What's the News?

Just this week, the ACT released a document outlining plans to provide testing accommodations for students who are English language learners, starting in the fall of 2017. According to the ACT, the decision to award accommodations to non-native English speakers is a result of careful research and feedback from a variety of sources in education. But why did the ACT pick this moment to introduce these accommodations? What sorts of provisions will be in place? Will this be fair for all students? 

Why Now?

If you've read our blog before, you know that the College Board (which administers the SAT) and the ACT have been locked in an arms race. Both organizations have pushed to secure statewide deals whereby a given state administers the SAT or ACT to all of its high school juniors at no direct cost to students and their families. For states that have chosen this route, the tests help achieve two goals: to ensure that all students are guaranteed the opportunity to take a standardized college admissions exam (still required by most colleges and universities across the U.S.), and to administer a high school "exit" exam, which states can use to gauge educational progress and performance across entire school districts. 

As more states become "SAT states" or "ACT states", a greater number of students who are just learning to speak English are required to take the tests. Up until now, these students had no choice but to do the best they could with a sometimes feeble grasp of the language. Many of these students already received accommodations on regular school exams, and even on other state exams, but were not provided with such accommodations on the ACT. According to the ACT, this has prevented English language learners from demonstrating the knowledge they have actually acquired in school. Thus, the ACT's decision to award testing accommodations to English language learners seeks to provide these students with consistency in testing circumstances, and to give these students a fairer opportunity to show what they have learned.

What Sorts of Accommodations Will Be Provided?

The ACT has outlined several possible accommodations for English language learners, including providing extended testing time (up to time-and-a-half), providing directions in the students' native language, and in some cases, providing a word-to-word dictionary without definitions (for example, an English-to-Spanish entry might look like "gruff = brusco" without providing further explanation as to what the word means). All of these provisions are subject to approval by the ACT, and it is not a given that every student will receive all of these accommodations.

How Will Students Qualify to Receive English Language Learner Accommodations?

As is the case with securing any sort of testing accommodation, receiving English language learner accommodations on the ACT will not be a casual matter. Students may have to provide detailed documentation showing that they already receive language-based accommodations in school, and must provide proof that their proficiency in the English language is significantly limited. School counseling offices will be integral in helping English language learners secure accommodations, and must coordinate with the ACT to ensure all requests for provisions are legitimate. Through this process, the ACT will ensure fairness for both English language learners and native speakers.

In all, the ACT hopes to introduce more equity into the standardized college admissions exam process. For high school students learning how to speak English, this policy shift represents a significant and important change, especially for those who seek a college education.