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English Language Proficiency Assessment for the 21st Century (ELPA21)


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Assessing English Learners (ELs)

Title I and Title III of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, as amended by the Every Student Succeeds Act, requires states and schools to be accountable for addressing the needs of English learners (ELs). One important aspect of this accountability involves assessments of English language proficiency (ELP) used to track students’ progress in learning the English language. ELPA21 data can help inform program evaluation and improvement. Iowa Administrative Code 281-60.3 further defines school district responsibilities to assess and serve ELs. Students exit EL status based on achieving proficiency on the ELP assessment. The guidance below outlines district responsibilities regarding identification and assessment of ELs in Iowa.

Iowa English Learner Assessment Procedures

Identification of English Learners: Approved Assessment Procedures for Transfer Students

ELPA21 Update

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About ELPA21

The ELPA21 state collaborative housed at the National Center on Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing (CRESST) housed at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) a group of states committed to supporting educators, member states and the public in the adoption of English Language Proficiency (ELP) Standards and college- and career-ready standards. The ELPA21 collaborative has developed an assessment system based on the ELP Standards that informs instruction so all ELs leave high school prepared for college and career success.

The ELPA21 assessment system includes a set of English language proficiency standards, a placement screener, a summative measure of English language proficiency and professional learning modules supporting the implementation of Iowa’s ELP standards. Information about the consortium can be found at

ELPA21 Standards and Assessment

The ELPA21 is the standardized instrument used to measure English language proficiency and annual progress toward English proficiency in the state of Iowa. This assessment is tightly aligned to Iowa's ELP standards and corresponds to the Iowa Core Literacy Standards. It has been developed in six grade bands: K, 1, 2-3, 4-5, 6-8, and 9-12.

The ELPA21 is an online assessment measuring English proficiency in reading, writing, listening and speaking. Because it is an online assessment, the test coordinators and test administrators (teachers) are released of the burden of on-site scoring. The online capabilities increase test security and validity of test results for Iowa’s ELs. The consortium uses the Cambium Assessment Incorporated (CAI) testing platform and expertise in administering the largely online ELP assessments. Most of the test is scored online, while those test items requiring human scoring (speaking and some writing) are scored with a centralized scoring process.

Mandatory training is provided each school year beginning in late fall for tech coordinators, district/school test coordinators, and test administrators.

ELPA21 Dynamic Screener

The ELPA21 Dynamic Screener is the instrument required to be used in the EL identification process. Students are administered the Dynamic Screener if it is indicated that a language other than English is predominantly spoken in the home (Iowa Administrative Code 281-60.3). Students not scoring proficient on the screener are to be identified for English development services.

Resources for administering the screener are found on the Iowa ELPA21 Portal. Training for administering the screener may be accessed through AEA PD Online.

ELPA21 Summative Tests

The ELPA21 summative assessment is administered annually in Iowa schools in an eight-week window which runs February through March.

Each test form includes a wide-variety of test items:

  • Selected-response items require students to select one or more responses from a list of options and may include both multiple-choice and true-or-false formats.
  • Technology-enhanced items, comprising at least 20 percent of the assessment items, require students to respond to questions by interacting with the test item. For example, a student might place words in the appropriate order, select text in a paragraph, or match objects to words.
  • Constructed-response items require students to provide text or record speech or respond to a task, and include both short and long constructed-response items.

The item type used for a particular skill and context is determined by matching the evidence needed to the most appropriate method for acquiring that evidence. In addition, some of the items use digital media (sound, animation, video, or interactive widgets) as the setting for the test question.

Resources for administering the screener are found on the Iowa ELPA21 Portal. Training for administering the screener may be accessed through AEA PD Online.

ELPA21 Accommodations

ELPA21 believes that all ELs should have access to assessments that accurately measure the skills they need to progress toward English language proficiency. Equitable access to the ELPA21 assessment ensures valid data and useful information that help parents, educators, and school administrators meet the needs of each student.

ELPA21 Test Accessibility and Accommodations - Describes the accessibility features and accommodations that ELPA21 offers to students on Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) or 504 Plans. IEP teams and educators informing 504 plans make decisions about these accommodations. For ELs with disabilities, these teams should include an expert in the area of second-language acquisition.

Alt ELPA21

The Alternate English language proficiency assessment, or Alt ELPA21, is scheduled to become operational in the Spring of 2023.  English learners with the most significant cognitive disabilities are expected to take the Alt ELPA21 assessment to measure their progress in learning English.  Students participating in the  Alt ELPA21 will meet the state's annual English language testing requirement, and as a result, will not be expected to take the general ELPA21 summative assessment.  The Alt ELPA21 is aligned to the ELP Standards for English Learners with Significant Cognitive Disabilities. This set of standards guides classroom instruction and forms the basis of the test's design. For more information, see Iowa's Guidance: Alternate English Language Proficiency Assessment for the 21st Century.

Resources for Parents and Teachers of ELs