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Accommodations for English Language Learners

Lauren Gilman
Texas A&M University

Accommodations for ELLs
Learning another language is a difficult task, especially when it is the predominant
language in the area. English language learners (ELLs) have to learn curriculum that is mainly
presented to them in a language that is not their native language. This can become a barrier to the
students educational success rates. There are many accommodations, however, that are available
for ELL students. Some of these accommodations, for example, are a bilingual dictionary, a
picture dictionary, tests being offered in the students native language, and extra time to take
tests. In order for students to succeed to their full potential, accommodations are almost always
needed, whether the student knows it or not. When students are tested over the curriculum, they
may be completely lost, due to the language barrier. This could result in students dropping out of
school in the future, because they become doubtful in their ability to do well in school. If
students are tested over the curriculum with proper accommodations, they usually do better than
if they do not have any accommodations. Overall, educators want their students to succeed. To
do so, educators need to be informed of the accommodations and decide which accommodations
would be beneficial for his or her students. Since there are so many accommodation options, the
question becomes, which accommodations are typically the most helpful to ELLs?
Why Does Providing Accommodations Matter?
Educators usually go into the profession to educate students to their full potential.
Unfortunately, most teachers lack practical, research-based information, resources, and
strategies needed to teach, evaluate, and nurture ELL students (English Language Learners
Face Unique Challenges, 2008, para. 6). Providing information about a few popular
accommodations will give educators a better insight on how they can help their English second
language (ESL) students succeed while testing. Since some ELLs have trouble taking tests, due

to the language barrier, their scores do not accurately reflect their actual intelligence on the
subject. Consequently, the students could potentially fail. When students receive multiple failing
scores, they might start to give up on themselves. Throughout the school years, students selfesteem may diminish and they could eventually drop out because they do not believe they are
smart enough to graduate.
Most educators do not want their students to fail or drop out. Providing accommodations
will help the students test in a way that accurately reflects the students intelligence on the
subject. After completing a study on this topic, Kopriva, Emick, HipolitoDelgado,andCameron
(2007) came to the conclusion that when ELL students were given appropriate accommodations,
their test scores were much higher than the ELL students who were not given any
accommodations. Seeing the differences in test scores of a student who is given accommodations
after failing without accommodations will help educators determine whether or not a student
understands the content. If a student who has been doing better with accommodations all of a
sudden gets a poor score on a test, educators can come to the conclusion that it might be that he
or she does not understand that concept. Educators will be able to better differentiate between the
ESL students who understand and who do not understand the concepts. Accommodations
generally reflect students intelligence on tests in a more accurate way.
Categories of Accommodations
Li and Suen (2012) describe that there are four different categories that accommodations
fall under: presentation, response, setting, and time scheduling. These different categories help
ELLs in different ways. There may be a better outcome if two different categories of
accommodations are paired together for one student.

Presentation accommodations have to do with how the test is presented to the students.
There are multiple ways a test can be presented. The test could be translated in the students
native language, or the test could be administered by an ESL specialist. Having a familiar
educator administer the test might help the student feel more comfortable while taking the test.
Translating the test to the students native language will allow the teacher to see if the student is
receiving a poor grade due to the language barrier, or if the bad grade is because the student does
not understand the subject. ESL students could also be given the accommodation of a teacher
further explaining the questions and answers. I experienced this first hand. I was placed in a
classroom that had three ELLs. The first time they took a test, without accommodations, they did
not score very well. The second time they took a test, they were given the accommodation of
having the teacher simplify and explain the test questions. The scores on test two outweighed the
scores on test one by 10 to 20 points. Along with simplifying the test, comes the use of
dictionaries and glossaries. Some ELLs have trouble with words that are not frequently used in
the English language. If the student has a dictionary as an aid, the student will be more prone to
understand the questions and answers and therefore answer the question accurately, if he or she
knows the content. The last way a test could be accommodated by the presentation is having the
teacher repeat verbally what is written on the test (Li & Suen, 2012).
The response category of accommodations allows students to answer questions in a
different format. If the test is a written test, the student could be allowed to verbally state his or
her answer in their native language or in English. Verbally answering questions in the students
native language will take the pressure off of wondering if the answer is grammatically correct.
The student could then focus more on what the question is asking. Some students receive poor

grades on written tests because they do not know how to construct a grammatically correct
sentence or how to spell words. The differentiated spelling could mislead the teacher into
thinking it is a different word they are stating.
Setting accommodations allow students to take the test in a different location or have the
test be administered to them in a smaller group. The test could be administered to the individual
student or to a small group of students. Also, students could be given the opportunity to take the
test in a separate location, either with a few other students or by themselves (Li & Suen, 2012).
Having the opportunity to take the tests without distractions, like in the normal classroom, could
benefit the students scores because they do not have to see their peers completing the test at a
faster pace. The figure (Montgomery College, 2015) below shows a teacher administering a test
to a student in a private, less distracting room.

