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Private English tests criticized for lack of measures for students with stutter

In this Jan. 14, 2017 file photo, university hopefuls wait to start the National Center Test for University Admissions at an exam site on the Kyushu University campus in Higashi Ward, Fukuoka. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- There are spreading concerns about the lack of testing accommodations for students who stammer, under a new standardized university admission exam system to be introduced in academic 2020.

Only six out of eight privately run English tests, recognized under the new system, plan to implement some kind of adjustment for exam takers with stutters. Neither the government nor bodies running the private tests have set a standard for how to accommodate students with the speech impediment in the tests' spoken sections.

Japan Stuttering Genyukai Association (JSGA), a support group for people who stutter, urged the education minister in March to mull measures so high school students who stammer will not receive unfair treatment when taking private English tests.

"I knew the answer, but I couldn't say it out loud," recalled a 16-year-old student who took the Global Test of English Communication (GTEC) last autumn. GTEC had not introduced accommodations for examinees who stammer when the second-year high school student took the exam.

Stuttering is a speech disorder in which a person has difficulty saying the first sound or a particular sound in a word, and the flow of speech is often broken by repetitions. Problem words or sounds vary by person.

The 16-year-old student, from Fukushima Prefecture in northeast Japan, has difficulty saying the first sound in a word, especially vowels. The student said they couldn't do their best on the test because of English sentences starting with "I" -- pronounced in Japanese phonetics as the double vowel "ai."

The eight English tests accepted for the new entrance exam system focus on testing a broad range of language skills, such as general business-related terms and English needed to study abroad. Examinees are allowed to take the test twice.

According to a web portal established by bodies running private English tests, only three tests including the Test of English for Academic Purposes (TEAP) had announced accommodations for stammering and other disabilities as of December 2018.

The university that the 16-year-old wants to go to has indicated it plans to use the privately run English tests as part of its admissions process. The student is worried that the university will evaluate their test scores without considering their disability.

"I want such tests to be fair so that people with disabilities can take them without being discriminated against," said the student.

JSGA secretariat head Hideaki Yokoi stated, "I can't think the government and bodies running private English tests conducted sufficient debate on testing adjustments for students who stutter."

Private English tests were required to announce the introduction of reasonable accommodations for examinees with disabilities in order to be accepted under the new system. For this reason, bodies running the eight private English tests have each announced a list of measures for people with visual or hearing impairments, physical disabilities, weak or sickly constitutions, developmental disabilities and other types of impediment.

However, the government has not verified if the accommodations are appropriate, and examinees are not thoroughly informed of the measures.

The current National Center Test for University Admissions has standardized testing accommodations, but an education ministry representative explained that "specific adjustments that a body must implement have not been decided" under the new system.

An admissions counselor working for a national university commented, "The actual adjustments are left up to the bodies running private English tests. It's very different from the center test," which has a standard.

Upon receiving the JSGA's request, the education ministry demanded each body to try to secure opportunities for students to take tests, regardless of whether they have a disability.

This past April, GTEC added to its test explanation that graders are informed if an exam-taker has a stutter so that voice records can be checked accordingly. Meanwhile, the Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC) requires examinees who stutter to take tests in a different room or extends their test time. Depending on their symptoms, such people can be exempted from the spoken portions of the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) and the International English Language Testing System (IELTS).

(Japanese original by Sooryeon Kim, Lifestyle and Medical News Department)

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