• Law students with Dyslexia and their experience of academic assessment

      Newton, Jethro; Davies, Chantel; Healey, Ruth L.; Morrow, John W. (University of Chester, 2017-10)
      The research explores the experience that students with Dyslexia, on law degrees, have of academic assessment, and the environmental factors that influence their experience and perceptions. The research is situated in one HEI (the Research Institution), which has a student population of 18,800, of which 634 had declared a Specific Learning Difficulty (SpLD) (including Dyslexia) during the academic year 2014/15. Previous research has shown that students with Dyslexia are disadvantaged by traditional forms of academic assessment. Whilst little research has been carried out on Dyslexia and law degrees, the predominance of traditional approaches to assessment is commonly believed to disadvantage students with Dyslexia. This potential disadvantage is explored within the Research Institution (RI). In light of their obligation under the Equality Act 2010 to take reasonable steps to alleviate such disadvantages, specific consideration is given to the RI’s response to potential disadvantages faced by such students. In order to facilitate this objective a multiple-methods approach has been utilised for gathering data. Data has been collected through questionnaires, focus groups and interviews, with law students with and without Dyslexia, with lecturers inside and outside the law school, and with student support staff and other professionals. The range of data was then analysed, utilising an inductive approach. Five main themes emerged, and were explored using a social model of Dyslexia and from an emancipatory perspective. The themes are: 1) diagnosis and categorisation of Dyslexia; 2) the students’ experience of academic assessment; 3) the students’ experience of adjustments to academic assessment; 4) the impact of the law school environment on the experience of students with Dyslexia, and 5) the effect of the wider institutional environment and institutional policy and practice on the experiences and perceptions of how students with Dyslexia, and how they are responded to. The data collected pointed to the fact that students with Dyslexia struggled with traditional academic assessment, to a more significant degree than students without Dyslexia. While reasonable adjustments were provided by the institution to help students with Dyslexia overcome such difficulties, and whilst these were helpful to some extent, their overall effectiveness was shown to be limited. The main reasons for the student experiences that emerged from the research were related to the fact that, due to their Dyslexia, the forms of assessment used by their department presented a direct difficulty for students. Traditional forms of assessment utilised on law degrees are therefore considered to be a ‘disabling barrier’, as they inhibit students with Dyslexia from fully demonstrating their academic ability. The thesis then presents pointers to how law degree providers can respond to this issue. It is argued that this can be achieved by adjusting assessment methods in a way that removes, or at least reduces, the ‘disabling barriers’ faced by law students with Dyslexia. The research suggests that this is made possible by utilising a broader range of assessment methods beyond those traditionally utilised in law degrees. It also details how the individualistic nature of Dyslexia means that the most effective means of improving inclusivity for all students is to provide them with elements of choice as to the form of assessment adopted. The research concludes with proposals for alleviating the disadvantage experienced by law students with Dyslexia in respect of their experience of the academic assessment process and academic assessment outcomes. It is argued that to enhance the quality of their learning opportunities, and in order to be inclusive, academic assessment policy and practice should be informed by/premised upon a social interpretation of Dyslexia.