ACT Supports for English Language Learners (ELLs)
English learners who take the ACT exam during the 2017-18 school year will be able to take advantage of new supports designed to better test students’ content knowledge rather than language skills.
The testing company has data that suggests standard test conditions for the ACT lead to an underreporting of academic achievement among students who do not speak English fluently, and the goal of the new supports is to level the playing field without offering an unfair advantage.
“We believe these solutions will help ensure that English learners have an equal opportunity to demonstrate what they have learned in school, leveling the playing field while not giving the students any special advantages,” said ACT Chief Commercial Officer Suzana Delanghe. “This change is about improving access and equity for students whose proficiency in English might prevent them from truly demonstrating the skills and knowledge they have learned. The supports are in keeping with the mission of ACT: Helping people achieve education and workplace success.”
Achievement gaps between English learners and their English-speaking peers are substantial, but districts are hard-pressed to determine how much of that gap is based on an inability to convey knowledge because of the language barrier. Even math tests include a lot of vocabulary, including in the instructions and in lengthy introductions to word problems.
On tests of English and language arts, part of the test is of English vocabulary and it makes sense for English learners to perform poorly. But parts of the reading and writing tests are about critical thinking. Giving students glossaries can help students overcome language barriers to prove they have this capacity, which is important when being considered for college and related scholarships.