Testing Equity for English Learners

Date: April 6, 2022

To:  Jeffrey C. Riley, Commissioner, Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education

From: Massachusetts Association of Teachers of Speakers of Other Languages (MATSOL) and Multistate Association for Bilingual Education (MABE)

Re:  Testing Equity for English Learners

While we applaud the decision of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to allow students in grades 3-8 to take the MCAS tests remotely this spring, the policy does not address the inequity of in-person testing required for English Learners. In addition to MCAS, English Learners take an annual English proficiency test, ACCESS for ELs, which is only administered in-person. As a result, while their peers have the option to complete all testing remotely, English Learners, many of whom live in communities that are disproportionately affected by COVID-19, still need to go into school buildings for in-person ACCESS testing. This is an inequitable policy that favors some students over others.  

Additionally, as many students return to in-person learning for the first time all year, we believe that students will benefit from more time for academic learning, language development, and social-emotional support, not on taking tests. We call on the Department to immediately postpone the ACCESS for ELs testing for this school year, as allowed by federal guidance.

For a more detailed explanation of our concerns, please see the statement from MATSOL and MABE “2021 ACCESS for ELs Testing” (Dec 8, 2020), which was created with input from our membership.

Below are the action items we requested in the statement. Although conditions have changed since our first statement was released, the concerns detailed in the statement have not been addressed.

  1. School districts should not be penalized for low student participation in the ACCESS for ELs test during the pandemic. As of this date, the Department has not decided about how lack of participation will affect district accountability measures. Likewise, schools and teachers should not be penalized if students do not meet English Proficiency Benchmarks. The Department needs to address how students’ English Learner Success Plans will be impacted.
  2. If the testing goes forward, the Department should provide Districts with a clear message to send to families stating that if a family does not feel safe sending their child to school for testing, they do not have to take the test and that the student and family will face no negative consequences. The Department should assist districts with this communication by providing the message in English and translated into the most common languages. Families can then decide what is best for their child.
  3. Under current guidelines, students can only exit EL programs with a minimum ACCESS score, along with other relevant data including local assessments, MCAS, grades, observations, and the WIDA Performance Definitions to determine “whether students can perform ordinary classroom work in English.” This year, districts should be allowed to use other evidence of language proficiency to reclassify ELs and exit them from EL programs without the ACCESS score.

Read our December 8 statement “2021 Access for ELs Testing” here.
https://matsol.memberclicks.net/assets/Statements/MATSOL-MABE-2021-ACCESS-for-ELs-Testing-12-08-2020-to-post.pdf

See our Letter to the Editor in The Boston Globe, April 9, 2021 https://www.bostonglobe.com/2021/04/09/opinion/in-person-test-an-unfair-burden-english-learners/

MATSOL Condemns Anti-Asian Bigotry and Violence

MATSOL condemns the surge in anti-Asian bigotry and violence since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic that has negatively impacted the Asian, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders community, many of whom are our students and colleagues. Specifically, we are horrified and saddened by the shootings in Atlanta on March 16, 2021 that killed 6 Asian women. We strongly stand in support of racial justice. 

Racism and hatred have no place at MATSOL. We are committed to doing the necessary work to ensure we as an organization are practicing and supporting anti-racism. 

Too often the history of discrimination against the Asian and AAPI community is overlooked and not included in our educational curriculums or conversations about racial justice. We want to make sure our members know that we are a community of educators who value diversity, equity and inclusion both within the organization and within the field of English education.

Please look for updates about how MATSOL will continue to collaborate with our members to address this issue going forward.

MATSOL Board of Directors & Staff


Resources

The MATSOL Educators of Color SIG will meet on Friday, April 9 at 3:30 PM for a listening session. The agenda will be to vent and support each other from the current hate crimes

Please know that this is a space for all educators who identify as People of Color. Please respect the space.

If you’d like to join the group, email Jason Fei at jfei@matsol.org.


Here are a few helpful resources for teaching about the history of anti-Asian violence and racism in the United States (Thanks to Dr. Christine Leider):


TESOL Statement

As an affiliate of TESOL International Association, MATSOL strongly stands by the TESOL statement below:

TESOL Condemns Global Acts of Violence and Discrimination Against Asians

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, numerous media reports and high-profile incidents have shown a growing number of verbal and physical assaults against adults and children of Asian descent in communities around the world. Often fueled by a rhetoric of lies about the origin of COVID-19, these actions and incidents of hate and xenophobia cannot be tolerated and must be denounced at all levels of government and society.

