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WIDA Forges Ahead With New English-Language Proficiency Test

The 31 states that have banded together to create a new, computer-based assessment system for English-language learners are getting their first glimpses at the new English-language proficiency exam being developed to measure the language demands of the Common Core State Standards.

Known as ASSETS—Assessment Services Supporting ELs through Technology Systems—the assessment system is being developed on behalf of member states by the World-Class Instructional Design and Assessment Consortium, or WIDA, based at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. (While there is considerable overlap between the states that make up ASSETS and those that are part of WIDA, they are two distinct groups.)

Meredith Alt, the project manager for ASSETS, recently gave me an update on where things stand. ASSETS, which is led by the Wisconsin education department, won a $10.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education in 2011. It's one of two groups of states working to develop computer-based English-language proficiency tests that correspond to the common standards. The second group of states—known as English Language Proficiency Assessment for the 21st Century, or ELPA 21—is led by the Oregon education department.

Eighteen months after ASSETS began its work, state officials and educators are now beginning to review and provide feedback to test designers on sample items on the summative test that will be given annually to English-language learners in the participating states. Those prototypes will be made available to the public this summer, Alt said. The test builds on WIDA's existing English-language proficiency test, called ACCESS for ELLs, and will be called ACCESS for ELLs 2.0. There is also a new screener test—which will also be computer-based—that will be used to determine whether a student is an English-language learner and what type of services they need.

In the meantime, ASSETS is also working on developing common-core-aligned interim assessments that teachers will be able to use to benchmark how students' language skills are developing at important points in the academic year, Alt said. And, in an earlier phase of development, are formative assessment resources that will delve even more deeply into the language progression of ELLs, as well as proficient English speakers, and give teachers more-nuanced information about students' trajectory on developing academic language functions such as explanation, description, definition, and comparison that are needed for school success, she said. ASSETS has teamed up with researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, to tackle that work, which is known as the Dynamic Language Learning Progressions Project.

Field-testing of the new assessment system will start in March 2014. The new assessment system is set to roll out in the 2015-16 academic year, one year after the new common assessments make their debut.

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