Test in the Works for ELLs with Severe Disabilities

By Mary Ann Zehr — September 23, 2008 1 min read
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A consortium of states is creating a test for English-language learners that will be the first of its kind, and the effort just got a boost of about $1 million from the U.S. Department of Education. That grant of a little more than $1 million is part of the $7.5 million in grants for test development that U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings announced last Friday.

The new test will be the first English-language-proficiency test designed for English-language learners who have severe disabilities.

The test developer is the World-Class Instructional Design and Assessment Consortium, or WIDA, which has 19 states as members. The new test will be an alternative to WIDA’s English-language proficiency test, ACCESS for ELLs.

Craig Albers, an assistant professor of educational psychology in the school of education at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, is the principal investigator for the project. He’s already been developing the assessment, and has field tested a model.

Tim Boals, the executive director of WIDA, told me over the telephone today that the federal funding enables the consortium to be more comprehensive in its development of the new test than previously planned. “The hard work is the comparability piece ... doing the studies that make sure the U.S. Department of Education won’t shut it down later on, as they have with so many that didn’t show comparability, reliability, and validity.”

Mr. Boals predicts that a roll-out of part of the new test system could happen in the spring of 2010. He said that WIDA expects to provide two models as the alternative to its English-language proficiency test. One will be a portfolio model, in which students’ work is gathered, and another will be a performance model, based on a set of tasks done by students and observations by teachers.

Mr. Boals says the test will be designed for students with the most severe disabilities--who make up about 1 percent of ELLs. Mr. Boals noted that WIDA next year will assess 700,000 ELLs, and 1 percent of that is 7,000 students. “It’s a small but not insignificant number of kids we didn’t think were assessed in a reliable and valid way.”

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.