Last year, TESOL International Association (TESOL) supported House Resolution 908 in the U.S. House of Representatives, condemning the growing acts of discrimination and violence that were perpetrated against Asians since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is clear that despite recognition of this problem by many world leaders and advocates, these despicable actions have only continued to grow in frequency.

At its core, TESOL is an organization that values diversity, multiculturalism, and multilingualism. These acts of hatred and discrimination, directed toward communities that are made up of countless English learners around the world, run counter to those values.

TESOL is committed to working with its partner organizations and allies in order to combat the current epidemic of racism, discrimination, and xenophobia that is affecting our communities of color.  

From https://www.tesol.org/news-landing-page/2021/03/11/tesol-condemns-global-acts-of-violence-and-discrimination-against-asians

Equity for the 2021 Massachusetts State Seal of Biliteracy

Date: March 5, 2021
To: Commissioner Jeffrey C. Riley, Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education

We are writing about an urgent issue for current high school seniors who wish to earn the Massachusetts State Seal of Biliteracy (SSBL) but did not achieve the required score on the 10th Grade ELA MCAS. As English language, dual language and world language educators implementing the awards in school districts throughout the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, we urge the Department to allow students who achieve the Competency Determination (CD) under the temporary regulations approved in January 2021 to also satisfy the English Proficiency criteria for the State Seal of Biliteracy.

Before the pandemic, any student earning the CD through an Educational Proficiency Plan had the opportunity to also satisfy the English proficiency criteria for the Massachusetts State Seal of Biliteracy. The same policy should hold under the temporary CD regulation for students who cannot come to school buildings for in-person testing.

Read the full letter...

From:
Massachusetts Language Opportunity Coalition
Massachusetts Association of Teachers of Speakers of Other Languages (MATSOL)
Multistate Association for Bilingual Education, Northeast (MABE)

Update on 2021 ACCESS for ELs Testing

MATSOL and MABE sent a letter to the MA Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education on December 8, 2020 urging DESE to cancel 2021 ACCESS for ELs testing. The letter summarized the concerns expressed by our members about about health and safety, equity, test validity, and use of resources, and stated that going forward with testing this school year will have a negative impact on English Learner students and families, furthering educational inequity. Read the MASTOL/MABE statemement here.

We received a reply from Commissioner Riley on January 4, 2021, acknowledging but not really addressing our concerns and stating that the testing will go forward:

[T]he decision to waive statewide testing must be made by both the U. S. Department of Education and the State Legislature, since these tests are required by both state and federal laws. See e.g., G.L. c. 71A, § 7; 20 U.S.C. § 6311; 34 C.F.R. § 200.6(h). The U.S. Department of Education has indicated that they do not anticipate granting any assessment waivers this school year, in recognition of the adverse consequences to students and schools for not assessing and reporting students’ levels of knowledge and skills during the pandemic. Additionally, public health experts acknowledge that schools are among the safest environments for children, so the plan is to assess EL students in the schools they normally attend, following proper health and safety protocols. Read the Comissioner’s letter here.

In addition to the MATSOL/MABE letter, a coalition of legal organizations — Multicultural Education, Training and Advocacy, Inc. (META), Center for Law and Education, and Lawyers for Civil Rights, Boston — also sent a letter to the Commissioner calling for cancellation of the test.

The undersigned are public interest legal organizations that represent immigrant students
and families. We write today to urge that you take courageous and important action and
postpone the in-person administration of the WIDA ACCESS test for English language learners (ELL) during the COVID-19 pandemic. As public health data amply demonstrates, these students and their families are uniquely and disproportionately at risk of contracting the disease and the WIDA ACCESS in-person testing – which entails multiple separate test administrations over multiple days – places the students at imminent health risk and harm. We respectfully ask that DESE issue guidance to all schools in the Commonwealth concerning ELL students, particularly to inform parents, in English and relevant home languages, that in-person ACCESS testing at this time is voluntary and that parents and students will be not be punished, disciplined, penalized, reported or otherwise sanctioned for their legitimate COVID-19 safety concerns. Read the letter.

WIDA also responded to a letter from the legal groups about testing:

WIDA is not the entity that decides whether testing is delayed or cancelled. States are the
organizations that make those decisions, in consultation with local schools, many of which are meeting face-to-face with safety procedures in place. Read the WIDA letter.

MATSOL and MABE will continue to montior the situation and explore options fo supporting members and their students.

