Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Logo

English Learner Education

Strategy for Improving English Language Learner (ELL) Achievement Beginning in the 2012-2013 School Year

To:Superintendents, Principals, and Directors of Charter Schools, Approved Private Special Education Schools, Educational Collaboratives, and Special Education in Institutional Settings
Copy:ELL Directors and Test Coordinators
From:Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D.
Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education
Date:June 7, 2012

I am writing to provide updates related to the Department's strategy to improve the academic achievement of ELLs. The key elements of this strategy include strengthening the effectiveness of sheltered English immersion (SEI) instruction, updating the qualifications required to earn an ESL License, and the transition to new English language development standards and assessments in the coming 2012/13 school year. As you may know, the first two components require amendments to the regulations that will be voted by the Board at its June meeting. These and related components are part of a larger initiative called RETELL (Rethinking Equity and Teaching for English Language Learners) that provides a comprehensive blueprint for transforming ELL education in Massachusetts.


RETELL is designed to provide ELLs access to effective instruction and related supports, as most recently detailed in my Board memo of May 16, 2012. The training course leading to the "SEI Endorsement" is one essential component that will give educators a foundation of understanding, knowledge, and skills critical to effective SEI instruction. The Board will vote on June 26th whether to require this endorsement for core academic teachers. Ongoing professional development will also be required of all licensed educators during each license renewal cycle related to SEI and ESL instruction in order to sustain the focus on effective classroom practice. Beyond this coursework and professional development, SEI experts will provide supports such as coaching and professional learning communities to help teachers apply in their classrooms the knowledge and skills they acquire in these courses and trainings. Current requirements for earning the ESL License do not reflect the most current research and studies of effective practice. The Board will also vote in June whether to update the knowledge requirements for the ESL License. Please note that while these new requirements would only apply to newly licensed ESL teachers, the new requirements should also be considered as more experienced ESL teachers develop and implement their individual professional development plans (IPDPs) for renewal of their professional level license. We anticipate that instruction and professional practice in classrooms will improve for ELLs through ongoing supervision, evaluation, and support for SEI teachers, and by the adoption of updated English language development standards and assessments through the WIDA (World-Class Instructional Design and Assessment) consortium.


Massachusetts has now formally joined the WIDA consortium. We announced our intent to pursue WIDA membership in a Department memo to Superintendents last September 30 and at an event with WIDA staff and ELL directors on November 10. WIDA provides a rigorous system of standards and assessments to advance the language development and academic achievement of ELL students. The WIDA English proficiency standards and assessments were developed by national English language experts and are already in use in 27 other states. The WIDA standards promote academic language development for ELL students in four content areas-language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies-and thereby facilitate students' success in school. Of particular significance is that these standards align with the 2011 MA English language arts curriculum frameworks (which incorporate the Common Core State Standards) and have been embraced by professional associations such as TESOL and MATSOL; our current English language proficiency benchmarks and outcomes (ELPBOs) do not reflect the new standards. In considering whether Massachusetts should become a member of WIDA, our staff began talking with representatives from other participating states in the spring of 2011 and had extensive discussions with Massachusetts educators serving ELLs, especially in urban districts. We concluded that the WIDA standards, in conjunction with the 2011 Massachusetts curriculum frameworks in English language arts (ELA) and mathematics, will enhance the learning of ELLs and provide more opportunity to improve their academic outcomes. The ELPBOs will be replaced by the WIDA standards beginning in the 2012-2013 school year. As a member of the WIDA consortium, Massachusetts will benefit from an array of instructional and assessment resources for educators, including comprehensive statewide professional development for implementation of the WIDA standards and a new screening test for identifying incoming ELL students. Two- and three-day Department-sponsored training workshops on the WIDA standards have already begun for ESL teachers who work on a daily basis with ELLs. These workshops will continue this summer and into the coming school year at no charge to districts. Training on the WIDA standards will also be a major focus of the coursework required for SEI content teachers to earn an "SEI Endorsement."


WIDA membership involves not only new standards, but also a new assessment for English language proficiency: ACCESS for ELLs. Districts have already completed their final administration of the MEPA assessments, MEPA-R/W and MELA-O. Beginning in the 2012-2013 school year, MEPA will be replaced by ACCESS for ELLs, which is a shorter test to administer, will be administered annually just once per year in January and February, beginning in 2013 (a reduction from twice/year for MEPA), and that requires significantly less training for administration by ESL teachers and other test administrators. Department-sponsored training for the administration of ACCESS for ELLs tests will begin in fall 2012 and will consist of an hour-long online session for test administrators, self-administered at their convenience. School and district testing coordinators will be trained in person this fall at regional half-day sessions. More information about WIDA and ACCESS for ELLs is provided on the attached fact sheet. Over the next several months I will be sending additional information to you about RETELL, including the Model SEI Endorsement Course, professional development related to WIDA standards, administering ACCESS for ELLs tests, and using the resources made available by WIDA to Massachusetts educators of ELLs. If you have any questions about the WIDA standards, please contact the Office of English Language Acquisition and Academic Achievement at 781-338-6220. If you have any questions about the ACCESS for ELLs tests, please contact Student Assessment Services at 781-338-3625. Together, the RETELL initiatives, including the WIDA system of standards, assessments, and resources, will enhance teaching and learning for ELLs throughout the Commonwealth.

