Editor’s note: The following piece was written by Katie Stenz, WIDA Marketing Specialist.

WIDA is an organization within the University of Wisconsin–Madison that works to advance academic language development and academic achievement for culturally and linguistically diverse children and youth. WIDA specializes in high-quality standards, assessments, research and professional learning for educators. WIDA’s resources are used by 42 U.S. domestic states, territories, and federal agencies, and more than 500 international schools throughout the world.

WIDA’s Advancing ALTELLA Project: Bringing Tools to Multilingual Learners with Cognitive Disabilities

A new $3.998 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education will help researchers develop educational tools and resources for an important group of students—multilingual learners with significant cognitive disabilities.

The Advancing Alternate English Language Learning Assessment (ALTELLA): Alternate Assessment Redesign project is a four-year collaboration among WIDA, its partners, and the Minnesota Department of Education (lead state), Texas Education Agency, national experts, and key external groups.

Laurene Christensen, project director of the new initiative, and H. Gary Cook, principal investigator of the project, are thrilled to continue this important work. Recent research shows that almost one-quarter of multilingual students with significant cognitive disabilities do not receive English-language services—even though public schools in the United States are required to offer these services to all students learning English.

Dr. Lorena Mancilla, Director of WIDA Early Years, presents early years research at the 2019 WIDA Annual Conference.

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.

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.

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

Further Reading: Other WIDA Research

The overarching goal of research at WIDA is to promote educational equity and academic achievement for multilingual students.

To achieve this goal, WIDA works in partnership with districts, states, and national experts to conduct research on understanding and explaining educational experiences and outcomes of multilingual learners. Through this research, WIDA aims to inform the decision-making of educators and policymakers who serve these children and youth.

  • ACCESS Validation Research: WIDA conducts validation research to support the implementation and use of its assessments.
  • AIERA: WIDA is a founding member of the American Indian English Learner Research Alliance and is proud to partner with researchers, tribal leaders, state and local education agencies, and American Indian communities to support programs that value and build on Native students’ cultures and languages they bring to school.
  • Doing and Talking Math and Science: This research, funded by the National Science Foundation, is grounded in the premise that learning math and science means learning how to think in particular ways, how to argue from evidence, and how to use language to explain and analyze what you understand.
  • WIDA Early Years Parent Research: WIDA is conducting research that explores the perceptions and decision-making of parents of multilingual children, ages 0-5, with regard to children’s language learning and development, family engagement, and children’s participation in early care and education programs.