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An Analysis of English Composition Test Essay Prompts for Differential Difficulty ESL ECT

Pomplun, Mark; Wright, David J.; Oleka, Napoleon; Sudlow, Marilyn W.
Publication Year:
Report Number:
ETS Research Report
Document Type:
Page Count:
Subject/Key Words:
College Board, College Entrance Examinations, Difficulty Level, English as a Second Language (ESL), English Composition Tests, Essay Tests, Group Differences, Minority Groups


The purpose of this study was to conduct a detailed analysis of the difficulty over time of the essay prompts for the English Composition Achievement Test (ECT) with Essay of the College Board. Differential difficulty was explored by considering whether the relationship between the reference groups--male and white students--and the focal groups--female, American Indian, Asian American, Asian American ESL (English Second Language), black, Hispanic, and Hispanic ESL students--had remained constant over the seven years studied. The study used ECT data for seven of the last eight years: 1983, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, and 1990. In order to study the relationship between the ECT objective and the ECT with Essay, linear regressions and conditional means of essay scores on objective scores were computed. For each comparison, difference lines for the regressions and conditional means were plotted in order to identify any years with aberrant differences. These differences were very consistent across the years, indicating that test developers had been successful in using essay prompts that did not generally cause groups to perform differentially. Two essay prompts, however, were identified that contained characteristics that may have been related to differential performance. It is recommended that these findings be followed by analysis of more essay prompts and by more research into the nature of the essay performance of minority and ESL groups. (45pp.)

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