Toward Equitable Assessment of English Language Learners in General Chemistry: Identifying Supportive Features in Assessment Items

Document Type


Publication Date


Publication Title

Journal of Chemical Education

First page number:


Last page number:



Many students experience a language-related barrier which may keep them from fully understanding and engaging in complex chemistry content. Although dense and technically rich scientific language is challenging for most students to interpret, it can become a systematic barrier for English Language Learner (ELL) students when it cognitively interferes with their ability to demonstrate their content knowledge in a competitive, fast-paced, and mandatory science course. However, little is understood about how ELL undergraduates can be assessed in introductory science courses in a fair and equitable manner. The current study examined the potential of an equity-driven, empirical method (the Equitable Framework for Classroom Assessment; EFCA) for modifying assessment items to meet the needs of ELL students in general chemistry. Such an initiative is crucial for impartially assessing the chemical content knowledge of linguistically diverse students. We employed the guidelines of the EFCA to modify three assessment items (about the topics of limiting reactants and percent yield) in a way that reduces their linguistic complexity without watering down their content difficulty. We then presented ELL students with both the original and the modified versions of the items and asked them to comment-during semistructured, retrospective interviews-about the features that were supportive to their comprehension. The students identified multiple supportive features, including those related to the items' macrostructure (visual appearance) and its readability. They also identified specific types of scaffolds and representations that supported their understanding, as well as their ability to think through and set up the solution to the problems.


Chemical education research; First-year undergraduate/general; Testing/assessment


Science and Mathematics Education



Search your library