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WIDA Consortium Guidelines for Testing Accommodations on the ACCESS for ELLs™ English Language Proficiency Test



The WIDA consortium supports accommodations policies that assist in leveling the playing field for English language learners (ELLs) and students with disabilities whenever such accommodations do not change the construct being tested or lead to inflated test scores that do not accurately reflect students’ knowledge or proficiencies. Accommodations for ELLs are particularly helpful on large-scale, academic content area assessments where ELLs participate with native English speaking students. It is important to note, however, that the ACCESS for ELLs™ is a test of English proficiency, NOT an academic content area assessment. While ACCESS for ELLs™ focuses on the language skills needed for success in classroom contexts, it is nonetheless a test designed for use with English language learners— not the general population.


ACCESS for ELLs™ has “built in” standard features that might reduce the need for accommodations. For example, ACCESS for ELLs™ is not a timed test. ELLs may take longer than the average stated time in each section. The thematic orientation of the test and the heavy reliance on graphic support are features that should lend themselves to enhanced comprehension, not only for ELLs in general, but many students with special needs.  The WIDA sub-committee on accommodations has established its accommodations policy to maximize both fairness and validity for ELLs taking ACCESS for ELLs™. The following examples outline this policy in three sections:


1)      Accommodations approved for use with any ELLs because these accommodations are not likely to invalidate scores; these are:


·         504 type accommodations (physical disabilities, mobility issues, etc.)

·         Separate testing setting or individual administration

·         Objects or markers to assist with maintaining place on the page

·         Review test taking skills or provide practice with other similar English proficiency test items or sample ACCESS for ELLs™ items available at (prior editions of ACCESS for ELLs™ or the ACCESS screener may not be used for this purpose). The focus of practice activities is on assisting ELLs to better understand test formats and directions, the “access skills” of testing. The focus should not be mastery of the test content or target skills. Improving target skills (in this case listening, speaking, reading, and writing in English) is the purpose of program support and classroom instruction.

·         Administer the test at home, in a hospital, or any other required setting

·         Provide individual or group encouragement

·         Any additional “non-linguistic” accommodation required that would not interfere with test validity




2)  Accommodations that are not recommended because it is likely that they would invalidate scores. The following list of accommodations should not be offered to ELLs taking ACCESS for ELLs™, unless an Individual Educational Plan (IEP) team has determined that the accommodation is absolutely necessary for a particular student and that not providing the accommodation in question would be a violation of the student’s legal rights. The IEP team should be aware of the potential of these accommodations to invalidate the scores on ACCESS for ELLs™.These are:


·         Repeating questions (listening section)

·         Breaks within sections, except as these are part of the standard adminstration procedures (breaks between sections are not controlled)

·         Orally read test questions (other than listening section) or audiotape test questions

·         Read, paraphrase or simplify test directions

·         Teacher uses highlighters or any similar device to distinguish words or key phrases within text



3)      Accommodations that are prohibited because they will definitely invalidate scores:


·         Test administration in a language other than English, either orally or in writing

·         Use of monolingual English dictionaries, bilingual dictionaries, or other similar comprehension aids.




Visual Impairments and Administration of ACCESS for ELLs™


ACCESS for ELLs™ is not available in Braille from WIDA.  A Braille version is not available because  WIDA does not provide a Braille translation. Rendering reading passages into Braille would alter the construct being tested, in this case reading in English. Furthermore,  ACCESS for ELLs™ relies heavily on visual graphics to assist in making the English language comprehensible. Graphic support is ubiquitous in all domains of the ACCESS for ELLs™. The inability to “translate” these visuals into Braille would put blind students at a competitive disadvantage. WIDA recommends, therefore, that ELLs who are blind not participate in the reading and writing portions of ACCESS for ELLs™.   IEP teams should recommend alternative assessments of reading, writing, listening and speaking that have been designed for and normed with students who are blind and are less reliant on graphic cues. WIDA discourages local educators from translating the reading and writing sections to Braille for these same reasons, but it does not prohibit this, should the IEP team decide it is in the student’s best interest to do so.


WIDA will provide a large print edition of ACCESS for ELLs™ upon timely request when completing on-line orders for students who qualify for this accommodation.



Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students and Administration of ACCESS for ELLs™


Deaf and hard of hearing students vary greatly in linguistic and cultural diversity with some growing up with American Sign Language (recognized as an official language), others using “Signed English,” and still others who may rely more or less on lip reading. Deaf students coming from other countries may “speak” and “listen” with sign languages used in other parts of the world.  In recent years, many schools for Deaf and hard of hearing students have shifted in educational philosophy away from viewing deafness as a disability toward seeing it as a cultural and linguistic difference. In this context, at least some deaf and hard of hearing students may be learning to read and write in English as a second language, much as other English language learners approach English as a second or additional language. The reading and writing domains of ACCESS for ELLs™ provide useful information with respect to the progress of some of these students. WIDA is exploring the use of ACCESS for ELLs™ with students at the Wisconsin School for the Deaf to better gauge the utility of these assessments in the future. For the time being, we leave it up to local educators and IEP teams to decide if certain domains are appropriate for individual deaf or hard of hearing students. Translating the listening and speaking domains into ASL is possible.  However, the construct being tested has been altered, thus scores may not have the same meaning.