Designing fair and inclusive tests for non-native speakers

As globalization increases, it’s become critical to design inclusive tests for those whose native language differs from the test language.

Roughly 20 percent of U.S. residents, which is approximately 67.3 million people (equal to the population of France), speak a language other than English at home, according to the Center for Immigration Studies. When it comes to taking tests not in their first language, these groups can be at a notable disadvantage – especially for tests that influence a test-takers’ future. 

Language is a significant barrier to fair and inclusive testing, particularly if language fluency is not relevant to the skill being measured by the test. This is why designing fair and inclusive tests for non-native speakers is a key component of equitable testing.

Data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development shows that migrants, on average, get significantly lower literacy and numeracy test scores than native speakers. About half of it relates to the language of the test, meaning that if the migrants were tested in their own language, about half the difference would disappear.

As globalization and migration increase, it’s become critical to make tests fair for those whose native language is different from that of the test language. Passing a test is often a gateway to life chances, so all takers should be given the chance to demonstrate their capabilities.

Use simple wording for questions and instructions

One of the most straightforward ways to solve language barriers and increase test accessibility is by using simple wording throughout the test. For example, use “with” instead of “in conjunction with.” Some top practices include:

  • Write simple, clear and concise questions. Similarly, use clear and unambiguous instructions on how to complete the test.
  • Avoid colloquialisms, idioms, slang, irony and sarcasm, – i.e., words and phrases that only native speakers understand.
  • Also avoid long sentences, complex grammar, double negatives and metaphors – phrases that complicate understanding.

Simple language allows for less room for misunderstanding for a reader, and it makes translating easier. These practices also help improve the test for all test-takers, regardless of their native language.

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