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Test Maker Announces Special Accommodations For English Language Learners

Photo by timlewisnm/Flickr

A standardized test answer sheet is shown in this undated photo.

Beginning in 2017, English-language learners taking the ACT college entrance exam can take advantage of special accommodations.

California voters this month opened the door to more bilingual instruction in public schools with the passage of Proposition 58. It’s a reversal from past unease about foreign languages being used in the classroom.

Changes to the ACT college entrance exam are another sign of changing sentiment.

ACT Inc. has announced it will offer special accommodations to English-language learners beginning next school year. They include instructions in the student’s native language, a bilingual glossary without definitions, additional time to complete the test and an option to take it in a separate room.

Students would apply for the accommodations through their high school counselor.

David Kim is the founder of C2 Education, which helps students prepare for college entrance exams at several tutoring centers throughout San Diego County.

“For these kids to be able to have the resources to do well is something that I definitely think will help a lot,” Kim said. “But there’s a lot of systemic things that need to be fixed. Why are these students not getting as much support earlier on? Why are they not getting to a level of fluency by the time they need to take these test in their junior and senior years of high school?”

Many believe that will change under Proposition 58.

Research shows English-language learners who move through core subjects in bilingual classroom while they’re gaining fluency perform better academically in the long term. ACT Chief Commercial Officer Suzana Delanghe said in a statement the company’s goal is to show that subject mastery despite the test taker’s English fluency.

“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,” Delanghe said. “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.”

But, as Education Week noted, some believe the move is a play for more business. Students applying to public universities in California can take either the ACT or the SAT, which does not offer support for English-language learners.

Regardless, California State University Chancellor Timothy White hailed the test maker’s announcement.

"Today’s universities are serving the most diverse populations in the history of U.S. higher education,” White said. “It is imperative that we give all students opportunities to demonstrate their true potential, in order to give all students access to the benefits of a university education.”

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