Statement on 2021 ACCESS for ELs Testing

December 8, 2020

To:       Jeffrey C. Riley, Commissioner
            Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education

From: Massachusetts Association of Teachers of Speakers of Other Languages (MATSOL)
Multistate Association for Bilingual Education (MABE)

On behalf of our over 2,500 members, including ESL teachers, bilingual teachers, EL and bilingual program directors, and other English Learner (EL) educators in Massachusetts, MATSOL and MABE urge the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to cancel ACCESS for ELs testing in the 2020-21 school year. On December 7, 2020, the Department notified school districts that the testing window has been extended for a second time, allowing testing from January 7 through May 20, 2021, and ELs are expected to test in person in their district “to the greatest extent possible.”  

Our concerns about testing remain, especially any testing that takes place during the winter months. In-person testing is still highly problematic as long as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. We believe that the most important consideration is how ACCESS testing this year will impact on our students. Going forward with testing this school year will have a negative impact on English Learner students and families, furthering educational inequity. Included in this letter is a summary of input collected from MATSOL and MABE members — educators working with English Learners – who are concerned about ACCESS for ELs testing during the pandemic.

Read the full statement here.

Free Membership for Early Career Educators

Beginning in fall 2020, MATSOL is offering free student memberships to Massachusetts college and university students preparing to become teachers in TESOL, bilingual, and EL education. The MATSOL Board of Directors initiated this new membership program in 2020 to help support early career educators of multilingual students.

MATSOL has also initiated formation of a new MATSOL Early Career Educators Speical Interest Group (SIG) for student members to connect with each other across institutions. Student members may also join other MATSOL SIGs.

Free student memberships are available to new members of MATSOL who are a students matriculated in a degree program in a Massachusetts college or university program for TESOL, applied linguistics, education or related field. Please see the MATSOL membership page for details and restrictions.

Find out how to apply for a free student membership!

Support J-1 and H1-B Visas for High Need Teachers

Sign on to this letter to support language teachers!

We the Language Opportunity Coalition and Portuguese Educator Pipeline and Resources Group share urgent concerns about the Executive Order and suspension of J-1 and H1-B visas for high need teachers in our K-12 and Higher Education world language and bilingual programs.

We believe without an exemption for these educators who hold deep linguistic knowledge and skill in time of a teacher shortage, that this Executive Order will negatively impact our most vulnerable students, furthering inequities, and potentially non-compliance with Massachusetts General Law Part 1 Title XII, Chapter 71A. 

We ask you to join us in signing your support, no later than Friday July 20, 2020 at 12 Noon at the link here.  Individuals or organizations may sign on.

Please disseminate widely!

Congratulations 2020 MATSOL Award Recipients!

Anne Dow Award for Excellence & Creativity: Sandra Cunha

Given annually to a professional who has made outstanding efforts that reflect enthusiasm and creative, energetic, independent thinking. The 2020 award was give for leading collaboration to support the education of English Learners. The award is supported by the Anne Dow Family Foundation. Sandra is the EL Coordinator at Global Learning Charter Public School in New Bedford, MA.

Linda Schulman Innovation Grants

$500-$1,000 grants for pedagogical projects that promote English language learning and embody a spirit of creativity, sensitivity and community and benefit English language learners by improving their language competency or increasing their understanding of American culture. 

  • Amy Ostroff, Baker School, Brookline. Project Title “The Baker Arboretum”
  • Karen Malley, Federal Street Elementary School, Greenfield. Project Title: “Reviving a Community Garden in our Own Backyard”
  • Christi Cartwright, International High School, Lawrence
  • Jen Noorjanian, Woodland Elementary School, Mildford. Project Title: “Project WEAVE:  Welcome and Engage to support Adjustment Via Education” 
  • Megan Gabellieri, Woodland Elementary School, Milford. Project Title: “Mindful Practice for ELs”

MATSOL Statement on Racial Justice

As an organization of educators, we at MATSOL want to express our sadness and anger at the recent senseless killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, as well as the longstanding racial injustices that persist in our country. It is our mission to promote equity and excellence for multilingual learners and educators and it is our belief that this includes challenging systematic racism, language discrimination, and cultural biases in our schools, communities, and professions. 

We encourage all our members to join us in speaking out and taking a stand when we see members of our schools and communities being impacted by racism and discrimination.  We all have an important role in shaping the field of TESOL and English language teaching to be rooted in social justice pedagogies to ensure that our classrooms allow all students to thrive regardless of their race, ethnicity, and primary language.

MATSOL is an organization focused on supporting multilingual students and families across the commonwealth. We have many Black students and educators in our community. MATSOL cannot be silent as we bear witness to persistent racial injustice. We stand with our students and members who are grieving, angry, and afraid, and call for change. 

