DLL por favor!

Projections estimate that by 2030, children with English as an Additional Language will comprise 25% of US students, 77% of whom will speak Spanish. Yet there is little evidence-based research addressing what works in literacy for the Spanish-speaking population. Trisha Borman and colleagues recently reported the first-year results of a randomised study of Descubriendo La Lectura (DLL), an individually administered Spanish literacy programme for first graders (Year 2) struggling with literacy in their native Spanish, examining its effects on both Spanish and English literacy.

DLL incorporates the research-proven practices of 1:1 tutoring, using a student’s native language to improve their second language, intervening early (in first grade), using data to track and guide progress, professional development, research-proven practices, and teacher collaboration.

Subjects were first-grade students in 22 schools in 3 states, statistically matched at baseline and randomly assigned to receive DLL either in the 2016 school year (experimental group, n=78), or the 2017 school year (delayed treatment control group, n=74). Students qualified for DLL if they spoke Spanish at home and scored below 25% on the IdO (a test that assesses literacy). Students were also pretested and post-tested using the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS) and Logramos (the Spanish equivalent of the ITBS). The experimental group received 30-minute lessons daily with students and teachers meeting 1:1, progressing at their own pace until they qualified to leave the programme and were post-tested. This process took 12-20 weeks, depending on the student.

Results favoured the DLL group, with statistically significant effect sizes on the Spanish Logramos averaging +0.55 (p<.001). On the English ITBS, the mean effect size was +0.17, which was not significant.  There were larger positive outcomes on measures made by the developers. The programme will continue to be studied in two subsequent cohorts.

Source: Addressing Literacy Needs of Struggling Spanish-Speaking First Graders: First-Year Results From a National Randomized Controlled Trial of Descubriendo la Lectura (July 2019) AERA Open

The impact of refugees on local children

Following an earthquake in Haiti in 2010, more than 4,000 refugee children entered Florida’s school system, most of them in four school districts. What impact did their arrival have on existing students in those schools?

In an article in the Journal of Labor Economics, David Figlio and Umut Özek draw on student-level administrative data from Florida that provides detailed information on all students enrolled in a public school between 2002–3 and 2011–12. These include reading scores on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) and maths scores for students between grades 3 and 10 (Years 4-11), as well as a wealth of student characteristics.

Using data from the year before the earthquake, and the two years after, they found that there was a neutral to positive impact on the children already in the schools. In particular, in the spring of 2010, each percentage point increase in refugee concentration was associated with 0.6%–0.7% of a standard deviation increase in reading test scores, 0.3%–0.4% of a standard deviation increase in maths test scores, and 0.2–0.6 percentage points fewer disciplinary incidents. They found that these results — neutral or slightly positive impacts — were consistent across sub-groups of students (by age, place of birth, race/ethnicity, spoken language, and socio-economic status). The researchers caution that these results are not necessarily generalisable, since, for example, Florida has one of the most equitable school funding distributions in the US and, with a substantial existing population of Haitian immigrants, may have systems and approaches in place that helped to mitigate any potential impact on local students.

Source: Unwelcome Guests? The Effects of Refugees on the Educational Outcomes of Incumbent Students (July 2019) Journal of Labor Economics

New research on dual-language immersion programmes

A new research brief by Jennifer L Steele and colleagues, published by the RAND Corporation, presents new research on dual-language immersion (DLI) programmes. These programmes provide both native English speakers and children learning English as an additional language (EAL) with general academic teaching in two languages from kindergarten (Year 1) onwards.

In partnership with the American Councils on International Education and the Portland Public Schools in Oregon (PPS), the authors conducted a random-assignment study of DLI education. The goal was to estimate the causal effects of the district’s DLI programmes on pupil performance over time in reading, mathematics and science, and on EAL pupils’ reclassification as English proficient.

PBS allocates immersion slots using a random-assignment lottery process for those who apply to the programmes. The study focused on 1,625 DLI lottery applicants in the kindergarten cohorts from 2004–2005 to 2010–2011. Pupil achievement was tracked until 2013–2014.

Key findings of the study were as follows:

  • PPS pupils randomly assigned to dual-language immersion programmes outperformed their peers on state reading tests by 13% of a standard deviation in grade 5 (Year 6) and by 22% of a standard deviation in grade 8 (Year 9).
  • Immersion-assigned pupils did not show statistically significant benefits or deficits in terms of mathematics or science performance.
  • There were no clear differences in the effects of dual-language immersion according to pupils’ native language.
  • EAL pupils assigned to dual-language immersion were more likely than their peers to be classified as English proficient by grade 6 (Year 7). This effect was mostly attributed to EAL pupils whose native language was the same as one of the two languages taught.

