Simplifying test questions
Do students with learning problems benefit?
Readers of SET—whether they are administrators, teachers, parents, or others interested in special education—are likely to have heard about the idea that content-area tests in science, math, and other areas discriminate against against students with disabilities, including especially those who do not read well. Are the questions on tests of science achievement, for example, written so that they are especially difficult for students with learning disabilities?
Nadine Cruz Neri and Jan Retelsdorf, of the University of Hamburg, tested this (and related) questions in a study published OnLineFirst in Exceptional Children May 2022: "Do Students with Specific Learning Disorders With Impairments in Reading Benefit From Linguistic Simplification of Test Items in Science?" The paper is slated to appear in the forthcoming issue of the printed version of EC, to be published in October of 2022.
Here is the abstract:
Previous research illustrated that reading comprehension and science performance correlate highly. Because students with specific learning disorders with impairments in reading (SLD-IR) show deficits in reading comprehension, they may struggle to perform in science. As language in science is characterized by linguistic complexity, the question arises whether students with SLD-IR can be supported by reducing linguistic complexity. The aim of this preregistered study was to investigate whether students with SLD-IR benefit more from linguistic simplification in science than their peers without SLD-IR. The sample consisted of 70 students (age, M = 12.67; 50% female) with n = 35 having SLD-IR. Applying a multilevel logistic regression model, we found neither a main effect of linguistic simplification nor an interaction effect (differential boost) on science performance. However, students with SLD-IR performed significantly lower in science. Implications include further investigation on how to support students with SLD-IR in their science performance.
Professors Cruz Neri and Ratelsdorf employed exemplary procedures in planning and executing their study. SET readers who conduct research themselves will recognize the strengths in their pre-registration of the study as well as their reporting of the data and materials from the study. For those readers who are not familiar with these “open science” research methods, just understand that the methods promote trust that the researchers took steps to ensure transparency, that their research is not harboring hidden (whether simply mistaken or outright fraudulent) misinformation.
Now, to be sure, the results of this study will need to be replicated (another important feature of open science), but the idea is that this study can likely be trusted.
The take-away is that re-writing test questions to make them less difficult for students who, despite their reading disabilities, have the knowledge and skills to answer the questions correctly, may not be helpful.
We educators may need to bark up another tree...uhm, maybe teaching our students more effectively?
Cruz Neri, N., & Retelsdorf, J. (2022). Do students with specific learning disorders with impairments in reading benefit from linguistic simplification of test items in science? Exceptional Children, 89(1), 22-40. https://doi.org/10.1177%2F00144029221094049
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