VISUAL PROCESSING DISABILITIES, STRESSED WORKING MEMORY AND ACCESSING THE SCIENCE CURRICULUM
Impediments in processing speed place an extra load on working memory, which typically has a retainment time of seconds. Interference with working memory will negatively impact a student’s ability to remember all the components of a visually-loaded prompt, and thus lower the student’s success in using visually accessed data to correctly solve problems. A common practice during high-stakes science exams is the expectation that students bring together data from two or three different graphs/charts to correctly solve a complex problem. If visual processing difficulties impede working memory when only one graph is examined, the problem is exacerbated when increasing the number of visual prompts to the task.
Equitable mitigation of visual processing disabilities is not achieved by making the science curriculum less rigorous; but by recognizing the increased cognitive load and altering prompts (i.e. visual chunking, increasing the size of graphs, increasing font within graphs, increasing visual contrast) to reduce visual processing time and increase retention of visually attained information. Consideration must be given, especially during high-stakes testing, as to the intent of the questions at hand. If the intent is to test a student’s knowledge of the curriculum and concepts therein, that can be done by reducing the visual load of test prompts.