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ACT to Provide Supports for English Learners on the ACT Test

IOWA CITY, Iowa—ACT will begin providing supports on the ACT® test to U.S. students who are English learners starting in the fall of 2017, the nonprofit organization announced today. 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, in the 2017-2018 school year, 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 (ESSA). 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) 
  • Test instructions provided in the student’s native language (including Spanish and a limited number of other languages initially)
  • Testing in a non-distracting environment (i.e., in a separate room)

“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. “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. The supports are in keeping with the mission of ACT: Helping people achieve education and workplace success.”

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 U.S. 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.”

Of critical importance to ACT is ensuring that the scores earned by English learners using these supports are valid and reliable for postsecondary use. ACT has preliminary data suggesting that academic achievement of English learners may be underreported under standard ACT test conditions. ACT has developed a full research agenda in support of the validity of scores earned by students using the supports based on actual test results.

ACT is committed to improving access and opportunity for underserved learners.

  • In June, ACT announced the establishment of the Center for Equity in Learning, which will advance ACT’s mission through partnerships, research and initiatives aimed at closing gaps in equity and achievement for underserved learners.
  • ACT provided more than $36 million in fee waivers during the 2015-2016 school year to students from lower income families. 
  • This past year, ACT launched a new online test prep program and a groundbreaking new test prep program with live online instruction through a collaboration with Kaplan, both of which are free to low-income students who register for the ACT with a fee waiver. 
  • ACT’s “Get Your Name in the Game” initiative is designed to help improve access for underserved students by providing colleges with free access to information on high school seniors who participate in ACT’s Educational Opportunity Service.

Defined by ESSA, the term "English learner," when used with respect to an individual, means an individual:

  • who is aged 3 through 21;
  • who is enrolled or preparing to enroll in an elementary school or secondary school;
  • who was not born in the United States or whose native language is a language other than English;
  • who is a Native American or Alaska Native, or a native resident of the outlying areas; and
    • who comes from an environment where a language other than English has had a significant impact on the individual's level of English language proficiency; or
      o who is migratory, whose native language is a language other than English, and who comes from an environment where a language other than English is dominant; and
    • whose difficulties in speaking, reading, writing, or understanding the English language may be sufficient to deny the individual--
      • the ability to meet the challenging State academic standards;
      • the ability to successfully achieve in classrooms where the language of instruction is English; or
      • the opportunity to participate fully in society.