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ELL Update: New Exit Criteria, Equivalent Proficiency Levels, and Recommended Amount of Language Instruction

To:Superintendents, Assistant Superintendents, Principals, Charter School Leaders, and District ELL Program Directors
From:Jeff Wulfson, Acting Commissioner
Date:June 28, 2017


In 2016, the WIDA Consortium introduced its new English language proficiency assessment, ACCESS for ELLs 2.0. The new standards on ACCESS 2.0 require students to demonstrate a higher level of achievement in order to earn the same proficiency level as they would have on ACCESS 1.0, which has been phased out. These new standards were used in scoring the 2017 administration of ACCESS 2.0. Your schools and districts recently received these scores through your secure dropbox.1

We have completed a preliminary review of the old and new ACCESS reporting scales, and it is our opinion that more analysis and discussion with the field are needed before we can decide if the higher standards are warranted and appropriate for Massachusetts. A number of other states in the Consortium have raised similar concerns. We support the Consortium's commitment to rigorous English language proficiency standards, but changes to those standards must be vetted carefully, and if and when adopted, implemented with appropriate advance notice to schools and families. We will be asking for your participation in the coming months in reviewing the Consortium's new standards.

In the meantime, we are advising schools and districts to base instructional and reclassification decisions for the 2017-2018 school year on ACCESS 2.0 results that are equivalent to the previous ACCESS 1.0 results. As discussed in detail below, we are providing a crosswalk between the two achievement scales along with transitional exit criteria.2

New Transitional Exit Criteria and Equivalent Proficiency Levels on ACCESS 1.0 and 2.0

The new transitional exit criteria for ELL students, based on the 2016-2017 ACCESS 2.0 results are as follows:

To be eligible to exit ELL status, a student must have attained at least the following scores on ACCESS 2.0:

  1. An Overall Score of Level 4.2; and
  2. A Composite Literacy Score of Level 3.9

Additionally, we have calculated the equivalent scores on the new ACCESS 2.0 scale for students who had taken ACCESS 1.0 previously and received scores of Levels 2.0, 3.0, 4.0, and 5.0. This will assist districts in making decisions regarding the recommended number of periods of English as a Second Language (ESL) instruction to provide each student, as described in this memo and in the Guidance on Identification, Assessment, Placement, and Reclassification of English Language Learners.

Equivalent Proficiency Levels on ACCESS 1.0 and 2.0

Overall Proficiency Levels
ACCESS 1.0 ScoreACCESS 2.0 Equivalent Score
Level 2.0Level 1.8
Level 3.0Level 2.5
Level 4.0Level 3.5
Level 5.0Level 4.2

For our score comparability study, the Department used three methods to ensure the validity of our findings. All of the methods yielded very similar results.

  1. Equipercentile linking, which compares the scores of students on both tests at each percentile rank; e.g., the scores for an ELL student in the 15th percentile were calculated on both the 2015 ACCESS 1.0 (old scale) and 2017 ACCESS 2.0 (new scale);

  2. The WIDA Score Lookup Calculator, which converts a given score on the ACCESS 1.0 scale to a score on the ACCESS 2.0 scale. We used this method to determine comparable scores on the new scale for students who previously took ACCESS 1.0;

  3. Comparing the percentage of students attaining Level 5.0 on ACCESS 1.0 with the score attained by the same percentage of students on ACCESS 2.0.

Recommended Periods of English Language Instruction

ELLs must receive ESL instruction and language support consistent with their individual needs for rapid and effective acquisition of English language proficiency. See G.L. c.71A, § 1. For example, Foundational students should receive proportionally more ESL instruction than those at higher proficiency levels. The comparability study described above has necessitated a revision of the recommended periods of ESL instruction based on each student's ACCESS 2.0 results. Please review the revised guidelines below which districts should consider when determining the amount of instructional time for ESL support that is tailored to each student's linguistic and academic needs.

ACCESS for ELLs 2.0 Overall ScoreRecommended Periods of ESL Instruction
Levels 1.0–2.5
At least two to three periods (a period is not less than 45 minutes) per day of direct ESL instruction, delivered by a licensed ESL teacher
Levels 2.5–3.5Districts may use their discretion to determine the amount of ESL instruction provided to students between Levels 2.5-3.5, either at the Foundational or Transitional level, depending on each student's needs.
Levels 3.5–4.2
At least one period (not less than 45 minutes) per day of direct ESL instruction, delivered by a licensed ESL teacher

Districts should note that recommended ESL instructional time may fluctuate depending on the educational needs of ELLs enrolled in language instruction programs.

Thank you for your attention to this important information.

Information from the WIDA Consortium about changes to the 2017 ACCESS score scale and the likely effect of these changes on students' scores is located at WIDA: 2017 ACCESS for ELLs 2.0 Score Changes. Please contact Sibel Hughes in OELAAA at or 781-338-3569 if you have questions about the new exit criteria; contact Dan Wiener in Student Assessment at or 781-338-3625 with questions about ACCESS for ELLs 2.0.

1 For comparative purposes, we have also provided you with the 2016 results rescored based on the new standards.

2 In addition to reviewing ACCESS 2.0 scores, districts must consider other relevant data to determine whether students can perform ordinary work in English, and whether or not such students' English Learner classification should be removed. See Guidance on Identification, Assessment, Placement, and Reclassification of English Learners (ESE, Nov. 2016).

Last Updated: July 12, 2017

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