Why all the talk about WIDA? A beginner’s introduction to the components of WIDA and its benefits.

What is WIDA?

Many times when the discussion turns to ESL, ELLs or ESOLs, it is quickly followed by terms such as WIDA, ACCESS scores, and Can-Do Descriptors. For the newcomer working with ELLs, the jargon may seem confusing. WIDA is a consortium whose mission is to ensure that ELLs are acquiring the academic language they need to be successful in school.  WIDA has created and published language proficiency standards in order to measure a student’s progress in the four domains of language: Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Listening.  The WIDA website contains documents which list these standards along with lesson plans clustered by grade level which demonstrate what should be asked of a student at that level.  There are five proficiency levels: Emerging, Beginning, Developing, Expanding, and Bridging.

What is ACCESS?

ACCESS is a test administered once a year in WIDA states (states who have adopted WIDA).  The test assesses where students are on the continuum of proficiency levels for each of the domains of language.  Today, it is computer-based and usually administered in January.  In addition, a W-APT test is administered when students initially enroll in schools to determine their beginning proficiency level.

What are Can-Do Descriptors?

Once the results of ACCESS are received (or initially W-APT), educators can better determine what students are capable of doing academically in English.  By looking at the four domains and matching the students’ level with the descriptor, a teacher can then plan lessons and activities which correspond to what the student is able to do.  For example, if a student is beginning (2) in Writing, the student is able to create phrases/ short sentences from models and check with a partner for edits and revision.

Why does this matter?

There are several reasons this matters.  When No Child Left Behind (2001) was passed, these measures were one way to ensure that ELLs were not being left behind.  WIDA has provided a consistent way to focus on what our students can-do so that we can help them progress academically from where they are.  Students come to us with funds of knowledge that sometimes cannot be expressed well because of the language barrier.  The resources provided by WIDA give teachers ways to tap into these funds and find ways to help students express what they do know.  It also provides teachers with a way to think about their lessons by combining content objectives with language objectives, making every teacher an English language teacher.

What do educators gain?

  • A chance to better understand students
  • A way to measure students’ progress in English
  • A way to lower the language barrier
  • A way to reach students where they are
  • Concrete examples of how to instruct and assess ELLs based on their language proficiency
  • A chance to focus on the positive

Begin exploring WIDA at www.wida.us