WIDA ACCESS Content Review Meeting and Item Writing Workshop

By Sarah Forbes

Image courtesy http://www.bestcollegesonline.com/

Image courtesy www.bestcollegesonline.com

K-1 ELL Teacher at John F. Kennedy Elementary, Winooski School District, Vermont

In early March, I had the amazing opportunity to go to Washington D.C. to work with representatives from WIDA, the Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL), and other ELL professionals to learn a bit more about the process of developing content for the ACCESS for ELLs 2.0 English language proficiency assessment. We worked in grade cluster teams to review drafts of new test items and to share ideas and outlines for potential future ACCESS 2.0 topics. It is nice to know that CAL includes practicing teachers in this process, relying heavily on our input to decide appropriate topics and tasks for students.

The goal of this large scale standardized test is to isolate language from content knowledge in order to get an accurate measurement of students’ proficiency in English listening, reading, writing and speaking. The results are used to inform classroom teachers of students’ strengths and areas for growth, to communicate progress to parents and schools, and ultimately to determine whether English learners continue to receive language support services. This means that test item creators must ensure that all of the content students need to complete a language task is available and accessible within the test item text, visuals and verbal directions.

In the 6 stage timeline of test development, this workshop fit into stages 3 and 4, Item Refinement and Initial Item Generation. As we worked in our teams, we began to see the careful consideration required to create test items within the confines of a restrictive online programming environment and to avoid of a long list of topics due to bias and sensitivity issues. No wonder CAL calls in teachers for help! Our teams were provided with check-lists of questions to ask ourselves as we reviewed draft items. Then we began brainstorming new topics and drafting potential new tasks for future tests.

During the content review, as our team worked through test items, we were able to voice concerns and give feedback on many aspects of the student task, including how visuals supported text, whether text was appropriate for our grade level, how wording supported student understanding, and whether the topic was applicable to all of our diverse student populations around the U.S. We found our CAL facilitator to be incredibly open and excited about our feedback. Another CAL participant took extensive notes on our discussion;  later the CAL staff will comb through our transcript to find major themes and areas for improvement.

The item writing workshop asked us to create test item idea boards using assigned MPIs, or Model Performance Indicators. We generated a large number of topic ideas that avoided bias and sensitivity issues and were not repeats of past topics. These themes were then grouped together based on similarity. From these, we chose three main topics to develop into tiered speaking tasks. The new online ACCESS test is an adaptive system, and test tasks under one topic must aim to elicit language that matches proficiency levels within 3 tiers. If students are placed in tier A, beginner, in the reading and listening portions of the test, then they will be presented with tasks at at the beginner level (1) and intermediate level (3) in the speaking section. If they are placed in Tier B/C then they will be presented with intermediate (3) to advanced (5) level speaking tasks. For example, a Tier 1 task may involve simply naming objects in a visual shown on the test screen, a Tier B task might push students to make comparisons between things in the picture, and a Tier C task might encourage students to add detail and complexity to discourse by making justifications for choices based on a provided narration. WIDA’s website provides more information on the test format and development process: https://www.wida.us/assessment/access/.

The experience of working with test developers and teachers from across the country was an incredibly valuable one. As we voiced our concerns and questions, they were met with either open consideration or detailed explanations of why things are done a certain way, or why certain adjustments might be challenging. I also learned through discussion with different teachers that while our students may be different demographically and geographically, they are quite similar in their development and ability. I do believe that WIDA’s English Language Development standards provide us a cohesive and consistent definition of student proficiency and that WIDA’s work to align those standards with ACCESS 2.0, and to include educators in the process, is commendable. Despite all the technical bumps with the first year roll out of the online test, I’m confident WIDA will continue to improve on their work. I’m proud to be in a WIDA state.

Teaching Fills Your Heart, Not Your Wallet

by Stephanie N. Browncolorful-1332118_960_720

As a young girl, I was always told to find a secure field. I was told that I needed to find a career that would be fruitful. Well, I found a fruitful career that would fill by heart and not my wallet. My parents and teachers should have been more specific when giving me guidance.

