Skip to main content
Accessibility  |  Contact  |  Privacy  |  Terms of Service

Accessibility of English Language Proficiency Tests for People with Disabilities

  • Published: 2014-12-08 (Revised/Updated 2016-06-11) : Author: Educational Testing Service : Contact:
  • Synopsis: New white paper explores issues of accessibility for English learners with disabilities, including test design, delivery, uses in high-stakes accountability and need for additional research.

Main Document

"In 2010, nearly 10 percent of students attending elementary and secondary schools in the U.S. were ELs."

As the English-learner population continues to increase in number and diversity in the U.S., the challenge and importance of assessing all students, including students with disabilities, increases as well. A new white paper from Educational Testing Service (ETS) explores issues of accessibility for English learners with disabilities, including test design, delivery, uses in high-stakes accountability and the need for additional research.

Conceptualizing Accessibility for English Language Proficiency Assessments was written by Danielle Guzman-Orth and Cara Laitusis of ETS, in collaboration with Martha Thurlow and Laurene Christensen of the National Center on Educational Outcomes (NCEO) at the University of Minnesota.

"Assessing English-language proficiency (ELP) is a complicated task given the heterogeneity of that population," says Stephen Lazer, Vice President of Student and Teacher Assessments at ETS. "This white paper discusses these issues and research considerations to improve the ELP testing experience for all users."

Nearly every state in the United States has felt the impact of the increasing numbers of English learners (ELs).

In 2010, nearly 10 percent of students attending elementary and secondary schools in the U.S. were ELs. In that same year, the number of ELs with disabilities served through an individualized education program ranged from 0 percent in some states up to 31 percent.

The paper is particularly timely given the current mandates from the U.S. Department of Education that explicitly require that ELs with disabilities be included in the general or alternate ELP assessments without exception.

The authors note that attention to accessibility at the early stages of test development and throughout that process can help minimize the effects of construct-irrelevant variance. In their review of current test accessibility and accommodations practice, they identify challenges common to both computer- and paper-based testing; assessing first-time and young test takers; and assessing English learners with disabilities. Specifically, they reference disabilities such as vision and hearing disabilities; speech/language disability; learning disability; autism; and intellectual disability.

Under the broad category of technology innovations and accessibility, the authors reference the challenges of young test takers and technology novices; handwriting versus keyboarding skills; and computer access and familiarity. They also discuss how administering assessments by computer can provide opportunities for a more standardized approach to delivering student accommodations.

"Accessibility is for all test takers," says Guzman-Orth, Associate Research Scientist at ETS. "Many of the challenges discussed in this paper apply to ELs with disabilities, as well as the entire range of the K-12 EL population. Students taking ELP assessments can be young kindergartners or late-arrivals with limited formal educational experiences, so there is a need to broaden the definition of accessibility to include young and first-time test takers including technology novices. And, because of the heterogeneity of this EL population, including ELs with disabilities, it is very important to pay thoughtful attention to defining the construct the assessment is intended to measure and the purposes that the scores are to be used for."

"We're seeing the diverse population of English learners increasingly includes those who have disabilities," adds Thurlow, NCEO Director. "Ensuring appropriate access and accommodations for these students is critical to obtaining valid assessment results." Christensen, Research Associate at NCEO, says "our paper endorses taking an individualized approach to addressing the diverse needs of students taking an ELP assessment."

"In our paper, we also raise the need to reconcile the tension between assessment innovations to better measure ELP and the need to be accessible for a wide range of test takers, as required for federal accountability purposes," explains Laitusis, a Research Director at ETS. "These innovations must include accessibility and accommodations experts from the beginning to identify the challenges and paths to resolution to ensure the assessment innovation can be accessible to all students."

For more information, visit

Similar Topics

1 : Early Childhood Education Needs to be Accessible and Affordable : National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.
2 : Inclusive Teaching Project Aims to Get Missing Million Into School : University of Sussex.
3 : Examining Feelings of Inclusion Among Students with Disabilities : New York University (NYU).
4 : Exclusion From School Can Trigger Long-Term Psychiatric Illness : University of Exeter.
5 : Evidence Supports Effectiveness of Mental Health Programs in Schools : Wolters Kluwer Health.
From our Education section - Full List (132 Items)

Submit disability news, coming events, as well as assistive technology product news and reviews.

Loan Information for low income singles, families, seniors and disabled. Includes home, vehicle and personal loans.

Famous People with Disabilities - Well known people with disabilities and conditions who contributed to society.

List of awareness ribbon colors and their meaning. Also see our calendar of awareness dates.

Blood Pressure Chart - What should your blood pressure be, and information on blood group types/compatibility.

1 : Exploring Upper Limb Dysfunction After Spinal Cord Injury
2 : Yearly Business Plan Scholarship for Students with Disabilities
3 : Registration now open for Turnstone Endeavor Games - April 20-22, 2018
4 : PyeongChang 2018 Paralympics: Day Eight Highlights
5 : PyeongChang 2018 Paralympics: Day Seven Highlights


Disclaimer: This site does not employ and is not overseen by medical professionals. Content on Disabled World is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. See our Terms of Service for more information.

Reporting Errors: Disabled World is an independent website, your assistance in reporting outdated or inaccurate information is appreciated. If you find an error please let us know.