Implementing ESSA

Progress Toward English Language Proficiency

Minnesota is changing the way it evaluates schools’ success helping English learners (ELs) build English language proficiency, as measured by the ACCESS for ELLs 2.0 test.

What is Progress Toward English Language Proficiency?

English language proficiency is the level of knowledge and skill with the English language required for academic success. Whenever a student increases their level of knowledge and skill, they are making progress toward English language proficiency. One key function of the Minnesota public school system is to help students make enough progress that they achieve English language proficiency within a reasonable period of time after entering Minnesota’s public schools.

Students who take the ACCESS test receive scale scores in four domains – reading, writing, listening, and speaking – as well as a composite scale score based on all four domains. Those scale scores are then used to determine the student’s proficiency level on a scale from 1.0 to 6.0. English language proficiency is defined as a composite proficiency level of 4.5 and at least three out of four domains at or above 3.5.

For the purposes of school accountability under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), Minnesota public schools serving English learners will be evaluated based on students’ growth on the ACCESS test compared to the growth required to be on track to achieving English language proficiency.

Why Does Progress Toward English Language Proficiency Matter?

English learners’ success in academic subjects, as well as in career and college, is greatly supported by English language proficiency. Students should be able to fully access and benefit from a well-rounded education in Minnesota schools. English language proficiency makes this access possible and increases the benefits students receive, especially in the large majority of Minnesota schools where English is the primary language of instruction.

English learners enter Minnesota schools at many different ages, with varying levels of existing English language proficiency, and from a diverse set of contexts and backgrounds. Students’ progress toward English language proficiency is therefore a fairer measurement of schools’ success than English language proficiency on its own.

What can Schools and Districts Do to Improve Progress Toward English Language Proficiency?

In Minnesota, an English Language Development Standards Implementation framework has been developed for education leaders engaged in implementing English Language Development (ELD) and content standards. The framework can be used by school districts to evaluate their current level of ELD standards implementation, identify features already in place, and identify areas in need of improvement. Schools and districts should reference content standards and English language development standards in planning for language learning throughout the school day. The explicit interaction between language and content is fundamental to success for ELs. Access the English Language Development Standards Implementation document for more information.

Schools and districts should capitalize on the resources and experiences that ELs bring to school to develop their academic language. Teaching and learning should revolve around who ELs are, what they can do, and how everyone can benefit from the tremendous assets they bring to school. When students can recognize their own linguistic and cultural identities represented in their school, they feel respected as members and contributors to their learning environment.

Schools and districts should provide opportunities for all English learners to engage in higher-order thinking. With ample and varied instructional supports, every English learner can engage in cognitively demanding tasks to demonstrate understanding and use of academic language and content.

For more information or support with EL programming, visit the MDE English Learner Education website.

How Will Progress Toward English Language Proficiency be Calculated in Minnesota’s ESSA Accountability System?

A path to proficiency will be plotted for each student based on their initial ACCESS composite score and the grade they were in when they received that score. In general, older students and students with lower composite scores will have more time to achieve English language proficiency, while younger students and students with higher composite scores will be expected to achieve English language proficiency more quickly.

Each student’s path to proficiency will include targets for each year. These targets will reflect the observed trend that students tend to progress faster at lower proficiency levels on the ACCESS test, and slower at higher proficiency levels. Each year, the change in the student’s composite proficiency level will be compared to the change required for them to meet their target. Students who meet or exceed their targets will receive full points, while students who do not meet their targets will receive partial points based on how close their score was to the target.

At all schools where 20 or more students receive a progress score, the average student progress at the school will be used as the school’s average. This average will be one of the indicators used to identify schools for support.

Under ESSA, schools will also be recognized for improvement, with particular attention to the school’s context and the way in which improvement was achieved. This recognition should provide additional ways for schools and districts to find similar schools and districts that have improved progress toward English language proficiency.

Contact Information

For more information about the ESSA accountability system, please contact

For more information about serving English learners, please contact