January 11, 2016

21 things about ELPA21

Hello everyone! 
This is an old blog post from April of last year, but with ELPA21 upon us, I thought it was worth a re-posting!
Today I would like to welcome April Bryant from Cedar Falls, Iowa...our guest blogger today. 

April has been a classroom teacher since 1997. She has experience K-12 in Bilingual Education, ESL, and Spanish. She is part of the group that field tested ELPA21 across the country and here are her thoughts on the new ELPA21:

 Good afternoon colleagues,
 We were able to successfully administer the pilot ELPA21 to 23 students in 6-8th grades at Central.

We have been using the IELDA proficiency exam for many years.  Therefore, when you see a reference to the ELDA in this post, know that I am comparing the two exams. For more information about the IELDA visit:

Here are my reflections on the administration of the test and its future implications for ELL instruction:
We did not have any hardware issues whatsoever in our lab.  Three of the district techs were present to help with any glitches.  In that regard, this pilot exam was well supported.  Thank you Tech Department for your help!
I highly recommend the USB connected headset/mic combos for anyone giving this test.  They worked well.

2.  Software:
The software opened and functioned as predicted.  Students were able to successfully pause the exam, use the restroom and resume the exam by re-entering login data.  I was also able to use the proctor password to successfully re-enter an exam that had frozen.  So, those facets of the software performed as promised.

3.  One recommendation I would make to the software writers is to consider changing the format of the dual panel displays.  When students had two screens in one… they were confused about how to navigate between views.  If this remains the interface for the exam, we will have to teach this concept to the students before testing next spring.

4.  Listening Exam:
I found the listening exam to be bright and engaging.  I especially like the option to repeat the audio as needed for success.  The questions are well scaffolded so that students are asked to listen for a specific detail.

5.  Writing Exam:
The writing exam is more demanding in comparison to the requirements posed in the ELDA prompts.  However, the prompts are written in a way that really help students with sentence structure.  The required writing is also lengthy.  One of the prompts asked for 3 paragraphs.  Of course, many students were asking how many sentences equal one paragraph….

6. Reading Exam:
The reading exam was the most confusing in terms of use.  This is the section with the dual panel display mentioned earlier in the software section.  I don’t think the reading tasks and questions were an issue; navigating the software in this section was frustrating for students.

7.  Speaking Exam:
The speaking prompts are well done.  They are supported by graphics or video.  Students have the option to record their answers a second time if they do not wish to submit their first attempt.  However, once the choice is made to attempt a second time, the first answer is no longer an option to submit.  So… if you choose to do a second recording… that’s the one that counts.

8.  Administration:
The exam instructions and testing tools are very easy to follow.  There is nothing to read as a proctor.  Once students log in, they are self-sufficient.

9.  Set-up took about 30 minutes.  I logged in to each station, opened the login screen to the exam, and plugged the headsets in at each station prior to students’ arrival.

10.  Once students arrived, they picked up their username and password and went right to work.  Since they had seen the demo it was easy for them to get started on their own. 

11.  I am glad I did the setup ahead of time, some of the students struggled to finish in the 2 hours of allotted time.  (Granted the test won’t be timed, but I had only requested that they miss 2 sections of class)

Instructional Considerations:

12.  Reading:
In my opinion, the reading instruction that is taking place is adequate for success on the test.  However, I did get a few vocabulary questions, so our work with Rule of 3 and our focus on vocabulary will be right on target.

13.  Listening:
In my opinion, students who do not currently have an ELD component in their school day will not be as successful on this part as those who do.  It is one thing to listen to content instruction and complete coursework.  It is another to critically listen for specific details in order to answer comprehension questions.  It would be my recommendation to provide listening comprehension practice matching the test format for ELLs prior to the exam. 

14.  Writing:
The prompts are very specific on the exam.  They require a specified number of details, a certain format and specific lengths.  Students will need practice critically reading these prompts and reflecting on whether or not their writing sample meets the requirements.
Additionally, many of our students are hunt-and-peck typists.  So, additional practice with writing in electronic formats will be crucial to their success on the writing exam.

15.  Speaking:
This part of the exam concerns me most.  The hardware was not an issue.  All of the students were able to record and listen back with no problem.  My reservations come from recorded speech being scored by an outside source.  Many of my students have accents which are understood best by those who spend the most time with them.

I am concerned that these scores will decrease as a result of the new format.  Usually, speaking is a high score for our students helping their composite scores.  However, this new format may change that trend.

In my opinion, my current instructional practice is missing two components that will be crucial to their success on this type of exam.  First, students must have more interaction with recording and critiquing their own voices.  They must be able to play back their responses and reflect on whether or not their response meets the requirements of the prompt.
I believe this will be a strong addition to our instructional routines.  Arrangements will have to be made so that the hardware and software are in place for said instructional practice to occur. 

16.   Additionally,  it is my opinion that we must introduce a pronunciation / phonics component into the ELD instruction in the upper grades.  If we do not provide guided practice and constructive feedback in this area, I fear that student scores will decrease as a result.

17.  I will be looking into best practice for secondary pronunciation/ phonics instruction, but my first thought is Words Their Way for ELLs.  It is a wonderful program for vocabulary, spelling and phonics.  I’d have to come up with a way to work pronunciation drills into it, but I am sure my years as a foreign language teacher will help with that.

18.  Whew, that was a ton of information!  I would welcome the opportunity to read feedback of this nature from some of the other schools as well.

19.  Thanks for the opportunity to participate in the ELPA21 pilot.  I know this experience will have a positive effect on the daily instruction and practice exams in my room for 2015-2016.

20.  What’s new on ELPA21?
Here are some of my observations…
Listening selections similar to ELDA / TELPA
The color graphics add to the experience.

Reading selections:
There are questions on interpreting graphs.
I have not seen this on ELDA / TELPA

There is a cloze activity with a pull down menu of choices… similar to the DAZE exam if you are familiar with it. 

21.  Bells and Whistles!
The test includes the following tools for student success…
highlighter for text 
notepad for tagging text
Students can relisten… relisten… relisten!
X-out tool to visually eliminate answers
full color graphics!

Best Wishes as you and your students prepare to take the ELPA21 next spring! 

April Bryant 
Click on over to April's TPT Store!
Check out April's Blog 
Teacher See Teacher Do


  1. Interesting to read. I'll be administering the CASSPP this coming week, so reading about other testing experiences helps reduce the nerves. Thanks.

  2. Interesting that you had no hardware issues. I certainly have. Half the time, the microphones are not working during the test even if they work for the session right before. In addition, it constantly reports that the recording was too soft.

    Also, I teach elementary grades and the computerized system is far too complex for them to handle. Most can't even login, but our district does not care.