The Use of Pictorial Supports as an Accommodation for Increasing Access to Test Items for Students with Limited Proficiency in the Language of Testing

This paper reports on an NSF-funded project that examines vignette illustrations (VIs) as a form of testing accommodation for English language learners (ELLs)—students who are developing English as a second language yet they are tested in English, in major assessment programs in the U.S. VIs are pictorial supports intended to make the content
of test items more accessible to ELLs without altering their text and without giving away their answers. We have developed a procedure for systematically designing VIs. Based on semiotics, socio-cultural theory, and cognitive science, our procedure allows identification of both linguistic/cultural challenges—constituents (words, phrases, terms, idiomatic expressions) which may pose challenges to ELLs due to their limited English proficiency or their limited experience with certain contextual information)—and linguistic/cultural affordances (constituents that are not likely to pose these challenges to ELLs). Based on the identified linguistic and cultural challenges and affordances, illustration development teams composed by bilingual teachers, science teachers, and science content experts, write scripts that specify the characteristics that the illustrations should have. The paper discusses the procedure for developing VIs and discusses the potential of VIs as a valid, cost-effective, easy-to-implement testing accommodation in multilingual and multicultural contexts in which student language proficiency in the language of testing is a potential threat to test validity.