District Action Summary for 2012/13 School Year

  • Qualifying for the SEI Endorsement: The Department will make prequalified instructors for the SEI Endorsement Course available to districts beginning in fall 2012. Using state funding anticipated for FY 2013, the Department will pay for these course instructors. Core academic teachers1 teaching one or more ELLs (i.e., "SEI teachers") will need to be enrolled in the course according to a four-year schedule (September 2012 through June 2016) that prioritizes higher-incidence, lower-performing districts early in the rollout period. Higher incidence districts will have three consecutive years, and lower-incidence districts two consecutive years, to qualify SEI teachers for the endorsement. We have previously distributed a chart that specifies which districts are located in each cohort. We will soon distribute an updated chart that specifies the numbers of SEI teachers that need to qualify for the endorsement in each year of the four-year rollout period.
  • Training in the New WIDA Standards: A series of two- and three-day Department-sponsored sessions for district ELL leaders and ESL teachers was conducted in May highlighting the implementation of WIDA standards and formative classroom assessments, and preparing staff to train colleagues. Additional sessions will be offered during the summer months, and at least quarterly during the coming school year, for urban and low-to-moderate incidence districts. While courses for June are fully enrolled, notification of training opportunities in July and August will be sent shortly to superintendents and ELL directors with information on registration, dates, and locations. Notification of fall training opportunities will be provided to superintendents in my back-to-school update. Department staff will also communicate directly with ELL directors and principals by email, providing them with direct links to further information and online registration.
  • Implementing the NEW Access for ELLs Assessment: Training will be provided to school and district test coordinators during face-to-face half-day sessions in late September through mid-October (dates to be determined), and to ACCESS test administrators (generally ESL teachers) through online sessions lasting about an hour, beginning in October for the first administration of the ACCESS for ELLs assessment in January/February 2013. Notification of face-to-face and online training opportunities for test coordinators and administrators will be communicated in my back-to-school update and by email directly to ELL directors and principals in early September.
Finally, the Department expects to develop models of SEI professional learning communities (PLCs) and coaching by January 2013. Our goal is to provide no-cost and low-cost online (facilitated) options, as well as other more robust options for coaching by SEI/ESL experts. Districts should consider whether to set aside funding to support the engagement of their SEI teachers and administrators in one or more of these important support options. Participation in SEI PLCs and coaching will not be required, hence, Title III, Title IIA and other appropriate federal sources may be used for this purpose. Thank you for your support and leadership of this transformation of ELL teaching and learning.

Fact Sheet on Transition to WIDA Standards and Assessments

What Is WIDA?

World-Class Instructional Design and Assessment (WIDA) is a consortium of 28 states (including Massachusetts) that provides a common set of English language development standards and assessments supporting academic language development for ELL students. WIDA offers a number of resources to instruct and assess ELLs, and WIDA professional staff are available for consultation. Information on WIDA can be found online at Timeline for Transition to ACCESS for ELLs Tests:
  • February-March 2012: Schools administered spring MEPA tests for the last time to ELL students enrolled in grades K-12.
  • May 2012: Professional development on WIDA standards begins (ongoing).
  • June 2012: Department reports MEPA results from the final spring test administration.
  • Fall 2012: Department provides training for all ACCESS for ELLs test administrators.
  • October 29-November 16, 2012 (projected): Schools order ACCESS for ELLs test materials.
  • January 10-February 13, 2013 (projected): Schools administer ACCESS for ELLs tests to ELL students enrolled in grades K-12.
  • May 2013 (projected): Department reports baseline ACCESS for ELLs test results.
  • January-February 2014: Schools administer ACCESS for ELLs tests to ELL students enrolled in grades K-12 (annually beyond 2014).
  • May 2014: Department reports ACCESS for ELLs test results (annually beyond 2014)

Comparison of ACCESS for ELLs and MEPA Tests

Standards AssessedWIDA English language development standards aligned with academic vocabulary in four content areas, including the 2011 Massachusetts curriculum frameworksStandards in the English Language Proficiency Benchmarks and Outcomes for English Language Learners (ELPBOs) (2003)
Test Administration ScheduleJanuary-February (2013 and beyond)
No fall assessment
February-March (Spring MEPA)
October (Fall MEPA)
Approximate Student Testing TimeGrades 1-12:
110-140 minutes per ELL student
  • Reading: 35 minutes
  • Writing: 35 minutes for ELLs with lower English proficiency; 65 minutes for ELLs with higher English proficiency
  • Listening: 25 minutes
  • Speaking: 15 minutes (individually administered)
45 minutes per ELL student
  • individually administered
Grade K-12:
200 minutes per ELL student on spring test (plus the same for new ELL students on the fall test)
  • Reading: two 45-minute sessions
  • Writing: two 45-minute sessions
  • MELA-O: 20 minutes
Approximate Test Administrator Training Time
  • 1 hour: Reading, Writing, and Listening (Grades 1-12)
  • 1 hour: Speaking (Grades 1-12)
  • 2 hours: Kindergarten test
  • 1-2 hours for Reading and Writing
  • 16 hours to train and qualify staff to administer MELA-O
Screener/Placement TestWIDA-ACCESS Placement Test (W-APT) which can also be used to place incoming ELL students
  • Locator survey (Grades K-2)
  • Locator tests (Grades 1-12)
Sample Test QuestionsPractice test; sample items available at: test; no released items

Last Updated: June 11, 2012

Contact Us

Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
135 Santilli Highway, Everett, MA 02149

Voice: (781) 338-3000
TTY: (800) 439-2370


Disclaimer: A reference in this website to any specific commercial products, processes, or services, or the use of any trade, firm, or corporation name is for the information and convenience of the public and does not constitute endorsement or recommendation by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.