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Accommodation Practices for English Language Learners in States’ Mathematics Assessments


by Mikyung Kim Wolf, Jenny C. Kao, Nichole M. Rivera & Sandy M. Chang — 2012

Background/Context: Testing accommodations have been widely utilized as a way of increasing the validity of content assessments for English language learner (ELL) students. However, concerns have also arisen regarding the appropriateness of accommodation use, including the accessibility and fairness of accommodations. While many states have developed ELL-specific accommodation policies and guidelines, little research has been available on how the accommodation policies are carried out in practice.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: The present study investigated two states’ accommodation policies, specifically for the states’ respective large-scale Grade 8 math assessments, and conducted a case study to examine teachers’ understanding of the policies and uses. The study aimed to identify issues to consider for an appropriate use of accommodations and provide useful information for policymakers to improve their accommodation policies.

Research Design: The study utilized a qualitative method employing teacher surveys and interviews. The survey and interview instruments were developed based on previous literature and experts’ feedback. The interview transcripts were coded by two researchers using a systematic coding scheme. Descriptive statistics of the responses were computed to observe trends across and within districts and schools. The results were also compared between states or between ELL and math teachers when applicable.

Conclusions/Recommendations: Despite the limitation of the small sample in this study, the findings of the study offer practical implications for policymakers and educators in the use of accommodations for ELL students. The study found considerable variation reported by teachers with regard to the perception of accommodation decision makers, selection criteria, and the types of accommodations allowed in each state’s math assessment. This variation raised serious concerns regarding the adequacy of the accommodation uses and the comparability of accommodated test results across schools. In this paper, we discussed a number of possible reasons for teachers’ reported difficulty in keeping up with state policies: (a) lack of clear guidelines in making accommodation decisions and implementing accommodations in a standardized way, (b) lack of or limited opportunities in receiving information and communicating about accommodations among decision makers and teachers, and (c) limited resources and logistical difficulties. To support an appropriate use of accommodations for teachers, we recommend that states make efforts to provide comprehensive, operationalized guidelines for ELL accommodations, monitor the use of the guidelines, and hold regular professional meetings for ELL and content teachers.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 114 Number 3, 2012, p. 1-26
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16302, Date Accessed: 9/17/2014 9:37:36 PM

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About the Author
  • Mikyung Kim Wolf
    Educational Testing Service
    E-mail Author
    MIKYUNG KIM WOLF is currently a research scientist at Educational Testing Service (ETS). Her research interests include English language learner assessment and instruction, English language proficiency assessments, and second language acquisition. She recently published a CRESST policy brief, “Improving the Validity of English Language Learner Assessment Systems,” and articles related to the language demands of content assessments for English language learners in the Educational Assessment journal and the NCELA newsletter AccELLerate!
  • Jenny Kao
    Teachers College, Columbia University
    E-mail Author
    JENNY C. KAO was formerly a research analyst at the National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing (CRESST) at UCLA and is currently a doctoral student at Teachers College, Columbia University. Her research interests are in language acquisition and development, specifically for students of diverse language backgrounds. She has coauthored several technical reports focusing on English language learners and students with disabilities and recently coauthored an article in the Applied Measurement in Education journal.
  • Nichole Rivera
    University of California, Los Angeles
    E-mail Author
    NICHOLE M. RIVERA is a research analyst at the National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing (CRESST), and is currently working on projects related to quality teacher practice and military assessment. Her research interests include educational assessment and social psychology, particularly as they apply to disadvantaged groups.
  • Sandy Chang
    University of California, Los Angeles
    E-mail Author
    SANDY M. CHANG is a doctoral student in psychological studies in education in the Graduate School of Education and Information Sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles. Her research interests include reading comprehension, English language learners, and academic language.
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