WIDA at work: Making accessible assessments, resources

July 13, 2022

Did you know… WIDA powers the Advancing ALTELLA grant project and is developing assessment resources for multilingual learners with the most significant cognitive disabilities?

Did you know… WIDA has a team of specialists and researchers dedicated to accessibility and accommodation work?

Did you know... If you keep reading, we won’t say “Did you know” anymore. 😉 And we’ll tell you more about the work WIDA is doing to make our resources and tools accessible to all who use them. Keep reading to learn about Advancing ALTELLA, the people who power the work, new ACCESS for ELLs braille materials, updates to the Accessibility and Accommodations Manual, and some research initiatives.

Advancing ALTELLA

There’s so much to say about the Advancing ALTELLA project, but to keep things brief (pun intended if you know about our project briefs) we’ll stick to some of the major project milestones.

First, if you’re wondering what Advancing ALTELLA is and does, here it goes: Advancing ALTELLA is a grant-funded initiative that builds on the ALTELLA project and the past decade of research on assessing English learners and students with the most significant cognitive disabilities. Project activities include

  • Redesigning Alternate ACCESS for ELLs
  • Building a screener that identifies students to participate in Alternate ACCESS
  • Developing professional learning materials that support the new and updated assessments
  • Leading research that informs assessment development 
  • Disseminating project findings to stakeholders

Now, on to our project milestones that we’ve achieved in the past 12 months.

By the numbers 🧮

  • Delivered 14 conference presentations to thousands of attendees 
  • Released 2 briefs: AAC Devices; Applying the ALTELLA Framework  
  • Published 4 snapshots featuring experts Steve Elliott, Phoebe Winter, Christopher Rivera and Madison Leech
  • Carried out 38 cognitive labs in 5 states 
  • Hosted an item writing workshop with 20 educators who wrote 230 test items 
  • Published a toolkit (the first ever!) that includes 6 individual tools

By the list 📃

  • Developed the Alternate Screener Participation Flowchart  
  • Created the Tell Us About Your Child Survey, that we will pilot in fall 2022  
  • Conducted a secondary analysis of the Individual Characteristics Questionnaire  
  • Analyzed Alternate ACCESS data and documented characteristics and proficiency levels of the students that participate in Alternate ACCESS  
  • Examined Home Language Survey questions and started research on parents’ knowledge and perception of the Home Language Survey  
  • Created a test map to inform the design of Alternate ACCESS test forms  
  • Developed test specifications to provide critical information on how the test map design will be implemented

One of the next project objectives is to host a successful Alternate ACCESS field test in 2022-23. Learn more about the field test by browsing our Alternate ACCESS for ELLs Field Test: Coming to schools in early 2023 news article.

People who power the work

While there are many incredible staffers at WIDA who dedicate their time and expertise to accessibility and accommodations work, we’d like to spotlight one staffer…Laurene Christensen! (Sign up for the Advancing ALTELLA e-newsletter to read about other staffers – we feature someone in each issue.)

Laurene is the director of accessibility research at WIDA. She leads the organization’s work in inclusive assessment, like updating WIDA's braille materials, developing accommodation resources, and setting an accessibility and accommodations research agenda. Laurene is also the co-principal investigator on the Advancing ALTELLA project.

In her free time, Laurene enjoys reading poetry and spending time with her two kids, either playing video games or watching movies. And checking out local parks, too.

ACCESS: New braille materials

When it comes to ACCESS for ELLs, there are 13 accommodations for students with disabilities. One of those accommodations is a braille form of the ACCESS for ELLs Paper test. Beginning in December 2022, we’ll release two new components of the braille materials: Braille sample test items and consolidated test administrator scripts.

Braille sample test items

Braille sample items give students a chance to practice answering the type of questions they’ll find on the test. Come December, there will be two ways to get sample items:

Relevant sample items will be included in each braille test kit. Plus, each kit will have relevant sample item user guides so that you know how to use the sample items.

All sample items and sample item user guides will be on the WIDA website for you to download and print. Online sample items include examples of what the tactile looks like so that you can make your own facsimile (we’ve heard that pipe cleaners work well!). If the sample item doesn't have a tactile, we will post a Braille Ready Format (BRF) file that you can download and print.

Consolidated Test Administrator Scripts

Test administrator materials that were separate items will be consolidated into one single test administrator packet! Each packet includes a Test Administrator Script, a Human Reader Script, transcriber notes and helpful tips about giving the braille form of the test.

Accessibility and Accommodations Manual (AAM)

The AAM offers guidelines for how to best support students taking ACCESS for ELLs. If you haven’t perused the AAM, you should! The AAM has information on accommodations, universal tools, administrative considerations and universal design. And so much more!

This year, we reformatted tables, figures and our accommodations checklists in the AAM so that much of the manual is screen reader compatible. While much of the content in the AAM didn’t change, those of you who are familiar with this document might notice that the overall look and feel is a bit different.


We highlight two accessibility and accommodations related research projects. Head on over to the Research webpage to learn about other WIDA research initiatives.

Alternate ACCESS for ELLs Decision Making Study

The project: The Alternate ACCESS for ELLs Decision Making Study aims to understand the criteria schools and/or districts use when making decisions about which English learners participate in Alternate ACCESS for ELLs.

What we’ve done: We conducted an online survey in winter 2022 that gathered information on the decision-making process from district and school level personnel. We analyzed 319 survey responses to inform in-depth interviews that are happening this summer.

Where we’re headed: The study seeks to document insights that will help decision makers make well-informed assessment decisions about students' participation in Alternate ACCESS for ELLs.

Tell Us About Your Child Survey Study

The project: We will test out the Tell Us About Your Child Survey with students who have significant cognitive disabilities, their parents/guardians and educators. Once it’s published, the Tell Us About Your Child Survey will be an optional tool that educators can use to gain information about a student’s language, communication and participation needs.

What we’ve done: We created a draft of the survey! And we sought feedback from state and district representatives on the survey draft.

Where we’re headed: We will pilot the Tell Us About Your Child Survey with students who have significant cognitive disabilities, their parents/guardians and educators. Findings from this pilot will guide the Advancing ALTELLA team on making revisions and adjustments to the survey. 


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