News Release: WIDA Receives $4 Million to Support Multilingual Learners with Cognitive Disabilities

January 14, 2020
Contact: Katie Stenz,, 608-263-4444

MADISON, Wis. – Educational tools and resources for assessing a small but important group of students, multilingual learners challenged with the most significant cognitive disabilities, now will become reality thanks to a $3.998 million U.S. Department of Education grant.  The Advancing Alternate English Language Learning Assessment (ALTELLA): Alternate Assessment Redesign project is a four-year collaboration among WIDA, a leading support organization for multilingual learners, educators and families; WIDA partners; and the Minnesota Department of Education (lead state), Texas Education Agency, national experts and key external groups.

“This is an exciting opportunity to continue our work on behalf of this often-overlooked population of students,” says Laurene Christensen, project director of the new initiative, which is part of the Wisconsin Center for Education Research in UW-Madison's School of Education. Along with Christensen, H. Gary Cook, principal investigator of the project, points out that recent research shows that almost one-quarter of multilingual students with significant cognitive disabilities do not receive English-language services – even though United States public schools are required to offer these services to all students learning English.

“For the past two years, investigators have been building a research repository – made possible by an initial grant from the U.S. Department of Education—to better understand and advocate for multilingual learners with cognitive disabilities and now, we will be able to apply that work,” adds Christensen.  

Advancing ALTELLA will focus on updating Alternate ACCESS for ELLs (WIDA’s large-print, paper-based test administered to multilingual students with significant cognitive disabilities in grades 1-12), developing a kindergarten version of Alternate ACCESSS for ELLs and building a screening tool that will be used to identify English language learners.

“We know that learning English is an important step in the pathway to success for a multilingual learner,” states Christensen. “With Advancing ALTELLA, we’ll be able to ensure that all students and teachers have more tools to support English development for these learners.”

Advancing ALTELLA builds on the initial ALTELLA project. During that project, Christensen and her colleagues collected survey data on more than 1,500 students, traveled across the country to conduct classroom observations and interviews, and gathered input on future assessment design.

“Knowing that so many multilingual students with cognitive disabilities are not getting the services they need signals to all of us here at WIDA that Advancing ALTELLA is imperative,” says Christensen. “So much of what WIDA does is provide resources to multilingual learners, and no learner or classroom should be left out.” 


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