Everything you’ve ever wanted to know: Scoring ACCESS for ELLs

April 10, 2024

By Shannon DeWitt, Hannah Haynes, Katie Stenz

Your students have taken ACCESS for ELLs and the testing part is behind you. [Phew!] But now, score reports are headed your way, and you may be wondering how to read them or how scores are calculated in the first place.

Consider this your brief reference to scoring!

This news article focuses on ACCESS for ELLs, ACCESS for ELLs Paper and ACCESS for ELLs Online. Find information specific to Alternate ACCESS on the WIDA Alternate ACCESS Updates page.

Who does the scoring?

Context: ACCESS for ELLs assessments are based on the WIDA English Language Development Standards and are used to measure students’ progress in learning English.

  • Kindergarten ACCESS for ELLs is administered and scored by the test administrator.
  • The Listening and Reading responses in ACCESS for ELLs Paper are scanned by Data Recognition Corporation (DRC) and scored electronically. DRC is WIDA’s partner organization, responsible for printing and distributing test materials, scoring, reporting and supporting the ACCESS Online test platform. The Writing domain is scored by trained human raters at DRC, while the Speaking test is administered and scored by the test administrator.
  • The Listening and Reading items in ACCESS for ELLs Online are scored by the online platform, and human raters at DRC score the Writing and Speaking domains.

Here’s a rundown of DRC’s scoring processes:

  • All DRC-trained raters are hired specifically to score Speaking and Writing responses. All raters are college graduates, and many are educators, writers, editors and other professionals. DRC also looks for raters who have experience scoring student responses on large-scale assessments or raters with degrees in English language arts.
  • Raters go through significant training before and during the scoring process. Raters’ performance is regularly checked to ensure they are scoring items correctly and consistently.
  • Tests are scored anonymously. Raters don’t know race, location or other demographic information about the student.

Why does it take so long to receive score reports?

  • When you return your test materials to DRC, materials are unpacked, sorted and Student Response Booklets are scanned in.
  • WIDA and our partners at the Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL) conduct behind-the-scenes verification processes: we check every year to make sure we’re seeing what we expect to see in terms of item performance. Before we can do that analysis, we need a representative sample from around the consortium, which takes some time to come in. (This is why it’s so important to return the Student Response Booklets for the Writing test in grades 1-3 early or on time!)
  • While scoring is ongoing at DRC, WIDA and DRC undertake a rigorous quality control process to ensure accuracy.
  • DRC finishes scanning, scoring and processing. Next is data validation. During this time, your test coordinator or your state education agency (SEA) representative is responsible for checking every single student record to ensure the data is correct prior to reporting. Some states have a second data validation window after you receive your reports to fix any errors that weren’t caught before reporting.
  • DRC uploads your state’s reports into WIDA AMS and prints and ships paper copies to your district.

What do these terms on the score report mean?

The ACCESS for ELLs Interpretive Guide to Score Reports is an excellent resource for understanding student scores and the different reports you receive. We encourage you to refer to it when looking at score reports.

Of the various reports, you may be most familiar with the Individual Student Report (ISR). The ISR is a detailed report of a single student’s performance. This report is intended to be shared with students, families, teachers and school teams.

The first section of the ISR lists the four language domain tests on ACCESS for ELLs: Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing. The ISR shows student performance in each domain using a proficiency level score and a scale score.

This part of the ISR also shows composite scores. These are proficiency level scores and scale scores for different combinations of language domains. There are four composite scores:

  • Oral Language: Includes a student’s listening and speaking performances, with each weighted equally.
  • Literacy: Includes a student’s reading and writing performances, with each weighted equally.
  • Comprehension: Includes a student’s reading and listening performances, with reading weighted more heavily.
  • Overall: Includes a student’s performance on all four domains, with reading and writing weighted more heavily than listening and speaking.

Composite scores can summarize student skills, but because a high score in one language domain can inflate a composite score, a student’s individual performance in each domain is more informative than a single composite score.

Scale scores on the domain tests are used to calculate the composite scale scores. The composite scale scores are converted to composite proficiency levels based on the student’s grade level, just like the domain scores.

Lastly, the ISR contains a section with Proficiency level scores. This section helps students, families and educators understand what a student can do based on their proficiency levels.

What do I do with student scores?

ACCESS for ELLs scores provide information on students’ English proficiency. They do not measure students’ academic achievement or content knowledge.

Use different scores for their intended purposes

Proficiency level scores help you understand what a student can do in each language domain. Use them

  • to identify students’ strengths and areas they can improve in. You can make comparisons across domains, but not across grades.
  • with the WIDA Can Do Descriptors to develop a student-specific English language skill portrait.
  • as one of multiple criteria to determine a student’s eligibility for English language support services. Schoolwork, in-class assessments and educator insights are all valuable in helping you understand a student’s English language proficiency and development.

Important note: SEAs, not WIDA, set reclassification policies. These determine exit criteria and establish guidelines for the use of ACCESS for ELLs scores.

Scale scores help you see progress over time. Use them

  • to make comparisons across grade levels but not across domains. A scale score of 355 in Listening is not the same as a 355 in Speaking! If you’re curious about the connection between scale scores and proficiency levels across grades K-12, check out the ACCESS for ELLs Scale Scores to Proficiency Level Lookup Tables resource in the WIDA Secure Portal.
  • to monitor student growth over time within a domain.

Use rubrics to understand expectations

The WIDA Speaking and Writing Rubrics detail the types of spoken and written language expected of students at each proficiency level. The scoring scales used by educators and DRC’s raters are based on the information in these rubrics. You can use these in your classroom as you work with students to improve their speaking and writing skills in English. Find more information about the rubrics on the ACCESS for ELLs Scores and Reports page.


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