Now, in 2016, I am working as an ESL adjunct professor. I have amazingly talented and kind students. Sometimes, the daze of finances and course scheduling can cloud just how wonderful my classes are.

Adjuncts do not usually have a lot of job security. They sit on the edge of their seats waiting for the new semester schedule to come out. This waiting may be in hopes of teaching specific classes, or in hopes of making enough money to pay bills. While they wait, they search for part time barista and restaurant work to supplement income. They sit behind school debt and stacks of papers to grade.

On paper, teaching may not be the best financial decision. Bank accounts may be low or empty. School debt may be piled high… But, do you know what else is piled high? Energetic students…unleashed potential… hopes… dreams…and an overwhelming desire to be apart of a growing community.

Every time I look at my bank account, I also take a look at my heart. For every dollar that my bank account lacks, my heart makes up for it triple fold. Being an adjunct may not be easy, but it keeps my heart alive. I appreciate the sacrifices that my students make, their complicated histories, and their desire to learn.

Teaching may not fill my wallet, but it fills my heart!

Stephanie and her students at Holyoke Community College.

Stephanie (kneeling in gray) with some of her talented & kind students at Holyoke Community College.

Second Call for Proposals – NNETESOL 2016 Conference

Reminder – only a few weeks remain before our proposal deadline! 

NNETESOL invites proposals for our upcoming conference. Consider sharing your expertise with your colleagues and present at our annual NNETESOL Conference. Please submit a proposal application via our 2016 conference page. We’re accepting proposals for 25- and 45-minute sessions!

When: Saturday, November 5, 2016

Where: University of Southern Maine, Gorham

Proposal Deadline: May 31, 2016

Please peruse our grants page for a list of grants and awards given by NNETESOL . Hope to see you at the November conference. For more information about NNETESOL check out our website.

Questions? Contact your state reps! You can find their contact information here. And thanks for your participation!

Support the ILGBTF TESOL Forum

e5IwAJlp_400x400TESOL’s International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Friends Forum needs your support. See below message from Forum Chair Geoff Lawrence:


In order for us to maintain our status as a TESOL Forum, we need to submit to TESOL a list of 25 member names and TESOL IDs who identify with and support the ILGBTF forum within TESOL.  Please complete this form (brief survey link below) no later than Friday May 27th as we need to submit the
completed form to TESOL by June 1st.Please CLICK ON THIS LINK (https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/5C3TXFJ) and complete the form by Friday May 27th (or earlier)

Here are the Forum renewal details (on the form we need to submit – and a description of our forum’s purpose that we’ll include on the form):

“Forums represented at the TESOL International Convention & English Language Expo are independent, informal groups organized to share common social, cultural, or demographic identities. To be considered for forum privileges at the TESOL 2016 convention, each forum must describe (in the box below) how their focus and activities support and advance TESOL’s mission and credo. Additionally, each forum must submit the names and email addresses 25 TESOL members who identify with the proposed forum.”

Our ILGBTF statement of purpose:

Formerly the TESOL ILGBTF Caucus, the ILGBTF Forum is a community of professionals in English language education from around the world who are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, or “Friends.” We are practitioners and academics, both producers and consumers of educational research, who
affirm and respect the diverse sexual identities of English Language students, teachers, and teacher trainers by seeking to foster learning environments free of bigotry, prejudice, and violence.

****PLEASE COMPLETE THIS FORM NO LATER THAN FRIDAY May 27th*.** Also included is a field where you may (optional) ask questions, note comments or provide a brief narrative which illustrates or illuminates the relevance of the ILGBTF Forum for you personally and professionally.

Thank you SO much for your support! We truly appreciate it!

Geoff Lawrence

TESOL Talks Photos

Earlier this week we reposted Beth Evans’ summary of Saturday’s TESOL Talks. Below are a few photos from the event courtesy of Anne Wright-Shank. Anne writes: “TESOL TALKS at UVM was a success with educators coming together to share colleagueship, conversation and convention wisdom from TESOL 2016 Baltimore.”




Just A Saturday With Friends

Re-posted from Beth’s blog, NNETESOL President-elect Beth Evan’s blog about teaching ESL in Vermont.

