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Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System

ELL Assessment Update: 2016 ACCESS for ELLs Reported Results, Standard Setting, and Revised Reclassification Criteria for 2016–2017

To:District ELL Program Directors
From:Dan Wiener, Administrator of Inclusive Assessment, Student Assessment Services
Paul Aguiar, Director, Office of English Language Acquisition and Academic Achievement
Date:November 28, 2016


Massachusetts administered the ACCESS for ELLs 2.0 (English proficiency assessment) for the first time in January and February 2016, using a combination of computer- and paper-based forms for students in grades 1–12. The test will be administered again in January–February 2017.

Standard Setting for ACCESS 2.0

Last summer, WIDA, supported by their partner, The Center for Applied Linguistics, conducted a "standard setting" study during which new "cut scores" were determined that define the lower and upper limits of each proficiency level on the new ACCESS 2.0 tests. Prior to the release of the 2015–2016 ACCESS results, the WIDA Technical Advisory Committee and the WIDA Executive Committee had recommended that the 2016 results be reported using the current (i.e., the ACCESS 1.0) cut scores in order not to delay the reporting of ACCESS results until late fall 2016. As a result, the 2016 ACCESS 2.0 results were calculated using cut scores from the previous version of the ACCESS tests. We are writing to inform you of the results of the standard setting study and to offer advice on possible next steps.

Recently, WIDA released its recommendations for new cut scores for 2016–2017 and beyond, which have now been adopted by WIDA member states, and will be used beginning in 2016–2017. The full WIDA Standard Setting Report will be available shortly at Data from the standard setting report indicate that, on average, the 2015–2016 results were reported about one-half to one full proficiency level higher than would have been reported if the new cut scores had been used, resulting in somewhat inflated proficiency levels for many students. As a result of the reported scores, some English language learner (ELL) students may have been exited from English language services prematurely. We urge districts to monitor the progress of those students carefully and, if needed, re-enroll them in language service programs where observations and other evidence warrant this, according to the policies and procedures outlined in the Guidance on Identification, Assessment, Placement, and Reclassification of English Language Learners Download MS WORD Document.

The results of the ACCESS standard setting process last summer and fall yielded the following general information about the reporting of 2015–2016 ACCESS scores:

  • Reading test results were reported:
    • about one-half proficiency level (PL) too high in grades 1–6; and
    • about one PL too high, between Levels 3 and 6, in grades 7–12.
  • Listening results were reported accurately.
  • Speaking results were reported:
    • about one PL too high, between Levels 3 and 6, in grades 3–6; and
    • one-and-a-half to 2 PLs too high, for all proficiency levels, in grades 7–12.
  • Writing results were reported:
    • accurately in grades 1, 2, 7, and 8; and
    • about one-half PL too high in grades 3–6 and 9–12.
  • Overall results were reported about one-half PL too high.

Looking ahead to the reporting of 2016–2017 ACCESS results, the application of the new cut scores will have a likely impact on student results in one or more of the following ways: individual scale and proficiency level scores may likely be somewhat lower in 2017 in the Speaking and Writing domains, in the Oral Language and Literacy composite scores, and in the student's overall scale scores and proficiency levels. The Student Growth Percentiles for ACCESS (SGPAs) are unlikely to change dramatically in 2016–2017.

Student Reclassification Criteria for 2016–2017

In response to the information presented in the Standard Setting Report, the Department will modify the exit (reclassification) criteria for the 2016–2017 school year, as shown below.

For the 2016–2017 school year only, districts may consider reclassifying students who achieve ACCESS scores of:

  • 4.0 or higher in the domains of Writing and Speaking, and
  • 5.0 or higher in Listening and Reading

Students who were exited in 2015–2016 under the previous exit criteria need not be reconsidered under the new criteria, but should be monitored carefully for their progress in English-speaking classrooms.

Once the 2016–2017 ACCESS scores are released and an analysis concluded, the OELAAA will review the exit criteria with its stakeholders, and make additional adjustments as needed. Districts will be kept informed as information and decisions become available.

Contact the Office of English Language Acquisition and Academic Achievement with questions regarding the placement and reclassification of English learners at or by phone at 781 338-3584.

Please contact Student Assessment Services with any questions regarding ACCESS results or standard setting at either or by phone at 781-338-3625.

Thank you for your attention to this important information.

Last Updated: November 29, 2016
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