In recognition of Multilingual Learner Advocacy Month, we are posting a series of articles highlighting programs in Santa Cruz County that illustrate the guiding principles of California’s English Learner Roadmap.
This article focuses on Principle Three: System Conditions that Support Effectiveness by focusing on the implementation of a new statewide assessment for English language development, the ELPAC. The ELPAC will provide important information to parents, teachers, principals and district leaders, as well as the county office of education, about the progress of English learners. Results will help them reflect on what additional charging points they might provide to these students so that they reach their full potential as community members.
Principle Three: System Conditions that Support Effectiveness. Each level of the school system (state, county, district, school, pre-school) has leaders and educators who are knowledgeable of and responsive to the strengths and needs of English learners and their communities and who utilize valid assessment and other data systems that inform instruction and continuous improvement. Each level of the system provides resources and tiered support to ensure strong programs and build the capacity of teachers and staff to leverage the strengths and meet the needs of English learners.
After seventeen years, local educators are bidding adieu to the CELDT (California English Language Development Test) and bienvenue to the ELPAC (English Learner Proficiency Assessment for California). Both tests are designed to
- Measure how well students understand English when it is not their primary language
- Provide information that helps teachers support English learner students
- Provide information to parents about their child’s progress in learning in English
However, the ELPAC differs significantly from the CELDT because it is aligned to the 2012 California ELD Standards, which in turn are aligned to the California Common Core Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards. Implementation of the ELPAC is an important step in ensuring that educators have data about English learners’ progress based on up-to-date and valid assessments.
The test questions of the ELPAC are designed to mimic the more rigorous language demands of twenty-first century classrooms. For example, one item asks students to listen to a brief academic presentation on a science topic and orally summarize what they have heard. Another item for middle and high school students asks students to analyze data in a graph and defend a claim based on the data presented. In addition to listening and speaking, students are also assessed on their skills in English reading and writing.
Another new feature is the delivery of portions of the test via audio tracks that replicate the different contexts students might encounter in school, such as a discussion among students, or an oral presentation on an academic topic. Live Oak School District ELPAC Coordinators MaryAnn Hilton and Victoria Edgell, who coordinated the ELPAC for their district, reported that despite some initial trepidation in using the audio tracks, test examiners were ultimately pleased with this change, which required students to be more attentive. Overall, they felt that “the ELPAC is an improvement on the CELDT. It is stronger as an assessment of what students are capable of, allowing them more room to create language and share what they know.”
Santa Cruz COE Alternative Education teacher Jen Izant, who has been administering the assessment for the first time to students, concurred, “It’s a great language assessment… you do learn a lot about your students.”
And that, of course, is the purpose of any assessment: to provide useful information. Data from annual statewide assessments such as the ELPAC are an important part of the feedback loop that teachers, schools, districts, county and state educators use to make decisions about where to focus resources to continue to improve our educational system.
Educators, parents and students are looking forward to receiving the first student score reports for the ELPAC beginning in June 2018. School and district leaders will use this data, results of the statewide English language arts and math assessments, and other measures of student outcomes such as attendance, suspension rates, student and parent engagement surveys as they reflect on their strengths and focus their plans for improvement. Previously the CELDT was given in the fall, which meant that results were not available until the winter. Now, the ELPAC is given in the spring, which means that the results are available at the same time as other statewide tests.
Test examiners saw an additional benefit to testing in the spring, especially for kindergartners and first grade students. The spring testing window “improved testing conditions and … student’s attitudes towards the test,” according to MaryAnn Hilton and Victoria Edgell. Students approached the questions with more confidence and had better test-taking stamina compared to prior years’ fall CELDT administration.
The implementation of a new statewide assessment such as the ELPAC requires the coordination of resources at multiple levels. The California Department of Education (CDE) contracted with Educational Testing Services to develop the test questions. Teachers and educators provided feedback on the alignment of draft questions to the ELD standards and evaluated their appropriateness for the targeted students groups. Districts, including Pajaro Valley Unified, then field-tested the assessment in the spring of 2017.
The fall of 2017 and winter of 2018 saw a flurry of activities to prepare parents, students, teachers, principals and district leaders for the implementation of the new training. Statewide trainings for those who would be coordinating the new assessment for their districts were held throughout the fall. These were followed by local and regional trainings, including three hosted by the Santa Cruz COE for test examiners to learn how to reliably administer and score the new assessment.
In addition, the COE hosted three different “Unpacking the ELPAC” trainings for instructional leaders to learn about the new assessment and consider how to ensure that instruction aligns to the new assessment and ELD standards. Educators reviewed the ELPAC practice tests provided by the CDE and discussed how they could work with teachers to prepare students for the level of rigor the ELPAC represents.
In addition to examining the practice test and reworking instruction to align to the new assessment, teachers provided students with opportunities to experience the practice tests so that they would be familiar with the new format.
Parents were introduced to the new assessment at DELAC (District English Learner Advisory Committee) and ELAC (English Learner Advisory Committee) meetings. The CDE provides a variety of resources, including videos in Spanish and English and a written parent’s guide, available in multiple languages, to support the work of districts and schools in sharing information about the ELPAC with parents.
The process of ELPAC implementation provides an excellent case-study of how many educators at different levels, with different roles, are necessary for a school system to effectively support English learners in reaching their full potential.