Mission and History
Continuously responding to educator needs and advancing the field of language development
WIDA provides language development resources to those who support the academic success of multilingual learners. We offer a comprehensive, research-based system of language standards, assessments, professional learning and educator assistance. WIDA’s trusted resources are used by 41 domestic states and territories and approximately 500 international schools throughout the world.
Core programs within WIDA include:
- WIDA Consortium – A U.S.-based collaborative group of 41 member states, territories and federal agencies
- WIDA International School Consortium – A network of approximately 500 member schools
- WIDA Early Years – A program to support multilingual children in early care and education (ECE) settings
- WIDA Español – A program to support Spanish language development of multilingual learners, grades K–12
WIDA is part of the University of Wisconsin–Madison, a top-five university in the field of education. WIDA is housed in the Wisconsin Center for Education Research (WCER), one of the first, largest, and most productive education research centers in the world. WCER has assisted scholars and practitioners to develop, submit, conduct and share grant-funded education research for more than 50 years.
Can Do Philosophy
At WIDA, we believe that everyone brings valuable resources to the education community. Children and youth who are linguistically and culturally diverse, bring a unique set of assets that have the potential to enrich the experiences of all learners and educators. Educators can draw on these assets for the benefit of both the learners themselves and for everyone in the community. By focusing on what language learners can do, we send a powerful message that children and youth from diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds contribute to the vibrancy of our early childhood programs and K–12 schools.
WIDA advances academic language development and academic achievement for children and youth who are culturally and linguistically diverse through high quality standards, assessments, research and professional learning for educators.
To be the most trusted and valued resource in supporting the education of multilingual learners.
- Innovation: Drawing upon research and practice to create the best resources for children, youth, and educators
- Service: Exceeding expectations with trusted and knowledgeable support of our clients and stakeholders
- Can Do Philosophy: Recognizing and building upon the assets, contributions, and potential of culturally and linguistically diverse children and youth
- Collaboration: Facilitating interaction among educators, state and local educational agencies, researchers, policymakers, and experts worldwide
- Social Justice: Challenging linguistic discrimination, cultural biases, and racism in education
WIDA’s story begins with the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, which brought English learners into the national spotlight. As a result of this change, WIDA was born in 2003, when an Enhanced Assessment Grant was awarded to the Wisconsin Department of Public Education, WIDA’s first home. The name WIDA originally stood for the three states on the grant proposal: Wisconsin, Delaware and Arkansas. Today, the name WIDA has come to represent the entire WIDA Community of states, territories, federal agencies and international schools.
Funded by the grant, WIDA developed the 2004 WIDA English Language Proficiency Standards, which served as the basis for the ACCESS for ELLs test of English Language Proficiency. WIDA also created professional development workshops to support educators in the WIDA Consortium member states.
In 2006, WIDA moved to its current home at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, specifically within the Wisconsin Center for Education Research. At UW-Madison, WIDA has been able to expand and improve its comprehensive system of assessments and instructional support for educators and practitioners of multilingual learners.
Today, ACCESS for ELLs includes an online test. The ACCESS suite of offerings also includes Kindergarten ACCESS and Alternate ACCESS for students with significant cognitive disabilities. Additional assessments offered include WIDA Screener and WIDA MODEL.
The WIDA Consortium has grown from three states to 41 member states, territories and federal agencies. The impact of WIDA has also expanded globally, as approximately 500 schools are members of the WIDA International School Consortium.
WIDA has also expanded to support emergent multilingual children with its Early Years program, as well as Spanish language learners in grades K-12 with WIDA Español.
Federal Law and Policy Foundations
In the United States of America, English learner (EL) students in public K-12 education systems have a constitutionally protected right to equitable educational opportunity under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. WIDA is founded upon and grounded in United States federal law and policy regarding English learner students.
