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Success Stories out of the Institute of Education Sciences' SBIR Program: Nimble Tools

Nimble Tools

Last Updated: March, 2023


NimbleTools was a universally designed test delivery system consisting of hardware and software that embedded accommodation tools within standard versions of assessment to meet the specific needs of students with disabilities. Examples of NimbleTools included a keyboard with custom keyboard overlays for students with sensory motor difficulties, read aloud capabilities for students who have reading difficulties, magnification of text and images for students with visual impairments, and an onscreen avatar that presented questions in American Sign Language or Signed English for students who are deaf or hard of hearing (see the image above).

Research and Development:

In prior IES funded projects in 2004 and 2008 and through other grants, a team of researchers developed and validated novel forms of technology delivered assessments, including projects to understand assessments to understand sources of difficulties and misconceptions that hinder learning and that generate insights to inform educator intervention. The foundational research in these projects was extended through the ED/IES SBIR project to develop assessments that can be used at scale in education practice to accommodate for the needs of students with disabilities.

All components of the accommodation tools were developed and refined iteratively with feedback from users at multiple points. Development of signed versions of item content was conducted in collaboration with experts at Vcom3d, a company that specializes in signing avatars. Throughout the project, code was developed using Flex to support the rapid development of stable and scalable code. To make the product market ready, specific interfaces were designed to support the use of NimbleTools for science, mathematics, reading, and writing tests. Research on more than 2,600 students demonstrated the feasibility and validity of the tools as a method to meet the identified access needs of the students being assessed. In addition, performance findings from state science test administrations revealed a positive relationship between increased scores among students using NimbleTools on standardized tests versus similar students who used traditional paper-based test accommodations. More information on the research is presented in the peer reviewed publications listed below.


In September, 2010, Nimble Assessment Systems was acquired by Measured Progress, a New Hampshire-based non-profit organization that in 2018 merged with AdvancED, and in 2019 became a new company, Cognia. Measured Progress specialized in developing state- and district-level assessments and provided alternate assessments for students with cognitive disabilities. Measured Progress incorporated NimbleTools into its suite of products and services designed to improve the quality of assessment of all students. In the years after the acquisition, NimbleTools was employed for operational test delivery of the NECAP program and was used for assessments in public schools in the state of Rhode Island.

Related IES Projects:

  • Bridging the Gap: Applying Algebra Cognition Research to Develop and Validate Diagnostic Classroom Algebra Testlet (R305H040099)
  • The Diagnostic Geometry Assessment Project (R305A080698)

Peer Reviewed Publications from this R&D:

  • Russel, M.; Hoffman, T.; & Higgins, J. (2009) NimbleTools: A Universally Designed Test Delivery System. Teaching Exceptional Children. 42, (2).
  • Russel, M.; Higgins, J.; & Hoffman, T. (2009). Meeting the Needs of All Students: A Universal Design Approach to Computer-Based Testing. Innovate. 5, (4).
  • Russel, M.; Kavanaugh, M.; Masters, J.; Higgins, J.; & Hoffman, T. (2009). Computer-Based Signing Accommodations: Comparing a Recorded Human with an Avatar. Journal of Applied Testing Technology. 10, (3).


  • Russell, M. & Kavanaugh, M. (2011). Assessing Students in the Margins: Challenges, Strategies, and Techniques.
  • Russell, M. & Airasian, P. W. (2011). Classroom Assessment: Concepts and Applications, 7th Edition. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.


  • 2008 — NimbleTools was recognized with the Da Vinci Award for Accessibility and Universal Design by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Michigan Chapter.