By Sydney Snyder | March 2, 2017

It is important to consider the digital divide that may exist between  ELs and their non-EL peers and how that affects computer-based testing. While most ELs are probably familiar with smartphones, because some lack access to computers at home and at school, they may not feel as comfortable with the types of tasks they will be expected to do during an online assessment. Additionally, they may not be familiar with the types of computer-embedded support tools and scaffolds that are available to them during the assessment. Moreover, the language of computer-based instructions may be unfamiliar to some ELs. Therefore, it is very important that ELs get practice with both the language and platform that they will need during the assessment.

Recommendations for Helping ELs Cross the Digital Divide

The following recommendations were adapted from a blog post that Diane Staehr Fenner wrote for Colorín Colorado on computer-based testing considerations. They are timely reminders for how to support ELs as they tackle online testing.

1. Teach the terms ELs will need to know to navigate the platform.

Some platforms contain the terms item, click, drag, select, deselect, and icon. These are all examples of terms you can teach to your ELs. We also suggest focusing on some specific uses of terms for computer-based testing, such as to flag an item or drop down menus. One way to reinforce the terms is by posting a word wall of the terms, their meaning, an image, and a home language translation, if possible.

2. Devote time to practicing test items and navigating the test platform with ELs.

After pre-teaching necessary terms for ELs to navigate the platform, have students apply these terms by working through the test platform together, trying out some test items, and making sure that they know how to use any accommodations that are available to them. The teacher could model how he or she uses the technology while also doing a think-aloud of how he or she answers the content using EL accommodations, where available. Once the teacher has modeled practice items, ELs could work on them together, in pairs, noting their questions on the platform, as well as content for the teacher.

3. Make sure ELs have access to keyboarding skills.

Computer-based assessments assume that students can type their responses to questions. It is important to ensure that ELs gain experience using keyboards with an instructor who is attuned to the linguistic scaffolds ELs will need to learn typing skills. With practice in typing, they will be less likely to be slowed down during a test by developing typing skills.

4. Collaborate with content teachers and test specialists on the use of accommodations.

It is essential that ESOL teachers work as a team with content teachers as well as their school’s testing coordinator to first ensure that ELs receive the appropriate accommodations on content assessments. ELs also need access to those accommodations on any formative or summative computer-based assessments so they can become familiar with how the accommodations work as part of the computer-based platform. For more information on accommodations, see this video by Lynn Shafer Willner.

5. Make sure EL parents and caregivers are aware of the test requirements and platform.

EL parents and caregivers (as well as the ELs themselves) should see the platform their children will use and should also be aware of how the assessment results will be used. Testing could be the topic of an EL parent meeting, either in school or in a place convenient for parents to meet, such as a community center.