Interview: How the WIDA Consortium Is Preparing Its 35 States Under ESSA

Last month, I wrote about how the new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), requires states to include ELLs’ English language proficiency (ELP) progress as a core component of their Title I accountability plans.

But when it comes to ELP accountability, most states do not operate in complete isolation. Instead, the vast majority are members of national consortia, 35 states and Washington D.C. with WIDA and another 10 with ELPA 21. Notably, New York, California, Texas, and Arizona remain independent.

With nearly three-quarters of all U.S. states working with WIDA, the University of Wisconsin-based consortium has particularly significant sway in guiding and supporting state decision-making for ELLs in the months ahead. To learn more about WIDA’s role under ESSA, I recently interviewed WIDA’s Executive Director, Dr. Tim Boals, Research Director, Dr. H. Gary Cook, and Senior Director of Strategic Planning and Development, Jesse Markow.

How do you see the new law, ESSA, impacting your work? Are there any new challenges or opportunities you see for WIDA?

BOALS: The law puts a lot back into the hands of states, and I believe that English language learner education has historically been an area that is underresourced within states and local schools. So, the role that WIDA plays is to provide a type of umbrella of supports to the states in the area of policy and practice. And I think this is going to be even more important with the new law.

MARKOW: The impact is not just at the states, but it’s going to fall heavily on the schools and the districts. I think the [districts] are going to feel the impact of this as well.

BOALS: In the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) era, we have supported states in the development of their statewide assessment and accountability systems related to ELLs. And we’ve published a lot of research and done a lot of policy work in the area. But because now ESSA really has done away with state accountability to [the federal government] per se, there is going to be a great degree of support that we’ll need to provide in a much finer level than we’ve had to before. And our role right now — given that the Department is still in the process of developing guidance and rules — is to try to frame for the Department basic rules and guidance criteria that can be established to meaningfully implement the law.

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