Supreme Court and Circuit Court decisions, Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and Department of Justice (DOJ) communications, and reauthorizations of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) have affirmed the protected status of EL students. The following selection of landmark decisions, statements, and laws delineate federal requirements toward providing equitable educational opportunity for ELs, and are central to WIDA’s products and services in support of state, district, and school educators to meet those requirements.
- May 25, 1970 memorandum – OCR
The Identification of Discrimination and Denial of Services on the Basis of National Origin clarified and obligated compliance with Title VI requirements for districts to provide equal education opportunity to language minority students.
- Lau v. Nichols (1974)
The United States Supreme Court decided that public school districts must provide supplemental language instruction for students with limited English proficiency.
- Castañeda v. Pickard (1981)
The United States Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals decision established a three-pronged assessment of sufficiency for bilingual education programs to meet requirements under Lau v. Nichols and the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974.
- Plyler v. Doe (1982)
The United States Supreme Court decided that states cannot constitutionally deny students a free public education on account of their immigration status.
- September 11, 1984 Memorandum – OCR
The Policy Regarding Title VI Language Minority Investigations asserted the legal foundation for OCR investigations based on the May 25, 1970 Memorandum; and clarified school district responsibility to identify language minority limited English proficient students.
- December 3, 1985 Memorandum; reissued April 6, 1990 – OCR
The Policy Regarding the Treatment of National Origin Minority Students Who Are Limited English Proficient described OCR procedures to evaluate compliance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It set forth criteria to evaluate if there is a need for an Alternative Program and whether the Alternative Program is likely to be effective.
- September 27, 1991 Memorandum – OCR
The Policy Update on Schools’ Obligations Toward National Origin Minority Students With Limited-English Proficiency expanded criteria from previous memoranda for OCR use in conducting Lau compliance reviews; asserted the validity of OCR’s use of the Castañeda standard for compliance; expanded elements of program efficacy; and introduced program exit criteria.
- August 2000 Pamphlet - OCR
The Provision of an Equal Education Opportunity to Limited-English Proficient Students reviewed extant memoranda and court cases to summarize a review of school district requirements for and compliance issues regarding services for national-origin minority students who have limited English language skills.
- No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001
The reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act defines limited English proficient (LEP) students and established Title III program requirements for instruction of LEP students. It required states to adopt English language proficiency (ELP) instructional standards and to administer ELP assessments that measure and report student proficiency scores in each domain of Listening, Speaking, Reading, and Writing and composite scores of Literacy, Comprehension and Overall. It also required states to establish and report performance against Annual Measurable Achievement Objectives.
- May 6, 2011 Dear Colleague Letter
The DOJ and OCR joint letter upheld Plyler v. Doe, asserting the federal obligation for school districts to provide equal educational opportunities to all children residing in their district. It also specified that any practices that chill, discourage or exclude student enrollment based on their parent/guardian’s actual or perceived citizenship or immigration status contravene federal law.
- January 7, 2015 Dear Colleague Letter
The DOJ and OCR joint letter provided an overview of state education agency and school district obligations to English learner (EL) students. It detailed comprehensive common civil rights issues regarding requirements to serve EL students.
- English Learner Tool Kit – 2015
The Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA) published the tool kit as a companion to the 2015 Dear Colleague Letter to support state and local education agencies fulfill obligations detailed in the letter. 10 chapters contain an overview, sample tools and resources. There is one chapter for each section in the Dear Colleague Letter.
- Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) 2015
The current reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act sustains Title III program and ELP assessment reporting requirements from NCLB and requires states to use common identification and exit criteria for all EL students in their state. It replaced Annual Measurable Achievement Objectives for EL students by requiring states to include ELP assessment measures in their Title I accountability systems. It also supports native language content assessment.
- August 2021 Resource – DOJ and OCR
The Confronting Discrimination Based on National Origin and Immigration Status affirmed for parents and educators that public school districts must: enroll students independent of immigration status, offer language assistance services to all EL students, and provide critical information in a language that parents and guardians can understand.
- May 25, 1970 memorandum – OCR