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.