English Learner Progress Dips during Pandemic

The latest report on how English learners (ELs) around the country coped with language development during the pandemic reveals an overall downward trend in student proficiency and growth in 2021 as compared to 2019 and 2020. The impact of the pandemic on ELs’ test scores varied by grade and domain, with the relatively larger declines recorded in elementary and middle school grades (first and sixth grades) and in the domain of speaking.

The report examines English learners’ testing, proficiency, and growth in the academic years of 2018–19, 2019–20, and 2020–21, using population-level data from ACCESS for ELLs Online, administered across the WIDA Consortium to students identified as ELs.
The WIDA-produced report stresses that several factors should be considered when comparing aggregated and averaged test scores across years. First, for many EL students, the 2020–21 administration of the ACCESS for ELLs assessment was implemented under vastly different circumstances compared to past years. In addition to contextual and varied individual testing circumstances that affected student testing and performance, in response to challenges brought about by the pandemic, several WIDA Consortium member states and districts substantially shifted and extended their assessment administration windows, resulting in many students being tested at irregular times (e.g., nine to 15 months apart instead of twelve months apart). Therefore, students who tested in states and districts that administered ACCESS earlier than usual had a shorter time available for instruction and learning and would tend to show lower proficiency and growth. In line with this, higher proficiency and growth among students who tested into the end of the summer was recorded.

Another factor which should be taken into account is that compared to the previous years, the 2020–21 sample recorded about a 30% decline in the number of tested ELs across the WIDA Consortium. While there were still some WIDA states in testing (for the 2020–2021 school year) into October of 2021, many ELs did not participate in ACCESS testing in 2021. Therefore, for states, districts, and schools examining their students’ average proficiency and growth across years, it is imperative to consider any substantial differences in the profile (sample characteristics) of their tested students, as the pandemic has affected the educational opportunities and academic outcomes of EL students disproportionately. The report is available at https://wida.wisc.edu/resources/examining-english-learner-testing-proficiency-and-growth-and-throughout-covid-19-pandemic.