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South Dakota Adopts ACCESS for ELLs

South Dakota has become the 17th state to decide to adopt ACCESS for ELLs, which is being used by more states than any other English-language-proficiency test to comply with the federal No Child Left Behind Act's requirement that schools test ELLs every year in their progress in English. The test is designed to assess ELLs in reading, writing, speaking, and listening, and was created by the World-Class Instructional Design and Assessment, or WIDA, consortium. WIDA was formed for the purpose of developing English-language-development standards and a test aligned with them.

The previous generation of English-language-proficiency tests typically only assessed listening and speaking—and didn't give a good indication of how well children were learning "academic English," the language of school. (See "States Clear Initial Hurdle on ELL Tests" in the Dec. 5, 2007 issue of Education Week.)

Sara A. Waring, the director of English-language-acquisition programs for South Dakota, told me in a phone interview yesterday that South Dakota is replacing use of an augmented version of the Stanford English Language Proficiency Test with the ACCESS for ELLs next school year.

"As a small state, we were struggling with aligning the [Stanford] test" with our standards, she said. In addition, she said, state officials concluded South Dakota could save $250,000 per year by switching to ACCESS for ELLs, and get more support for carrying out the test, such as four days of professional development each year. Ms. Waring said it costs $23 per student to administer ACCESS for ELLs. The state has about 5,000 English-learners in its schools.

She noted that WIDA also provides a separate placement test for ELLs at no extra cost to states, while currently South Dakota school districts are paying to use additional tests for placement purposes. Given the relatively small number of English-learners among the state's total student enrollment of 120,300, South Dakota needed to stop going it alone and join a consortium where it could benefit from the "knowledge base" of other states, Ms. Waring noted.

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