Saturday, September 26, 2020
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ACT to add support for English learners

ACT announced yesterday that it would provide support for English learners on its primary college entrance exam beginning in the 2017-18 school year.

(Quinn Dombrowski / Flickr CC)

The goal of the supports is to help ensure that the ACT scores earned by English learners accurately reflect what they have learned in school.

The supports will begin next fall and will be limited to students in a local school district’s English learners (EL) program who meet the current definitions of an English learner under the Every Student Succeeds Act. Students must apply for the English learner supports through their high school counselors’ office.

Qualifying students who receive the supports will earn college-reportable ACT scores.

The supports for qualified English learners will include the following:

  • Additional time on the test (not to exceed time-and-a-half)
  • Use of an approved word-to-word bilingual glossary (containing no word definitions)
  • Testing in a non-distracting environment (i.e., in a separate room)
  • Test instructions provided in the student’s native language (including Spanish and a limited number of other languages initially)

“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,” said ACT Chief Commercial Officer Suzana Delanghe.

To help determine what supports it could offer English learners without violating testing constructs or providing an unfair advantage, ACT assembled a panel of external experts representing state education agencies, colleges, EL and bilingual policy administrators from state departments of education, civil rights advocates, testing and measurement experts, and researchers. This approach reflects input from the nation’s largest public university systems.

“Today’s universities are serving the most diverse populations in the history of US higher education,” said California State University Chancellor Timothy P White. “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.”

Last year, 15 states required all high school juniors to take the ACT. When the test was required, students and their teachers and parents started noticing that some of the accommodations and supports that were available to students during classroom tests and instruction weren’t available for the ACT. That put English learners and students with other disabilities at a disadvantage, even though ACT did have a set of criteria for determining whether a student could receive certain supports during testing. The rules were just different for the ACT from what they were on classroom tests.

“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,” Ms Delanghe said. “The supports are in keeping with the mission of ACT: helping people achieve education and workplace success.”


As more states, including Maryland, rewrite laws in the wake of the passage of ESSA about a year ago, tests like the ACT have gained prominence.

Instead of taking tests from the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, or other tests the states have used for high school accountability purposes under the No Child Left Behind law, several states are looking at using exams, like the ACT and SAT, that give students a score they can use for college admissions at the same time as they give a state a score it can use for accountability purposes.

It kills two birds with one stone and saves money for students, which comes to between $39 and $56, depending on whether you want to take the optional writing component. Buying in bulk, though, states should expect huge discounts off of that.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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