ELLs Test-Drive New English-Language Proficiency Assessments

By Lesli A. Maxwell — June 05, 2014 2 min read
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It’s been a field-testing frenzy all spring with five separate assessment groups asking school districts and students to test drive the array of new exams they are designing to measure students’ command of the common-core standards.

After a slow start, the World-Class Instructional Design and Assessment Consortium, one of two groups of states that are developing common-core aligned tests of English-language proficiency, will wrap up its first phase of field testing at the end of this month. English-language learners whose school districts are in one of the 35 WIDA states have been trying out three of the four domains that will be covered by the new, online test known as ACCESS 2.0: speaking (all grades), reading (grades 1-3), and writing (grades 4-12).

Carsten Wilmes, WIDA’s director of assessment, said he didn’t yet know how many students or schools districts have participated in the field tests this spring, but said he’s “quite satisfied” with progress so far. WIDA will continue its field tests next spring as well, adding the listening domain and additional reading items.

“Our goal over the two years of field testing is to include all of our states,” Wilmes said. “We are on track to accomplish that goal.”

WIDA is aiming for 30,000 English-language learners to participate in the field tests, though no students will take more than one domain. A second group of states working together to design a new English-language proficiency test— ELPA 21—will start field testing in the 2014-15 school year. Both WIDA and ELPA 21 will debut their operational tests in the 2015-16 school year.

WIDA has years of experience in the design and development of English-language proficiency tests and the field tests of ACCESS 2.0 are really focused on shifting the assessment from paper and pencil to an online environment, Wilmes said.

Among the many advantages of delivering the test online, he said, is the more engaging environment for students and the time and labor it saves for educators. For example, testing ELLs on the speaking domain has always required teachers to conduct one-on-one sessions that last 15 to 20 minutes. With the online test, students will now listen through headphones and speak their answers through microphones that will record them.

Another major shift for students will be on the writing domain of the test. The youngest students—those in grades 1-3—will read their prompts on paper and continue to hand-write their responses. Students in grades 4 and 5, however, will read their prompts on the computer screen, but will be given paper to respond. They can opt to type answers on the keyboard. For students in grades 6 through 12, the default mode for responding will be typing on the keyboard, but with the option of writing on paper.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.