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Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System

Guidance to Students Prior to Taking the Online Speaking Test

About the ACCESS for ELLs Speaking Test

The Speaking test is a measure of a student's ability to produce verbal academic English by responding to recorded test questions. On the online Speaking test, the virtual Test Administrator guides the student through sets of questions designed to elicit language at progressively higher levels of proficiency. Students record their responses by speaking into a microphone. The responses are recorded and automatically submitted for scoring by trained scorers at the Data Recognition Corporation (DRC), the WIDA testing contractor.

Students begin by listening to a recording of a "model" (sample) student responding to a task at a targeted proficiency level; then, the student responds to a similar question at the same proficiency level, using the model student's response as an example.

Speaking tasks are developed at three proficiency levels: one, three, and five.

  • Students produce single words, chunks of language, or short phrases in response to a proficiency level one (P1) task;

  • Students produce sentences that are generally comprehensible and incorporate general and some specific academic language at proficiency level three (P3).

  • Students produce task-specific vocabulary in cohesive, extended sentences at proficiency level five (P5).

The length of response time a student may take to answer a question depends on the task, grade, and proficiency level. During scoring, students are not penalized for running out of time and/or not completing a sentence or thought. Student responses do not need to be accurate to score well; some tasks on the speaking test may elicit only relatively short responses. Brief responses can score well if they are clearly delivered and include appropriate word choices.

Preparing to Administer the Speaking Test

  • Be sure to set up a testing environment with enough space between students to minimize distractions and allow privacy when students are speaking.

  • WIDA recommends testing no more than 3–5 students per test administrator. Newcomers and/or students at lower proficiency levels may need to be assessed individually.

  • For new(or shy) students, the test administrator should sit next to the student in an individual testing session and ask them to "talk to you" while speaking into the microphone.

  • Point out to the student that he/she will follow "Nina's" model responses on the test. Have the student practice responding using progressively longer and more complex sentences.

  • Role-play with students wearing headsets with microphones so they will become familiar with using this technology.

  • Practice pausing before hitting the "record" button. Tell student(s) to think about their response during the pause and before they record. Encourage them to start recording when they are confident that they have a response ready.

  • Reinforce the idea that students should use the entire time interval allowed to respond, giving them the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge of vocabulary and their ability to connect ideas.

  • It is okay for students to leave a gap during their response as they think of additional things to say, but once they hit STOP, they are finished and cannot go back.

  • Provide reminders to students like those listed below shortly before testing.

Reminders for Students

  1. Stop, breathe, and think about what you will say before you hit the record button. Speak clearly. Do not whisper.

  2. Fill all the available time when you respond.

  3. Use "and, because, then, and also" to extend what you are saying.

  4. You should speak about as long as Nina speaks.

  5. Use the pictures to help you think of things to say.

  6. Ask the student: "Have you thought of everything you can say about this"

  7. Do not hit stop until you are sure you have finished.

Sample items provide students with opportunities to produce spoken language as they would on the Speaking test. Sample items are available at Preparing Students for ACCESS for ELLs.

If you are interested in the criteria that are used to score your students' Speaking test responses, you can review the WIDA Speaking Rubric Grades 1-12.

Last Updated: April 7, 2020

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