Voices Vol 41 No 4


Giving Your District Access to ACCESS

By JoAnne M. Negrín

Last spring, I attended a workshop offered by BJ Franks and Barbara Tedesco hosted by the Burlington County Chapter of NJTESOL/NJBE on understanding and using ACCESS scores. I thought about how informative and valuable the workshop was to the TESOL professionals in the room. I then thought about how much non-language educators need this information as well.

If students can exit our programs with the much-vaunted 4.5, but, in reality, that score provides minimal certainty that our students are learning and demonstrating understanding of academic content, and if CALP (Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency)  acquisition requires several more years than the average student receives in an ESL program, who takes it from there? All too often the answer to that question is that this responsibility is shouldered by teachers with no background in second language acquisition and no knowledge of strategies to effectively teach ELLs. (I will use the term even for our graduates in this case). They almost certainly have little idea what ACCESS is, why it matters, and what it can do for their instruction. This lack of information is especially critical in districts that only offer ESL in certain schools. Teachers and students in non-ESL schools do not have a specialist to rely on in times of need.

I put together a greatly simplified version of the most salient information about how to read an ACCESS teacher report and what those scores tell a teacher about a student. I gave each teacher a sample score report and we discussed what the differences in scores in the different areas might reveal. Of course, introductory information about what it means to be a 4 or a 5 had to be provided, as well as examples of what a student might be able to understand and produce at those levels in various content areas. Finally, we discussed common methods of differentiation so that ELLs can receive grade level content instruction at different levels of English proficiency.

As a parting gift, I prepared a binder for each school to be kept in a central location. This binder contained the school and teacher reports for all students who had exited the ESL program in the prior three years and who currently attend that school. This resource allows teachers to go and look at the score reports of the students they teach to gain insight on their language ability. As we continue to get comfortable with our new student management system they will also have access to this information there.

A successful academic experience for ELLs depends on all educators working together as a team. The historical structure and nature of our profession has often meant that we have viewed our subject areas independently. ESL teachers and administrators are in a position to educate other subject area teachers and non-language administrators about ELLs and their unique needs, creating a more positive environment for our students and improving their odds for success across the curriculum.

JoAnne M. Negrín is Supervisors’ SIG Representative. She is supervisor of ESL, World Languages, Bilingual Education, and Performing Arts at Vineland Public Schools. She may be reached at jnegrin@vineland.org