An ELL student, or an English Language Learner, is a student who lives and goes to school in an English speaking country but who does not speak English at home. There are millions of students around the United States who have parents that have emigrated from another country and likely use their native language within their household. This can sometimes present difficulties for students in school, where English is the primary language.

Thankfully, there are ELL programs in place to help students excel in school, without a language barrier getting in the way. One way to make sure students are getting the right support is by administering the ACCESS test and evaluating their performance on this ELL test.

What Is the ACCESS Test?

ACCESS stands for "Assessing Comprehension and Communication in English State-to-State for English Language Learners." It's a test that's given to students from kindergarten to grade 12, to assess their progress in learning English. The test is administered by the WIDA Consortium, and it meets the government's requirements for the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). This act sets forth standards for monitoring a student's journey towards English proficiency.

How Is the ACCESS ELL Test Administered?

The ACCESS test comes in different types and is administered in different ways, from kindergarten placement tests to online-based tests vs. physical paper-based tests. The test can also be administered to a child individually or in group setting. Schools can provide information on which testing options are available for the student, as they may feel more comfortable doing it one way over another.

What Does the ACCESS Test Measure?

With the test being broken down into individual sections, educators can get a more specific understanding of which area the child needs more support in. For instance, perhaps the child can read a story on the grade level fluently and answer questions about the story. But, when asked about certain vocabulary words, they lack understanding compared to their non-ELL peers.

Or perhaps the child has excellent listening comprehension skills, but they have difficulty forming cohesive sentences in English. The ACCESS test for ELL measures a student's English proficiency in:

  • Social & Instructional Language
  • Language of Language Arts
  • Language of Mathematics
  • Language of Science 
  • Language of Social Studies

Why Is the ACCESS Test Important?

The ACCESS for ELLs test is important because it gives educators and school districts information about a student's progress in English. With this information, especially when the child has been tested since kindergarten, many decisions can be made to help the student's educational growth as much as possible, for instance:

  • Whether or not the child is attaining English proficiency according to state standards
  • When the child can enter or exit the ELL program
  • How classroom teachers can best be informed about specific instruction in the classroom
  • To see the child's overall growth with English over time

The Benefits of the ACCESS Test

Similar to the Common Core Standards in education, the ACCESS test and the WIDA Consortium help create state-wide educational standards so that students have an equal opportunity in education. The test helps ensure that students who speak another language at home won't fall behind because of language acquisition problems. It keeps all students on the right track, so they can graduate high school with all the tools and resources they need for adulthood.

The ACCESS test can also help educators, in some ways, distinguish if any difficulties the student is having are due to language or another issue, such as a learning disability. Of course, if a child is suspected to have a learning disability, other tests will need to be administered to make that determination.

How to Prepare Students for the ACCESS Test

The best way students can study for the ACCESS test is simply by letting them be themselves! Remember, since this is an assessment tense, it's important that it can assess a student's English abilities as accurately as possible.

That being said, any test can make some students nervous, which can inherently affect their score. That's why it's a good idea to take into account some preparation tips, so all goes smoothly on test day:

  • Make sure students understand, on an age-appropriate level, why they are taking the test
  • If they will be taking an online-test, use the tools on the WIDA website to explain what they will need to do
  • Utilize an English language proficiency assessment sample and practice tests on the WIDA website

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