Source: Dual-language immersion programs raise student achievement in English (2017), RAND Corporation Research Brief, RB-9903

Reducing achievement gaps in academic writing

A study published in Journal of Educational Psychology reports on two years of findings from a randomised controlled trial of the Pathway Project, an intervention designed to reduce achievement gaps in academic writing for pupils who are Latino or have English as an Additional Language (EAL).

Ninety-five teachers from 16 secondary schools in the Anaheim Union High School District – a large, diverse, low-socioeconomic status, urban district with over 33,000 pupils (60% Latino and 66% EAL) – were randomly assigned to the treatment (Pathway) or control condition. Teachers in the Pathway group took part in a 46-hour professional development programme where they were trained to help improve pupils’ interpretative reading and text-based analytical writing using a cognitive strategies approach.

Findings from the study show promising results in both years of the intervention that appear to close the achievement gap in writing outcomes for Latino pupils and EALs in grades 7 to 12 (Years 8-13). In the first year of the trial, Pathway pupils gained 0.99 points more for an on-demand academic writing assessment than control pupils, which was highly statistically significant. Significant effects were attained for all grade levels except 12th grade (Year 13). The second year also showed a large positive, significant effect of the intervention on the full sample. Pre- and post-test scores for the academic writing assessment showed an effect size of +0.48 in the first year and +0.60 in the second year.

Programme effects were positive and significant for all the language groups, with the very largest occurring for EALs. This suggests that the Pathway Project may be particularly beneficial for pupils still in the process of learning English. In addition, pupils in the Pathway group had higher odds than pupils in the control group of passing the California Higher School Exit Exam in both years.

Source: Reducing achievement gaps in academic writing for Latinos and English learners in Grades 7–12 (January 2017), Journal of Educational Psychology, Vol 109(1), 1-21.

Improving reading comprehension for English learners

A randomised controlled trial, published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, has examined the impact of a version of the PACT reading comprehension and content acquisition intervention, which was modified to meet the needs of pupils with English as an Additional Language (EALs), in eighth-grade (Year 9) social studies classes.

Sharon Vaughn and colleagues carried out the trial with schools with moderate to high concentrations of EALs. In the selected schools, all eighth-grade (Year 9) social studies teachers participated, and classes were randomly assigned to the treatment or comparison condition. Each teacher taught both PACT treatment classes and comparison classes, and the same social studies content was delivered to pupils in both conditions, but with the interrelated components of PACT included in the treatment classes.

Pupils in the treatment group did better than pupils in the comparison group on measures of content knowledge acquisition and content reading comprehension, but not general reading comprehension. Both EALs and non-EALs who received the intervention performed better on measures of content knowledge acquisition (effect size = 0.40) and content-related reading (effect size = 0.20).

Source: Improving content knowledge and comprehension for English language learners: Findings from a randomized control trial (January 2017), Journal of Educational Psychology, Vol 109(1)

Trends in English proficiency and high school graduation rates

Min Huang and colleagues at WestEd in the US recently examined patterns among English as an Additional Language learner (EAL) sub-groups to determine if the amount of time these students spent classified as English as an Additional Language learners or the grade in which they were deemed English-proficient correlated with their graduation rates.

Researchers studied the data, starting in the ninth grade (Year 10), from students in Arizona who were due to graduate from high school in 2014. More than 63,000 students were divided into five sub-groups based on their English proficiency, and then grouped by prior academic achievement and demographics.

Results showed that academic achievement prior to high school was the key predictor of EAL students who graduated on time, regardless of demographic similarities. Most importantly, the earlier students achieved English-language proficiency, the higher their graduation rates. The EAL sub-groups least likely to graduate on time were long-term English as an Additonal language learners who had been identified as EALs before sixth grade (Year 7) and were not yet English proficient by ninth grade (Year 10), and new English as an Additonal Language learners who became EALs in sixth grade (year 7) or later and entered high school designated as English as an Additional Language learners.

Researchers noted that during the study period EAL students were required to attend four hours of English classes a day, preventing them from being in mainstream classes, and therefore not necessarily acquiring the academic foundation for the subjects they need to graduate.

Source: High school graduation rates across English learner student subgroups in Arizona (2016), National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (NCEE)