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ESL issue reviewed at Assembly

An addition item review panel, an examination readability study, and printed material for assistance are all "middleground" approaches to the issue to testing candidate for whom English is a second language.

An ESL discussion paper presented by Dr. Nisha Mittal of ACT, the new AASSWB testing contractor, at the Fall Delegate Assembly gave participants a look at just how complex a problem ESL testing is. But it also indicated that there are practical steps to move the association closer to the goal of testing that is fair to populations for whom language is a real barrier to licensure.

Under current association policies, ESL candidates are allowed two bilingual dictionaries or both an English dictionary and a bilingual dictionary, as well as extra time in which to complete the examination. Any of this must have state approval. A survey was begun at the assembly of state ESL assistance, to see if anything is already being done that could be expanded. And, as a result of the discussion at the assembly, ACT has been asked to do a readability study of the exam questions.

Approaching the issue from steps that can be taken without either incurring great costs or compromising the examination, there are two categories of barriers for ESL candidates. One is challenges in understanding the questions because of lack of knowledge of such elements as idiomatic phrases, specialized vocabulary, grammar or difficulty in determining the "best" answer. The other is more comprehensive, in that candidates may be unfamiliar with the test blueprint and what is required to prepare for the test, or may be unfamiliar with multiple choice formats, or may have trouble with computer-based examinations.

These barriers can be at least lowered through better preparation of candidates. More direct and accessible information about the exams could be available, and practice opportunities could be provided for multiple choice and computer formats.

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