Column: Rising to the challenges of English instruction
WORTHINGTON -- Immigrants have often sought work in rural America, but sometimes they struggle because they lack English language skills. Things are different in Worthington.
In 2010, Minnesota joined World-Class Instructional Design and Assessment's consortium (WIDA). Title III "Language Instruction for Limited English Proficient and Immigrant Students" federal mandates set forth in the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, specifically Section 3102, states the purposes of the mandate are, "To help ensure the children who are limited English proficient, including immigrant children and youth, attain English proficiency, develop high levels of academic attainment in English, and meet the same challenging State academic content and student academic achievement standards as all children are expected to meet..." How to best accomplish this difficult task was a struggle for many states prior to the establishment of WIDA.
WIDA came about after an Enhanced Assessment Grant was awarded to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. WIDA's first home was indeed in Wisconsin and named The Center for Applied Linguistics as its test development partner. In 2004 WIDA's English Language Proficiency Standards were completed, which lead to the development of the Assessing Comprehension and Communication in English State to State for English Language Learners (ACCESS) test. The WIDA ACCESS placement test (W-APT) was developed in 2005.
The W-APT is used to determine a student's English language proficiency level which, in turn, guides instruction and also provides a starting point to measure students' linguistic growth. In 2006 WIDA moved to the Wisconsin Center for Education Research, where it is presently housed. As of January of 2013, 31 U.S. states and territories belong to the WIDA Consortium. Many other schools nationally and internationally have adopted WIDA resources for use in their English language development programs.
Worthington Public Schools uses the high-quality standards, assessment, research and professional development offered through WIDA to best instruct our large and expanding English Language learner (EL) population. WIDA's vision is, "To be the most trusted resource in the education of pre-Kindergarten through Grade 12 language learners." Instead of looking at what non-English speaking students cannot master in the classroom, WIDA uses a Can Do philosophy thus "believing in the assets, contributions and potential of linguistically diverse students."
What this means for Worthington's EL population is a group of highly qualified EL licensed teachers who not only have either a master's degree in EL or an endorsement on their Minnesota teaching license, but who also have exceeded expectations by obtaining training provided by WIDA in an ongoing basis. The WIDA consortium itself best states its philosophy:
The WIDA CAN DO Philosophy
The WIDA (World-Class Instructional Design and Assessment) Consortium has been built by educators who work with English language learners (ELLs) in their classrooms, schools, districts and states. As a group of dedicated professionals from multiple disciplines (including, but not limited to, curriculum and instruction, language education, evaluation research, applied linguistics and measurement), our team serves as a conduit for bridging language theory to research and research to practice as informed by assessment. We approach the development and dissemination of our tools and resources as a means for educators to gain a deeper and richer understanding of their own work with ELLs.
WIDA has a CAN DO philosophy, which accentuates the positive qualities and assets of our ELLs. Throughout the process of developing our products and services, WIDA envisions our students as contributors to the changing educational landscape as we serve as advocates on their behalf. In representing its member states, the goal of the Consortium is to promote the accomplishments and potential of ELL students throughout the greater educational community. (WIDA Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System, on behalf of WIDA, www.wida.us)
So the next time you are at the grocery store, walking down 10th Avenue, or see a group of school children giggling as they walk down the street and you notice that some of the people you see might look different or be speaking a language other than English, remember that there is a group of teachers and numerous other community members whose primary focus is teaching the English language to the many people from around the world who have chosen to make Worthington, Minnesota their home. Things are indeed different in Worthington!
Dr. Deborah Mitchell is District 518's English Language Coordinator.