We were so lucky today to have about 20 people join most of the Vermont Northern New England TESOL board members.

It was great to see some familiar faces, and good to make connections with some new ones.

For two hours, some Vermonters who went to TESOL in Baltimore last month talked about what we saw, and one of our board members talked about taking part in the WIDA item review meeting in Washington, D.C.  I went over my Meaning in Movement presentation once again. It’s always fun to dance with friends.

One of the things that came out of the meeting was that people wanted maybe to meet more and to share what we are learning on a more regular basis. I would personally love that. Teachers too often close the door and teach alone.

We all work better when we steal ideas from each other.


TESOL Talks!


Click on the picture above to find out about a free professional development opportunity next weekend. Some Vermonters who went to TESOL would love to share what they learned with you! The event is free, and you’ll get 2 hours of professional development for coming. Coffee, carbs and conversation on us.

NNETESOL 2016 Conference Call for Proposals

NNETESOL invites proposals for our upcoming conference. Consider sharing your expertise with your colleagues and present at our annual NNETESOL Conference. Please submit a proposal application via our 2016 conference page.

When: Saturday, November 5, 2016

Where: University of Southern Maine, Gorham

Proposal Deadline: May 31, 2016


Please peruse our grants page for a list of grants and awards given by NNETESOL . Hope to see you at the November conference. For more information about NNETESOL check out our website.

Questions? Contact your state reps! You can find their contact information here. And thanks for your participation!



Beth Evans,

President-Elect NNETESOL



NNETESOL 2016 Annual Conference Announcement

We are happy to share some exciting NNETESOL 2016 Annual Conference News with you.  Firstly, we’ve chosen the location for the November 5, 2016 conference. We’ll be returning to the University of Southern Maine, Gorham. Look for the call for proposals within the week, and check the 2016 conference page for news.

Most importantly, we are proud to announce that our NNETESOL 2016 Keynote Speaker is

Dr. Margarita Calderón.


Dr. Margarita Calderón, Professor Emerita, Johns Hopkins University has served on national preschool-12th literacy panels and advisory boards (National Research Council, ETS, WIDA, National Center for Learning Disabilities, National Literacy Panel for Language Minority Children and Youth). She is a consultant for the U.S. Department of Justice and Office of Civil Rights. Her research interest focuses on professional development, effective schools, and language and literacy development of English language learners.  She was principal investigator in a 5-year study in middle and high schools called ExC-ELL funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York that developed a program to train math, science, social studies, and language arts teachers on integrating academic language, reading comprehension, writing skills and content knowledge to help ELs achieve in the mainstream classrooms.

She was Co-PI with Robert Slavin on the 5-year randomized evaluation of English immersion, transitional, and two-way bilingual elementary programs funded by the Institute for Education Sciences/U.S. Dept. of Education. Other research has been funded by the U.S. Department of Education, U.S. Department of Labor, National Institutes of Health, and Texas Education Agency, several school districts, and State Departments of Education. She has over 100 publications, is an international speaker, is invited to do keynote speeches at major conferences, and conducts comprehensive professional development programs throughout the country.

For more information, please visit Dr. Calderon’s web site.

Join us in Gorham, ME on November 5th!

Connect With NNETESOL at the TESOL Convention!

Going to Baltimore? Connect with NNETESOL. Our board members are attending and presenting! We hope to see you there.


When? Where? Who? What?
Wed PM 4:30-5:30 NNETESOL affiliate booth Visit the booth and speak with Past President Anne Wright Shank and President-Elect Beth Evans
Thurs AM

9:30 –10:15

Hilton Baltimore, Latrobe President-Elect Beth Evans presents on Meaning in Movement: Dance Gets Students Talking
Thurs PM 3:00–3:45 Hilton Baltimore, Johnson Maine Representative Alec Lapidus presents on Multimodal Social Semiotics as an L2 Cultural Negotiation Learning Tool
Fri AM


Electronic Village, Technology Fair:

Classroom Tools

President-Elect Beth Evans presents on Apps Help Teachers Document Student Growth in All Domains



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