The MATSOL Board of Directors is committed to developing an action plan with specific steps MATSOL can take to make change, in direct collaboration with our members. We will a) send out a member survey in the week of June 22 and b) hold a Zoom meeting on June 29 at 4:00 PM with the objective of gathering thoughts from the larger MATSOL community on what we can do to maximize our impact.

We invite our members to join us at the meeting and/or participate in the survey so that you can share your ideas, opinions, and needs. Members should look for an email from MATSOL with links to participate.

Signed,

MATSOL Board of Directors

Melissa Latham Keh, President
Priya Tahiliani, Vice President
Mary Hughes, Treasurer
Mary Clark, Clerk
Juanita Brunelle, Past President
Ece Gurler
Moira Greenson
Jody Klein
Theresa Laquerre
Christine Leider
Stephanie Marcotte
Molly Ross
Yuiko Shimazu 

Staff

Helen Solorzano, Executive Director
Victoria Ekk
Jason Fei
Emily Graham
Teresa Kochis

Issues of Equity and Access in the (Distance) Education of Multilingual Learners

By Christine Montecillo Leider, Johanna Tigert, and Michaela Colombo

As the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered public schools this spring, educators mounted a Herculean effort to move instruction and assessment online.  Reflecting back on the spring of remote learning – and anticipating its continuation in the fall – as educators we need to ask ourselves: How can we prioritize the needs of multilingual learners during remote instruction? While the pandemic changed the schooling experience for all students, the onset of distance learning exacerbated existing inequities in education and ignited long overdue conversations about historically marginalized students in public schools. As teacher educators working with multilingual students, we worry that these and other inequities have hit this student population especially hard. 

Multilingual learners, in general, are among the most vulnerable of our students. As such, health, safety, and well-being should always be at the forefront – and many schools and school systems responded to these needs.  Assuming basic needs are met to the best of their ability, schools can turn their efforts to curriculum and instruction, which also present challenges. Multilingual learners and families can face communication barriers due to language as well as access issues related to the digital divide.  For the nearly 5 million classified English Learners (ELs) in U.S. public schools, however, distance education is not just about having access to technology or translation services, it’s about access to language and content. 

Specifically in Massachusetts, multilingual students who are ELs are entitled to receive both English instruction delivered by an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher, and content instruction delivered by Sheltered English Immersion (SEI) endorsed teachers. Both forms of instruction are crucial as they provide support for developing academic English and access to the general curriculum. However, conversations about remote learning have largely ignored these issues and instead, focused on students’ access to technology. As a response, the education world churned out myriad resource lists and instructional suggestions for teaching online. These resources are useful, but their narrow focus on instructional technology has masked the ever-present issues of educational parity for multilingual learners, especially those who are classified as ELs.  Those of us who work with this population of students know that even in the best of times content teachers lack training to work with ELs, there are simply not enough ESL teachers to bridge the gap, and instructional technologies most often used with these students are not designed with them in mind

We’ve seen these same inequities play out during the pandemic: few of the resources published over the spring address multilingual learners’ needs specifically, and guidance for teachers has come too little, too late. It took until May 18th for a guidance document on serving ELs to be added to the US Department of Education resource page for remote/distance learning. Until then, the only guidance at the federal level appeared in the March 16th DoE fact sheet on protecting students’ civil rights, which mainly discussed services for students with disabilities. (News flash: like special education, specialized instruction for ELs is a civil right mandated by federal law). Unfortunately, this does not come as a surprise: too often, we have seen EL education treated as an “add-on” in the physical school building and it has also appeared to be merely an afterthought in the world of remote instruction. 

Multilingual students need instruction that addresses both content learning and English language development. The bigger problem here is that most teachers were not prepared to do this even before the pandemic. Strategies such as differentiation, scaffolding, and sheltering are effective when enacted by well-trained teachers – even in an online environment. As schools and districts begin to make decisions on instructional delivery for the fall, let’s focus on improving teachers’ readiness to meet the needs of multilingual learners in any environment. Teacher preparedness is the key to offering multilingual students opportunities to participate meaningfully and equally in educational programs as their civil rights demand. 


Christine Montecillo Leider is Clinical Assistant Professor of Language Education and Program Director of Bilingual Education and TESOL-Licensure at the Wheelock College of Education and Human Development at Boston University.

Johanna Tigert is an Assistant Professor of Education at the College of Education at UMass Lowell.

Michaela Colombo is Professor Emeritus in the College of Education at UMass Lowell.

Drs. Leider, Tigert, and Colombo co-lead the MATSOL Teacher Educators SIG.