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Column: What is ACCESS? (and really, another test?)

By DEBORAH J. MITCHELL, District 518

WORTHINGTON — ACCESS is an acronym for Assessing Comprehension and Communication in English State-to-State for English Language Learners ( ). It is a large-scale test that first and foremost addresses the English language development standards that form the core of the WIDA (World-Class Instructional Design and Assessment) Consortium’s approach to instructing and testing English language learners. Minnesota belongs to the WIDA consortium which sets standards for students whose home language is not English.

The WIDA standards incorporate a set of model performance indicators that describe the expectations educators have for ELL students at five different grade level clusters, in five different content areas, and that incorporate each of the domains of language. Grade-level clusters include kindergarten, grades 1-2, grades 3-5, grades 6-8 and grades 9-12. The five content areas include social and instructional language, English language arts, math, science and social studies. The four domains of any language are speaking, listening, reading and writing.

The question arises, why must we administer another test. When a district, such as Worthington, receives Title III funds to facilitate students’ English language proficiency, accountability measures must be in place. Federal guidelines require states to define Annual Measurable Achievement Objectives (AMAOs) to measure and report on English Learners (ELs) progress toward and attainment of English proficiency and academic achievement standards. Three specific AMAOs have been established under the law. These AMAO are:

1. The progress made toward achieving English language proficiency. These are measured by the annual increases in the percentage of students making progress in learning English based on the state of Minnesota’s proficiency assessment — that is, the ACCESS test.

2. The attainment of English language proficiency measured by the percentage of students meeting state criteria for English language proficiency as measured by ACCESS. Once students meet the state criteria, they no longer participate in EL programming.

3. Academic achievement and success as measured by the goals or targets for the EL subgroup under Title I assessment, as well as attendance and graduation for ELs. Title I assessments include MCA math and reading.

The focus of Title III, a component of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), is to help local education agencies ensure that English learners (ELs) and immigrant students attain English proficiency and meet the same challenging state standards required of all other students.

To achieve this goal, districts that receive Title III funds must provide high-quality professional development activities to staff involved in the instruction of ELs, including elementary education, content, English as a Second Language instruction, and Bilingual Education teachers and paraprofessionals. Worthington Public Schools does not presently provide bilingual education.

In addition, Title III funds may be used to enhance the language instruction education program already offered by the local education agency. Supplementary activities funded by Title III must be grounded in scientifically based research on teaching EL and immigrant children and youth. These supplementary programs are evidenced by after school teacher led study sessions, enhanced summer programs for English language learners and more.

Local education agencies participating in the Title III program are required to notify parents of their student’s participation in Title III programming annually and within 30 days of the beginning of the school year, or within two weeks if the student enters the district during the course of the school year. These notifications are sent annually, usually toward the end of August, to parents whose children receive these services.

ACCESS testing will be conducted in Worthington Public Schools in February and March this year. As always, students who are well rested, have a good breakfast and are prepared to do their best will be most successful on these assessments. If you and your family only speak English then your students will not take the ACCESS test.

Deborah J. Mitchell is coordinator of student education for District 518.