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Assessment Tests - Improving Accessibility

This KnowledgeBase archive includes content and external links that were accurate and relevant as of September 30, 2019.

The following extract from Chapter Four of Ensuring Accuracy in Testing For English Language Learners summarizes nine elements in writing accessible items.

  • Defining what items measure

    • Item construction statements explain what specific knowledge and/or
      skills the items intend to measure.

    • Statements about what is measured are critical for those championing
      accessibility because these statements explicitly define the validity
      intent, or exactly what content is supposed to be measured, for each item.
  • Clear expectations

    • It is easy for educated adults to make assumptions about what is
      expected, which often produces misleading results about student mastery
      when students have to "guess."

    • Student response options must be clearly stated.

    • If the quality of the students' writing and/or the presentation of the information in the charts, pictures, and other visuals will be evaluated, then it must be explicit that these will be evaluated.

    • Any additional requirements or constraints should be spelled out.

  • Use of plain language

    1. Item sentences or stems must be kept brief and straightforward, with a
      simple sentence or phrase structure.

      • Don't add clauses or phrases

      • Use S-V-O structure throughout

    2. Consistency in paragraph structure should be employed.

      • topic sentence

      • explanatory sentences

      • conclusion

    3. The present tense and active voice should be used as much as possible

      • present tense and active voice are learned first

    4. Rephrasing or rewording ideas and sentences should be kept to a minimum.

      • Use the same words to refer to the same phenomenon, concept, person, place, thing, action, or modifier rather than using a
        variety of words.

    5. Pronouns should be used in a very judicious manner.

      • The same word should be used repeatedly, rather than using pronouns to refer to people, things, or ideas.

    6. High-frequency words are the best choice.

      • pepperoni vs. anchovies.

    7. Words with double meanings or colloquialisms should be omitted or defined in the text.

      • earth vs. soil

      • fault (geologic feature) vs. fault (error)

  • Use of plain format

    • "Plain formatting" assessments is to minimize or offset
      sensory overload. ELL sometimes struggle with overload because they must translate back and forth in their heads between their native language and English. ELL also benefit because formatting breaks
      up text or presents other sources of stimulations beyond the text.

    • Visuals are often important, but they should be kept simple and to the point.

    • Large print forms should be available for LEP students.

    • At least some forms should omit the use of item columns, limit the number of items per page, and/or provide students with a template to use. Templates are only helpful if students are accustomed to working with them.

    • Sample templates should be part of advance sample materials which teachers should be encouraged to use in class, but as few as possible should be used on tests.

    • Lines of "boxes" which frame text or answer space should be used in a judicious way.

    • Forms that include these recommendations should be used widely.

  • Use simple visuals

    • The use of visuals helps facilitate understanding of what is being asked/presented in a specific item or related items.

    • Visuals should be used to facilitate the understanding of what is being asked or presented in an item or group of items.

    • Visuals mirror, or parallel, the item statements and expectations.

    • No "supplementary" or unnecessary information should be placed in the visual to distract students from the requirements of the item.

    • Each major part of the item should be represented in the visual.

    • Simple text can and should be used in the visuals to correspond to important words in the item.

  • Access and contextual information

    • Contextual information consists of introductory or explanatory text, which is part of items or blocks of items.

    • Advantages and disadvantages exist to including contextual information for ELL. To some extent effects are mitigated by how the contextual information is conveyed to the student. A solution is to maximize the advantages and minimize the disadvantages to using
      contextual information.

    • In general, contextual information should be included in assessments for limited English proficient (LEP) students.

    • Disadvantages related to including contextual information for LEP students should be minimized.

      • Use same directions throughout assessment

      • Break down directions into workable units

      • Keep contextual information to the point

      • Include performance activities, which give substantial access to those students with kinesthetic, tactile, spatial, and related

      • All text should be in plain format

      • directions and explanations should be read aloud as students follow in their booklets

      • spread directions evenly throughout the exercise

      • visuals should be incorporated

      • pretest discussions before a set of items and/or performance activity should enhance access

  • Access to tools and resources

    • Tools and resources are physical aids like mathematics manipulatives; they should be age appropriate and should not compromise the integrity of the test items. Tools and resources should not give some
      students an advantage in understanding what items are requiring or how students demonstrate what they know.

    • Test-givers should allow reasonable access to a set of tools and resources throughout the test, and remove the specific tool or resource when items explicitly measure that specific skill.

    • Local content standards should define what tools and resources are useful and allowable.

    • Reasonable access means that most items (not just one or two per test) will be accessible to students with a range of diverse strengths.

  • Access and performance activities

  • Additional issues of the native language

    • Test writers need to be aware of some of the cultural differences that exist between ELL and other populations. "False friends" exist in vocabulary words, periods are sometimes used instead of commas
      in mathematics, a billion in English can mean a trillion in Spanish, etc.

    • Two sets of cultural expectations seem to have a primary impact on how a student understands the requirements of an item:

      1. Expectations in items that assume prior experiences that are common if a student grows up in the U.S.;

      2. Expectations in items that assume a value system common to the value system typically endorsed in the U.S..

    • These expectations become especially problematic when a student's experiences or values are distinctly diverse from those typically experienced by the mainstream population in the U.S.."


Ensuring Accuracy in Testing For English Language Learners, Kopriva, Rebecca (2000), pages 37-50, Council of Chief State School Officers' State Collaborative on Assessments and Stduent Standards - LEP Consortium, Washington, DC.

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