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Measuring Student Growth on the ACCESS for ELLs

New ESSA Opportunities

Under No Child Left Behind (NCLB), states had limited leeway in how they developed their accountability systems. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) substantially removes limits on how we can design our accountability systems, and it encourages innovative and comprehensive systems.

This is great news for states, districts, and students, as it allows us to more accurately talk about student growth, and ensure that the systems we design provide benefits for everyone. While this will drive more complex accountability systems, those developed under NCLB often suffered from a one-size-fits-all mindset. We hope to use this opportunity to greatly improve how we measure growth for ELs towards full English Proficiency.

Factors in Student Growth

It is well established that different ELs grow at different rates. Most educators with experience working with ELs are familiar with the “lower faster, higher slower” pattern of ELP growth, where younger and more inexperienced students show more growth than older, more proficient students. Under NCLB we didn’t have a way to really account for this difference. Under ESSA, we can now consider this.

As we design our new accountability system, we’ll be using starting ELP level and grade as factors for what growth we expect from students. This is a big improvement, as we understand that our ELs come from very diverse backgrounds, and this diversity is displayed in how rapidly they can obtain full English Proficiency.

A second improvement is that we can now focus on Scale Score growth, as it can provide a more fine-grained look at growth across grades and ELP levels. This will allow us to create growth expectations for individual students, more tailored to their unique circumstances.

In the future, we hope to extend this level of growth expectation tailoring to program type as well. We understand that the goals of a dual immersion bilingual program are different than those of English-only programs, and the expectations for student ELP growth should thus be different. While not possible to include in our initial ESSA plan, we do hope to add this criteria once we have sufficiently tested our new accountability system

As we roll out our ESSA accountability plan, we’ll be sharing this new model for expected student ELP growth. Look for draft plans in summer 2017 as we move into our ESSA Plan public comment period. We want your feedback to be sure that our new accountability system works for students and educators in your district.

2016 ACCESS for ELLs Standard Setting Impacts

In 2016 WIDA undertook a Standard Setting to realign the Proficiency Level (PL) cuts of the ACCESS for ELLs. These are the values 1.0 - 6.0 which are derived from the underlying Scale Scores. This Standard Setting was necessary to ensure that the increased language demands of our new college- and career-readiness standards could be met by ELs.

The impact of this Standard Setting was to make it more challenging for students to demonstrate English Proficiency. Scores on the 2016-17 ACCESS for ELLs test will likely look flat or even go backward for most ELs. In Wisconsin, we’ve consistently had Exit Criteria that is some of the more rigorous within the WIDA Consortium. Given that English Proficiency is now harder to demonstrate, we are likely going to revise the Exit criteria for some students in 2017. We want to strike a balance in ensuring that every EL is fully proficient, while not retaining EL status for longer than is appropriate.

Measuring Growth between 2015-16 and 2016-17

The new Proficiency Levels (PLs) that WIDA set in the summer of 2016 do not cleanly map to the old PLs. They span different numbers of Scale Scores, and there is not a clear one-to-one correspondence between the old and new PLs. This makes analyzing ELP growth as measured by PL increases between 2015-16 and 2016-17 difficult.

Scale Score growth, however, still has some meaning. We want to see every student with Scale Score increases in every domain every year. That said, what is appropriate Scale Score growth for any given student is unclear at this time.

With a potential change in Exit Criteria on the horizon, the end goal for students is currently uncertain. As ESSA requires that we develop a growth-to-proficiency model for accountability, we need to understand what the end goal is, and how long we expect students to take to get there. For this spring 2017, we have neither of those pieces

As we roll out our new accountability system, we’ll be answering many of these questions. And after a year or two we’ll be revisiting those decisions, and working to ensure that we’re providing meaningful information about student growth.

Moving Forward

For the 2016-17 ACCESS for ELLs results, focusing on the ELP growth and exiting percentage of ELs is likely counterproductive. This is due to the Standard Setting resetting the ELP level cut-scores, and due to the potential change in exit criteria. Focusing on Scale Score growth is more meaningful, but at the current time, we have yet to define what appropriate Scale Score growth looks like for ELs in different grades and at different ELP levels.

Wisconsin’s State Plan is available on the DPI webpage. Starting on page 29 you can find the details on how we plan to implement our new accountability system for ELs.

The 2016-2017 ACCESS for ELLs will be used as a “Year 0” for the new accountability system. Growth will be measured between the 2016-17 and 2017-2018 administrations, and then between successive school years. We will continue to revise our growth model as we have more years of data from the ACCESS for ELLs, to ensure that we strike a meaningful balance between what is realistic growth for students and what is necessary for students to become proficient in a reasonable amount of time.


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