Volume 5, Issue 3 (Fall 2011)
Test Item Modifications for English Language
Stephanie Cawthon, Kristen Highley, and Rachel Leppo
ABSTRACT: The purpose of this article is to review the empirical research literature on the effects of test item modifications on test scores of English language learners (ELLs) and to provide a discussion of issues to consider in practice. For students who are ELLs, the format of standardized assessments may be a barrier to accurate measurement of their content-area knowledge and skills. Test item modifications, including simplifying the question stem, adding graphic organizers, or reducing the number of responses, are all approaches that seek to reduce barriers to reliable and valid assessment scores. A systematic review of relevant databases yielded six empirical articles that focused on the effects of modifications on test scores for ELLs. Although some of the modifications showed an interaction between student group and presence/nonpresence of the modification, the small sample sizes for student subgroups limited most findings to overall main effects across populations. Methodological issues, including variability in student characteristics within and across study samples and the use of multiple modifications, make overall statements about the research findings challenging. Implications of the findings from the review are discussed, including issues of target populations, definitions of a successful item modification, and factors that may affect the assessment process for ELLs.