Frequently Asked Questions About Licensing Exams

Multi-language exams

CLEAR Exam Review (Summer 1992)
Eric Werner, M.A.

Question: I recently attended a meeting at which a state official announced that having English as a second, nonprimary language constituted a disability. Therefore, he said, state licensing boards must accommodate this condition (with interpreters and translated exams, for example) as part of their compliance with the ADA. Is this correct?

Answer: No. I've asked numerous lawyers who are familiar with the ADA and with the 1973 Rehabilitation Act whether ESL status is a protected disability. All have said that ESL status is not, by itself, a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities (such as caring for one's self, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing , hearing, speaking, etc.). Therefore, it is not covered by the ADA.

CLEAR Exam Review (Winter 1993)
Eric Werner, M.A.

Question: Some candidates, and officials of the schools that train them, have asked our licensing board to translate its written test into languages other than English. Persons making this request feel that translation would benefit test takers who have weak English skills by allowing them to be tested in their native tongue. What guidance or opinions have you in this area?

Answer: I suggest that before deciding what to do, you examine the multiple dimensions of the sensitive issue before you. These include public protection, psychometrics, costs and benefits, legal/ governmental mandates, and political/cultural realities. Dual-language testing is a complex matter and different persons will reach different conclusions about whether it should be done in a particular circumstance. Therefore, you should not assume that my opinions in this area will necessarily be shared by all other testing professional, let alone by all other credentialing officials.

Licensing boards are receiving an increasing number of requests for exam translations and interpretations. Not many are providing translations, but some are allowing the use of interpreters. There are many reasons why most boards do not translate or interpret their tests. I think that the reasons are generally sound, although each situation should be evaluated independently. I recently looked into this area and can offer you the following summary observations on your question. Be sure to look at the Summer, 1990 CLEAR Exam Review for two relevant articles.

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2002 Council on Licensure, Enforcement and Regulation