WIDA Partnership

Since its inception in 2002, CAL has partnered with WIDA to develop high-quality, standards-based assessments for English language learners in more than 41 states, territories, and federal agencies.

Our specialized team of test developers, psychometricians, researchers, production artists, and technology experts serve as key developers and leaders in many WIDA projects, including ACCESS for ELLs, a high-stakes English proficiency assessment administered to over 2 million students each year.

“When I first contemplated starting WIDA, I reached out to the Center for Applied Linguistics to partner with us in what has become one of the most successful partnerships in the world of standards and assessment. 

CAL has been much more than our principal item developer; they have been a thought partner for us at WIDA from the very beginning and I can honestly say that without CAL there would be no WIDA.

Their knowledge of multilingual learners, language assessment, and their mission driven orientation make them the perfect complement to our own work. 

Together I believe we are able to offer educators the assessments and resources they need and deserve to meet the needs of their multilingual learners.”

Tim Boals, Ph.D.
WIDA Founder and Director

The CAL Value

Assessment Research

At CAL, research guides every aspect of language assessment. Our research scientists lead special projects to inform our test development procedures and improve the quality of our assessments.

Some of our areas of research focus include:

  • Pilot tests and observational studies of student test-takers (cognitive labs)
  • Surveys of educator needs and perceptions of assessments
  • Design of technology-enhanced items and innovative question types
  • Validity arguments that underlie test conceptualization and development

Test Development

CAL has been WIDA’s test development partner since WIDA’s inception. Our test development team creates all test content for the four domains of ACCESS for ELLs: Listening, Reading, Writing, and Speaking. CAL staff partner with educators and external consultants to create standards-based, grade-level appropriate test items. CAL collaborates with WIDA and educators to ensure that test content reflects grade-level appropriate topics and is free of bias and sensitivity issues to ensure a fair testing experience for students of diverse backgrounds. CAL implements feedback from educator focus groups, and all items undergo multiple rounds of revisions and a rigorous quality control process conducted by our language testing specialists prior to field testing.

Test Technology & Test Production

Our technology and production experts bring ACCESS for ELLs to life. In-house production artists create accessible and engaging graphic support for each test item, from detailed depictions of historical events to graphical representations of mathematical data. Our technology team develops the software packages for computer-based delivery.

Test Rater Training

CAL produces rater training and scoring materials for each Speaking and Writing task on the ACCESS for ELLs test and works closely with ACCESS’s scoring vendor to ensure that the Speaking and Writing tests are scored consistently and reliably by trained raters. Each year, CAL test developers review thousands of student responses to select anchor responses that exemplify each score point for raters, select training samples to illustrate score point boundaries, and draft task-specific scoring notes.

CAL also produces rater training and scoring materials for locally scored assessments, developing the materials used to train educators to score students’ responses in the field.


CAL’s psychometrics and quantitative research team team conduct psychometric research studies in support of the federal requirements for Title III and to fulfil the federal Peer Review requirements for ACCESS for ELLs. ACCESS for ELLs undergoes yearly field testing of new test items, revisions, equating and analysis of test data, which is summed up yearly, in the annual technical report, co-authored by the psychometrics and quantitative research team.


Here are some of the assessments CAL developed in partnership with WIDA. For other assessments CAL develops, click here.

  • WIDA’s flagship assessment, ACCESS for ELLs is an English proficiency assessment administered annually to over 2 million students in grades 1-12. ACCESS is available in online and paper-based formats. Learn more about ACCESS for ELLs
  • Kindergarten ACCESS for ELLs is an individually administered, interactive English language proficiency assessment designed for the specific developmental needs of kindergarten students. Learn more about Kindergarten ACCESS for ELLs
  • Alternate ACCESS for ELLs is a large-print, paper-based assessment individually administered to English learners with the most significant cognitive disabilities. Learn more about Alternate ACCESS for ELLs
  • WIDA Screener is an English language proficiency assessment that helps educators identify whether new students are English language learners. Learn more about WIDA Screener
  • WIDA Screener for Kindergarten is an individually administered paper-and-pencil test that helps educators identify whether incoming kindergarten students are English language learners. Learn more about WIDA Screener for Kindergarten
  • WIDA MODEL (Measure of Developing English Language) is a suite of English language proficiency assessments available to administer as-needed during the school year. Learn more about WIDA MODEL.

About the Project

Funder: University of Wisconsin, WIDA
July 2003