Publications & Resources

Effectiveness and Validity of Accommodations for English Language Learners in Large-Scale Assessments

Sep 2003

Jamal Abedi, Mary Courtney and Seth Leon

As the population of English language learners (ELLs) in U.S. public schools continues to grow, issues concerning their instruction and assessment are steadily among the top national priorities in education. The goal of this study was to examine the effectiveness, validity, and feasibility of selected language accommodations for ELL students on large-scale science assessments. In addition, student background variables were studied to judge the impact of such variables on student test performance. Both ELL and non-ELL students in Grades 4 and 8 were tested in science under accommodation or under a standard testing condition. Language accommodation strategies (Customized English Dictionary, Bilingual/English Glossary, and Linguistic Modification of test items) were selected based on frequency of usage, nationwide recognition, feasibility, and first-language literacy factors. Students were sampled from different language and cultural backgrounds. We also included a measure of English reading proficiency to control for any initial differences in reading ability. The effectiveness of accommodation for Grade 8 students was different from the findings for Grade 4 students. In Grade 8, the Linguistic Modification accommodation helped ELL students increase their performance while the accommodated performance of non-ELL students was unchanged. A non-significant impact of the linguistically modified test on the non-ELL group assures the validity of this accommodation. As for feasibility, this accommodation requires up-front preparation, but is easy to implement in the field; therefore, it is feasible for large-scale assessments. In general, accommodations did not have a significant impact on students’ performance in Grade 4. We believe this may be because of the lower language demand in the lower grades. With an increase in the grade level, more complex language may interfere with content-based assessment. Though language factors still have an impact on the assessment of ELL students in lower grades, other factors such as poverty and parent education may be more powerful predictors of students’ performance in lower grades. Another consideration is that Grade 4 students may be less familiar with glossary and dictionary use, as well as less exposed to science. The lack of significant impact on Grade 4 non-ELL students is an encouraging result because it suggests that the accommodation did not alter the construct under measurement.

Abedi, J., Courtney, M., & Leon, S. (2003). Effectiveness and validity of accommodations for English language learners in large-scale assessments (CSE Report 608). Los Angeles: University of California, Los Angeles, National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing (CRESST).