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Florida Could Shift Alliances for English-Language-Proficiency Standards, Tests

Florida education officials on Wednesday signaled that the Sunshine State is all but ready to join WIDA, a group of states that share common-core aligned English-language-proficiency standards and assessments for English-language learners.

In a letter to ELL educators and advocates across the state, Chane Eplin, who is Florida's top ELL official, writes that Pam Stewart, the education commissioner, will recommend that the standards from WIDA, or World-Class Instructional Design and Assessment, be adopted by the state's board of education next month. This recommendation comes after a more than two-year process of selecting new ELP standards that "must be aligned to the Florida standards, and they must indicate what an ELL must know and be able to do at varying grade levels, at varying proficiency levels, and in the content areas of language arts, math and science," Eplin wrote.

He said that Commissioner Stewart believes the WIDA standards are the "best choice" for Florida's 250,000 English-language learners.

Joining WIDA means that Florida would officially part company with ELPA 21, a newer group of states that have also jointly developed English-language proficiency standards that are aligned to the common-core standards. And that would be the second major hit to ELPA 21's membership. California, with 1.4 million ELLs, left the group last year after developing its own new ELP standards.

Originally 12 states, ELPA 21, which stands for English Language Proficiency Assessment for the 21st Century, won a $6.3 million federal grant to devise new standards for English-language development and tests that correspond with the demands of the common-core standards.

Similarly, WIDA states also won a federal grant—$10 million—to design a new English-language-development test that is linked to the common standards. That effort is known as ASSETS and involves 35 states. South Carolina, which had also been part of ELPA 21, joined WIDA in March, though it is still listed as a member of ELPA 21.

Earlier this year, Florida asked ELL educators and advocates to provide feedback on both sets of standards. In his letter, Eplin said that if the WIDA standards are adopted by the board, Florida would continue to administer its own English-language-proficiency test, the CELLA, for one more year (2014-15) before transitioning to the new WIDA test, known as ASSETS. Parts of that assessment are undergoing field tests this spring and will continue on through next spring. The operational debut of the full assessment is the 2015-16 school year.

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