Time Scheduling

Figure. Student taking test in a separate


Most tests are restricted to time because classes end at specific times. Sometimes ELLs
need more time to take tests because they need to process the information on the test. Processing
information for ELLs usually takes more time than for native English speakers. ELLs may have
to read the information, translate it to their native language, try to answer the question, and

finally translate it back to English. This process could take several minutes, even if the student
knows the information well. Time scheduling accommodations provide students more time to
take tests. The amount of time depends on the students needs and the test length. Another time
scheduling accommodation is allowing the student to take breaks throughout the test (Li & Suen,
2012). Taking a test that is not in your native language could be aggravating. This being said, if a
student takes breaks throughout the test, they might not get overwhelmed with all of the
unknown vocabulary.
Results of Most Helpful Accommodations
It is important to remember when reading the results that not all helpful
accommodations will benefit all ELLs. The results are based off of different articles that select
different ELL students. These results from different ELL students do not accurately represent all
ELLs around the country. Every student learns and tests differently, but the helpful
accommodations are based off of what most ELLs benefited from in these studies.
Do Help
In almost every article researched, the dictionaries or glossaries were the most helpful for
ESL students. The single accommodation with clear evidence of effectivenessproviding
English dictionaries or glossariescan be expected to result in a 10% to 25% reduction in the
performance gap between ELLs and native English speakers (Kieffer,Lesaux,Rivera,&
throughoutthetestingtime.Dual language tests and tests that were given in students native
languages were also described as a beneficial accommodation to ELLs. Penncock (2011) found
from her studies that the overall best accommodation was giving the student the test in his or her
native language. Teemant (2010) stated that because ESL students have difficulties

understanding words that are not frequently used, simplified versions of tests were the best
accommodation to use for ELLs. In nearly every article researched, it was found that almost all
ELLs do better with extended time. It is a great accommodation because ESL students can stop
focusing on their time constraint and focus on the actual test information. Also, providing other
accommodations with extended time will better the result of how helpful the other
accommodations are. If the students are given extra time on tests, they will have the time to use
other accommodations, such as a glossary (Kieffer et al., 2009).
Do Not Help
Li and Suen (2012) stated that small group testing is one of the most used
accommodations for ESL students in America. Unfortunately, it is found that small group testing
does not benefit ELLs testing results. In a class I was placed in, I administered a test to a group
of four ELL students. The entire time the students were taking the test most of them repeatedly
glanced at the other students and made funny expressions. I had a feeling that they would likely
perform poorly because they were being distracted the entire test. My instinct became true. When
they were given the opportunity to re-take the test in an area by themselves, they performed
higher. Although the use of dictionaries or glossaries was found an effective practice, there are a
few limitations to this accommodation. Wolf, Kim and Kao (2014) found that these are only
effective accommodations if the student has prior experience and the skills to use them. Also, it
is important that the student is given the extended time accommodation in order for the use of
dictionaries or glossaries to be effective accommodations.
Some ELL students do not know they are able to use accommodations or have never
utilized the accommodations they were given because they did not have the skills to use them. It

is the educators job to give ELL students accommodations so they are capable of doing better on
tests. It is also an educators job to try out different accommodations for students because every
student does not benefit from the same accommodations. If the testing scores do not show
improvement after the student is given an accommodation, the educator should give the student a
different accommodation to use. There is most likely at least one accommodation that the student
will benefit from, unless he or she does not understand the content at all.
It is important for ESL students to be given the opportunity to use accommodations so the
educator and the student can see the students true intelligence level. When students fail, their
self-esteem and confidence weakens. If students do not feel like they are capable of doing well in
school, they might start to resent school and could eventually drop out. Educators typically do
not want to see this chain reaction; giving accommodations could prevent this cycle. Even if a
child fails after giving them accommodations, it would be valuable for educators to consider a
different accommodation that could potentially benefit them. The use of multiple
accommodations, like extra time with a dictionary, will support students in utilizing the
accommodations they are given.
Typically, the time extension accommodation and the use of an English dictionary or
glossary team up to present the best outcomes for ELLs. There were negative correlations
between small group administered tests and students overall achievement on tests. Providing
appropriate accommodations will support the educators conclusion as to why students may not
be succeeding. Is it because the student does not understand the content, or is it because the
students language barrier hinders his or her ability to perform well on tests?

All in all, there are many accommodations available that ELL students can receive when
taking tests. What is typically the most helpful accommodation for ELLs? The appropriate
accommodation all depends on the individual student. Research showed that if ELLs were given
extended time and a dictionary, their achievement results would most likely be higher. However,
educators have to take into account that not all accommodations help all ELLs. Findings
support the conclusion of Abedi, Hofstetter and Lords (2004) review that there is no one-sizefits-all accommodation (Penncock, 2011, p. 22). It is important to remember nearly all ELLs
that receive accommodations score higher on tests than ELLs who do not use accommodations.
When students receive better results on tests, their self-confidence will likely accelerate and the
chance of them graduating high school will increase as well. I had the opportunity to speak with
a few different ELLs on their experiences with accommodations. Two of the ELLs stated that
they would rather take the test in a secluded area without distractions. Three other students stated
that it does not matter where they are taking the test, as long as they have a dictionary to assist
them. All five of the students agreed that having extra time to take tests made them feel more at
ease and less anxious while taking tests. There is not one specific accommodation that will
always benefit ELLs, but providing extra time and a dictionary is a good place to start.

Works Cited
Disability support services. (2015). Retrieved December 8, 2015.
English language learners face unique challenges. (2008). Retrieved November 8, 2015.
Teemant, A. (2010). ESL student perspectives on university classroom testing practice. Journal of
the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 10(3), 89-105.
Wolf, M., Kim, J., & Kao, J. (2014). The effects of glossary and read-aloud accommodations on
English language learners' performance on a mathematics assessment. Applied
Measurement in Education, 25, 347-374.