I arrived in Atlanta on Monday in advance of the 2014 National WIDA Conference, and used the plane ride from Boston to reflect on the exciting changes that have taken place in the field of ELL instruction over the past three years. As Ellevation has grown to serve more districts across the WIDA Consortium, so too has WIDA grown, both in the number of students that it now serves, but also with respect to its position as a serious leader and advocate for ELLs and educators.
Three years ago, WIDA hosted four regional conferences, and we were fortunate to exhibit and sponsor two of them. Relative to other regional ELL conferences we attend throughout the United States, it was clear that WIDA attracted an especially strong group of district leaders and educators that wanted to learn about standards, assessments, and how to advance ELL achievement. But the conference effort still felt new, and the folks at WIDA probably underestimated the demand for both the expertise they conveyed, as well as the latent need for ELL educators to collaborate and learn together.
Last year, the conference in Milwaukee seemed better matched to the demand for WIDA content and collaboration, but it was still over-sold – and importantly, it began to feel less like an exclusive club for Consortia members and more like a venue for anyone interested in ELLs to learn about advancing student achievement for this growing population. I think that is partly due to the obvious national footprint that WIDA now commands (36 states!), but also because of something unique about the organization itself.
As an academic, state-funded entity, WIDA enjoys certain advantages in the eyes of educators. They have principled pedagogy, a public-minded organizational structure, and a long track record of supporting ESL educators across the country. They have also enjoyed stable leadership and financial support, which has been consistently focused on ELLs in our K-12 district school environments for a decade. This year in Atlanta, WIDA’s unique strengths will be on display. I expect the event will be even more robust than then ones that preceded it, and I look forward to participating alongside others that increasingly engage in this national call-to-action in support of aspirational English Language Learners.