Why Did you Start Using WIDA?
As in all international schools, the overall aim of the EAL Program at AISB is to offer the identified/eligible students additional English language support and learning opportunities to build language skills in both social and cognitive-academic English. In 2009 the EAL teachers in the Elementary School took action and signaled the fact that the English learners' evaluation was based on out-of-date language assessments, non-standards based reporting, and a lack of effective interface of language acquisition standards with the PYP program. The administration mandated the EAL teachers to conduct a review of available standards, assessments and materials and recommend a system that would support teaching and assessment, the students, the PYP program and the ongoing expansion of the student community. A number of assessments and programs were trialed, including WIDA. What emerged from the review was that the new WIDA materials and standards were the materials and assessments deemed to best meet AISB EAL needs and expectations.
The use of the WIDA assessments made it possible for the AISB EAL team to do the following:
- Identify students requiring English language learning assistance through a process of screening and assessment.
- Calculate achievement with accuracy.
- Establish achievement and skill score cutoff points to organize different types of EAL classes, to match student needs.
- Communicate scores and English skill level information with the Admissions department with an assessment tool that is used and understood internationally.
- Communicate with other international schools using tools and assessments that match.
The journey continued and by 2014 the Middle School began to use the WIDA assessments as well, which streamlined and facilitated transitions.
How has WIDA supported learning and program growth?
WIDA assessments can be used to measure growth or as a placement test, and that made them a valuable diagnostic tool. Additionally, and importantly, WIDA language assessment standards for K-5 are uniquely effective working within the PYP. The expectations are easy to plan and match to each cycle because the WIDA standards framework meshes easily with the PYP framework. The guiding principles of WIDA reflect those of the PYP, both working from the belief that all students bring their culture, skills and unique linguistic knowledge to the learning table. At the same time, both WIDA and PYP aim to craft instruction around culturally and linguistically diverse students.
The EAL department promoted the Can Do approach and strongly collaborated with mainstream grade-level and specialist teachers. WIDA standards and Can Do Descriptors helped us build a community dedicated to supporting EAL learners' academic language development and ultimately their academic success. The Can Do Descriptors are regularly used for differentiating instruction and assessment. They allow teachers to set real expectations for students and adapt rubrics based on real needs and abilities.