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It’s now day 3 of me trying to come up with a great title for my blogs. I just searched for “linguistic terms” in the Google machine in hopes that I can finally find something to use. Honestly, numbers alone are boring. I have done something like this before when I discovered the hidden secret of creating humorous screen names. Long story short, you take a noun and give it an adjective that is either ironic, backwards, or doesn’t match the category of the noun. For example, legless fish. Or, excellent meeting. Or even, productive day. Get it?

Today I found more evidence for why I dislike WIDA. This time it comes from one of the corporations that works closely with WIDA, which is kind of ironic if you ask me. It would make more sense if this information had come from someone who also didn’t like WIDA. But this takes the cake. The whole cake. 

One of my biggest arguments against WIDA, as I have written about before, is that their products are not all they are shown to be. For example, the WIDA standards are about as much of a standard as reading a message written on a post-it note is comparable to reading Stephen King’s IT. One simply does not say they read a novel last night only to be referring to the note they left themselves 3 weeks ago about picking up milk at the store. (They probably still forgot as they are just now finding the post-it note and are now sleeping on the couch and just remembering why.) The next reason why I don’t like WIDA is that their testing sessions not only occur at the oddest times in the year, but they also take forever to give us the results. We test in February and the results arrive at the end of summer. How does this help us to put kids into classes that need to be filled in March and April when their scores don’t even arrive until September? However, neither of these things compares to what I think is the worst aspect of WIDA; the useless information. The test scores tell us nothing useful about how to place students in classes. Honestly, the test scores are about as useful as a fortune cookie. Both give generic information that even I could have predicted or made up. The difference is that fortune cookies taste okay. WIDA has no flavor because they are an organization and you cannot eat them. 

Some people have argued that I’m not reading the scores properly. It is true, I don’t have a Phd in astrophysiology or a droid who can speak Bocce. But I have been staring at these scores for a long time. In today’s world, that practically makes me an expert. In no way does telling me that my student’s reading score is at a 2.3 does that mean anything in the real world of literacy. There is absolutely no correlation between these scores and ANYTHING that is used in education. In fact, I have had students who had almost identical scores who were at completely different abilities in reading. So, how do I use these scores to place students? Still not convinced? Let’s go back in time a couple of years. 

Three years ago, I mentioned that this was a problem and everyone agreed. Students who were placed into my groups by WIDA “level” were on complete opposite ends of the spectrum of literacy and language skills. What I noticed was, when you use a reading assessment like the Lexile or DRA, you could more easily group students because those measures actually mean something. While all of us plebeian teachers were still grouping kids by the infinite wisdom of WIDA, we struggled to teach students even in small groups due to the vast differences in abilities. It still happens today. 

Back to the future. As I was browsing our older curriculum today, I noticed something that stopped me dead in my tracks. An entire page (section really) dedicated to advertising how this curriculum uses assessment to guide teachers. On this page is a fancy flowchart which of course, starts with assessment. Duh. But what assessment do you think they mention? Ding. Ding. Ding. Winner. You guessed it. NOT WIDA. To quote directly from the text, “Determine reading level (Lexile -little registered trademark symbol that I don’t know how to add to my computer-). Step 2: Place into appropriate level of Edge. I can hear the angels singing now in the back of my head. This text was co-authored by non-other than Dr. Short herself. You know, the same Dr. Short from SIOP. The same SIOP that works with WIDA. 

I know you’re probably like, but Nate, didn’t you say this was your OLD curriculum? Yes, I did. And if you know me by now, you would know that I may be cocky, but I do my background checks before running my mouth too much. Ergo, I opened up the brand spanking new textbooks that were just revised last year. Guess what? It’s still there. This entire series of textbooks developed specifically for EL students across the United States instructs us to assess students using the Lexile measure before grouping them. 

So, what do I do now? I really don’t know. I am fighting a massive system in an uphill battle that is at odds with reality. Because you know, that’s how money works. However, because Dr. Deborah Short herself co-authored this text, I think there may be a way to at least chip away at some of the lessor barriers. 
Let me be clear. It’s not that I hate what WIDA stands for. We need standards. We need direction. We need solid research. I hate what WIDA became and how much it has deviated from reality. I also hate that we HAVE to use it because it is the only thing out there. (Unless of course you want to talk about ELPA21 which was started but never finished after several centuries of work.) 

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