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WIDA: The Little Consortium That Grew

The World-Class Instructional Design and Assessment, or WIDA, consortium is taking a step to have more say over how materials for the classroom are designed to align with its English-proficiency standards. This week, WIDA announced that it is offering a certification course for publishers or education consultants on how to follow the WIDA protocol in aligning curricular materials with the consortium's standards. The course lasts two and a half days and costs $2,250. Publishers can then use people within their own ranks who have been trained or hire others who have attended the training to offer the stamp of approval that the alignment protocol has been followed. That stamp of approval, which WIDA must sign off on, will cost an additional fee.

With 21 states plus the District of Columbia as members, WIDA can pull some weight in the field of educating English-language learners. The nonprofit consortium started with a handful of states that joined together to create standards and an assessment for English-language proficiency to comply with the No Child Left Behind Act. Now, about 740,000 ELLs take WIDA's test each year for English proficiency, called ACCESS for ELLs.

The aim of the new process for certifying materials, said Jesse Markow, a spokesman for WIDA, is to cut through some of the confusion that publishers seem to have on how to align curricular materials with English-proficiency standards. Publishers have figured out how to align materials with state's content standards, but they've been less successful with aligning them with the English-proficiency standards, Markow said. "We're trying to make it easier for them to do the language part," he said.

Another development at WIDA, which shows it's becoming more of a one-stop shop for states on issues regarding ELLs, is that it has acquired a database called STELLA that can help educators decide which accommodations English-language learners should receive on state tests. The project was created by Rebecca Kopriva, a senior scientist at the Wisconsin Center for Educational Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I wrote about STELLA, which stands for the Selection Taxonomy for English Language Learner Accommodations, back in 2007 when the system was first being piloted.

Markow says WIDA plans to "scale up" the project and make it available to all states, not just consortium members. With STELLA, states plug their guidelines for testing accommodations into the system, and it provides guidance on how the accommodations should apply to individual students. Markow said STELLA was "looking for a home."

Another state is poised to soon join WIDA, says Markow, but he wouldn't yet tell me which one it is.

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