Education

Extended Time, Bilingual Dictionaries, and Test Items Read Aloud

By Mary Ann Zehr — October 15, 2008 2 min read
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Those are the three accommodations that states most frequently permit English-language learners to use while taking their state’s regular math and reading tests, new research shows. The first two accommodations—permitting extended test time and providing a word-to-word bilingual dictionary—are about equally frequent. They’re allowed in about three-quarters of states. About three-quarters of states also allow items on math tests to be read aloud to ELLs. About half of states permit items on reading or language-arts tests to be read aloud.

Researchers at George Washington University’s Center for Equity and Excellence in Education report this information and much more about states’ policies on testing accommodations for ELLs in a descriptive study, a “best practices” study, and a guide they expect to release on Thursday at the LEP Partnership meeting here in the nation’s capital. The researchers, Lynn Shafer Willner, Charlene Rivera, and Barbara D. Acosta, kindly sent me advance copies. They plan to post the three documents next week at the Web address, //ceee.gwu.edu/ellaccommodations, which isn’t yet live. Other researchers have investigated states’ policies on testing accommodations for ELLs, but not in nearly the same depth as have these researchers.

The package of two studies and a guide provides the latest advice based on research and professional judgment on how states can improve their policies on testing accommodations for ELLs. The researchers conclude that states have made progress since the 2000-01 school year in the extent to which their assessment policies focus on the needs of ELLs. But they also say that much more improvement is needed.

For example, only a few states include criteria for how educators should take into consideration student background characteristics (beyond the fact that the students are ELL) when assigning a particular testing accommodation, they say. The researchers would like to see all states providing guidance for how specific accommodations should be matched to students’ characteristics. One recommendation in the best practices study is that states should offer accommodations according to ELLs’ different levels of literacy in English and their native language.

The guide points to some models in state policies. It includes, for instance, a one-page flow chart, or “decision tree,” that Ohio uses for assigning accommodations for its academic content tests. Here is a question that could be used in helping to decide whether to provide a Spanish bilingual test booklet: “Has the student been instructed in Spanish at grade level and/or is the student literate in written Spanish at grade level?”

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.

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