other story as I had with this project.”

woman presenting next to projection in front of people sitting at desks

Cervone presented her findings at MSU’s Making Learning Accessible Conference at the Kellogg Hotel & Conference Center on December 2. Instead of simply presenting the audience with statistics and numbers, she approached the topic in a subject-oriented matter and told personal stories from her interviews.

“I try to go about everything in my life with a humanistic perspective,” she said. “You can state the numbers, but there are people behind those numbers, and if you don’t get those peoples’ opinions on the topic, your research is useless.”

As an aspiring employee of the U.S. Department of Education, Cervone was excited to see individuals from the Michigan Department of Education in the audience.

I’m really lucky to be in a college that values people working toward the common good and that is always building people up.

“It made me feel like I was up in the big leagues with them,” she said. “They told me they enjoyed my presentation, and it was really overwhelming and rewarding to hear that from people I look up to so much.”

Cervone credits her success on this project to the collaborative environment of the College of Arts & Letters.

“I’m really lucky to be in a college that values people working toward the common good and that is always building people up,” she said. “That’s why I’m so glad to be a part of CAL for the past three years.”

Cervone will continue working on her research project until she graduates this May. Her ultimate goal is to reinvent accessibility in standardized testing by presenting her findings to the College Board. 

Written by Alexandria Drzazgowski, Professional Writing Majo