WIDA and ACCESS Testing: What You Need to Know

Many teachers, especially those new to WIDA and/or ESL teaching, are often overwhelmed and intimidated by the WIDA standards and ACCESS testing. In this article, we attempt to break down the main components in order to provide a conscise overview of WIDA and ACCESS. Throughout the article, you'll find links to helpful resources and more in-depth explanations. Make sure to give them a look!

What is WIDA?

WIDA, or the World-class Instructional Design and Assessment, is a consortium of states in the U.S. that are dedicated to the design, and implementation of standards, and opportunities for English language learners.

WIDA is used by 40 states in the U.S., as well as over 400 international schools throughout the world.

ACCESS Testing

One of the largest features of WIDA is the ACCESS test. These tests measure students’ academic English language in four domains: Listening, Speaking, Reading, and Writing.

Of these assessments, the test content aligns with the five WIDA English Language Development (ELD) Standards, which are:

  1. 1

    Social and Instructional Language - how students interact with teachers and classmates to build working relationships that support learning

  2. 2

    Language of Language Arts - language specific to language arts

  3. 3

    Language of Mathematics - language specific to mathematics

  4. 4

    Language of Science - language specific to science

  5. 5

    Language of Social Studies - language specific to social studies

Students’ ACCESS scores reflect their proficiency from Level 1 to Level 6. Teachers will use these scores to help make sure that students are getting the proper assistance they need in order to succeed at school.

Can Do Descriptors

Can Do Descriptors are used so that the focus is on what a student can do, not what a student can’t do.

For example, a Level 1 Entering 9th through 12th grade can Match visual representations to words/phrases. In contrast, a Level 5 Bridging 9th through 12th grader can interpret grade-level literature and synthesize grade-level expository text.

WIDA Can Do Descriptors for Reading and Writing, grades 9 - 12

For more information on grade-specific Can Do Descriptors, visit WIDA’s Can Do Descriptor Store.

How Can I Help My Students Prepare?

WIDA recommends that you start preparing about two weeks before your students test:

  • Discuss with your students the kind of content they’ll encounter on the test. Let them practice the different types of questions they’ll see as well.
  • Allow students to practice with the test demo platform so that they are comfortable by testing day, especially with the Speaking portion.


  1. 1

    This ACCESS for ELLs Online documents has some excellent tips and domain-specific information

  2. 2

    WIDA’s Demo Test can be played on a SMART Board or projector

  3. 3

    These Sample Items with suggested scripts will help your students practice answering questions. You can even modify the scripting to fit your needs!

  4. 4

    Lastly, WIDA’s Practice Test will make sure your students know what to expect before the big day!

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