Language Accessibility and Linguistic Simplification

Normally, items on standardized tests are written by content specialists who are familiar with the subject being tested. However, these specialists are not usually familiar with the linguistic and cultural characteristics of the diverse population of examinees who may take the test. The wording of test items may pose a problem for English Language Learners (ELLs). When this happens, the test becomes a measure of language skills, rather than knowledge of the subject being tested. For example, if high school science teachers draft items for a standardized test of Science, the items will be written at about a 10th grade reading level. As a result, if an ELL has English vocabulary and grammar skills at the 6th grade level, the student will comprehend the item at a 6th grade level. This may cause performance below his or her true level of ability on the science test. This problem, which reduces the validity and accuracy of the score for the ELL, can be corrected through language accessibility review and linguistic simplification.

SLTI provides language accessibility reviews and linguistic simplification services to clients. First, we review the items to determine which items may pose a problem for ELLs. We look for high reading loads, complex syntax and semantics, and the use of idioms and other non-compositional linguistic forms. We then revise or re-write the items, using principles of linguistic simplification, which generally involve eliminating the issues identified in the language accessibility review.