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Rhode Island Department of Education Releases Results of 2020-2021 Standardized Assessments for Multilingual Learners

PROVIDENCE, RI — The Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) today released the results of the 2020-2021 Rhode Island Assessing Comprehension and Communications in English State-To-State for English Learners (ACCESS) standardized assessment for multilingual learners (MLLs), including the Alternate ACCESS assessment for MLLs with significant cognitive disabilities. The ACCESS assessment is administered to MLLs to examine their English-language proficiency (ELP) on a scale of 1 to 6, with 6 being the highest, in four language domains: listening, reading, speaking, and writing. Students with a composite score of 4.8 or higher are considered ready to exit MLL services. ACCESS is developed by the WIDA Consortium, which provides standardized MLL assessments to 41 states and territories.

"The results of our ACCESS assessment demonstrate how deeply necessary the creation of a unified plan for MLL education was,” said Rhode Island Commissioner of Education Angélica Infante-Green. “Now that we have built the Blueprint for MLL Success in collaboration with our amazing multilingual education community, we are ready to get to work and help our students succeed. Growing up multilingual is a strength, not a shortcoming, and our multilingual learners deserve an education that acknowledges and celebrates that fact."

"Multilingual learners are often some of the most vulnerable students in Rhode Island, and the pandemic has clearly impacted their education,” said Rhode Island Board of Education Chair Barbara Cottam. “Rhode Island must take action to accelerate their learning, just like we will for every other student group. The Board of Education will be working closely with RIDE to ensure that the department follows through on the vision outlined in its strategic plan for multilingual learners."

The nature of MLL programs provides some core differences from other statewide assessments that should be considered while analyzing results. Because new students of all ages begin participating in MLL programs each year while others exit after reaching proficiency, there is no expectation that every student will be proficient every year. Instead, MLLs are expected to reach proficiency over the course of six years, and so results should be reviewed within the context of how long students have been enrolled in MLL programs as well as the continuity of and fidelity of services.

Student English Language Proficiency
As with other standardized assessments administered during the COVID-19 pandemic, average student proficiency dropped in the 2020-2021 assessment. Overall, 16.6% of MLLs tested at a 4 or above, compared to 21.3% in 2019-2020. Compared to 2019-20, RI experienced a decline in average English proficiency by years of MLL service, particularly for students in years 3-5 of MLL service. As in typical years, students with four and five years of MLL service had the highest ELP, with 31.6% and 33.1% of students testing at a 4 or above respectively. This was a decline from 43.9% and 44.4% ELP in 2019-2020.

Results from the 2020-2021 ACCESS showed significant disparities between student groups. Across all racial, ethnic, and economic identities, almost all student groups saw a decline in ELP. The only exception to this was MLLs identified as Asian, who had the highest statewide ELP levels at 42.5% in both 2019-2020 and 2020-2021, and MLLs in foster care, whose ELP rose from 13.7 to 20% year-to-year. As with the 2021 RICAS scores, MLLs identified as homeless or differently-abled scored lower ELP than their peers on average, with 13.4% and 7.1% ELP respectively.

Enrollment and Participation
The total number of students participating in Rhode Island's ACCESS assessment dropped by 15% year-to-year in 2021, due to a combination of lower enrollment and lower participation rates in every grade level. This is a smaller decrease than the 30% drop in number of students participating in ACCESS that occurred across the 41-member WIDA Consortium.

National Comparisons
Varying with the grade and year, average WIDA proficiency is about 10 scale score points higher compared to that of Rhode Island. However, MLL growth in RI was consistently higher compared to the WIDA average, both before and after the COVID-19-related disruptions to education.

Alternate ACCESS
The Alternate ACCESS uses a different scale, ranking student ELP on an ascending scale of A1, A2, A3, P1, and P2. Students who attain a P2 in two consecutive years are eligible to exit MLL services. The number of students testing at A1, A2, and P2 on Alternate ACCESS was similar in 2019-20 and 2020-21. However, RI saw a 5% increase in MLLs scoring A3 and a corresponding 5% decrease in those scoring P1, which together signal a decrease in statewide English language proficiency among MLLs with significant cognitive disabilities.

Response
Earlier this year, RIDE released its Blueprint for Multilingual Learners’ Success and its Strategic Plan for MLL Success. These documents were developed through engagement sessions with stakeholders during the 2019-2020 school year and edited with feedback from educators, families, and students. The Blueprint articulates the shared vision for MLL instruction and identifies principles for high quality instruction and services, and the Strategic Plan outlines how RIDE will make them a reality. RIDE will spend 2021-2022 on engagement and adoption of policies and professional development, and then move to the full implementation of the policies in 2023-2026.

RIDE has already started implementing some of these strategies, including funding the districts of Central Falls, Providence, Westerly, and Woonsocket with grants to explore, implement, or expand bilingual and dual-language learning programs in their schools; assembling a cross-office team to integrate evidence-based practices for MLLs and differently abled students into RIDE's curricular frameworks in ELA, math, and science; and expanding pathways for multilingual learners to succeed in algebra through a Gates Foundation grant.