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Accessibility of English Language Proficiency Tests for People with Disabilities

Author: Educational Testing Service : Contact: www.ets.org

Published: 2014-12-08 : (Rev. 2016-06-11)

Synopsis and Key Points:

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 Digest

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 www.ets.org

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