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WIDA Tally: Minnesota Joins Consortium

Minnesota has joined the World-Class Instructional Design and Assessment Consortium, bringing the total of states adopting the consortium's English-language-proficiency test to 23 plus the District of Columbia. Minnesota follows Missouri in making the decision to join.

Minnesota will continue to use its current English-proficiency test to assess English-language learners for the 2010-11 school year, said Jesse Markow, WIDA's manager of communications, in an e-mail to me. But at the start of the 2011-12 school year, the state will implement WIDA's English-proficiency standards and assessment, ACCESS for ELLs.

Once upon a time, the consortium had only a handful of member states. But it grew as it moved beyond simply providing English-proficiency standards and an assessment that states could use to comply with provisions for ELLs under the No Child Left Behind Act. It now is a one-stop-shopping place for ELLs and assessments with a screening test for identifying ELLs, professional development tools, and research projects about assessing ELLs.

So far, though, none of the states with the largest numbers of ELLs in the country, such as Arizona, California, New York, and Texas, have joined WIDA. An education official for New York recently told me it isn't cost-effective for states with large numbers of ELLs to join WIDA because the consortium charges the same per-pupil cost for all states, no matter how many ELLs they have. It's more affordable for New York to have its own English-proficiency test, he said.

Christine Dufour, a spokeswoman for the Minnesota Department of Education, told me in a phone interview yesterday that Minnesota education officials estimate that using the WIDA test is going to cost more than using the state's current test for English-language proficiency. But she said that they valued "additional features" of WIDA, such as the screening tool and professional development support.

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