A colleague of mine just posed this question to me: "Do you know of any states that are doing an exemplary job with ELL services in K-12?" I know of some programs and states that are doing some innovative and research-based things, but I was not able to identify a state with great programs and outcomes. So, I decided to start with the data available to us at the National Center for Education Statistics (nces.org) that shows the pervasive and troubling achievement gap between ELLs and non-ELLs. Do test scores determine if a state is serving K-12 ELLs well? Not entirely, but it is one piece of the puzzle when we are looking at the national problem. Let's start with the math and reading gaps from 2009 data on the 8th grade NAEP Reading and Math tests:
Now, take a look at the math score gaps between White students and ELL Hispanic students:
So, looking at the data above, the reading gap between Whites and Hispanic ELL students is 54 points and the math gap for the same two groups is 53 points. These are some very disturbing numbers.
Which states are serving ELL students better? This data is a little harder to unearth quickly. We can look at the "White-Hispanic" gap state by state, but not all Latino students are ELLs. In fact, although Latinos are the second largest demographic group in K-12 schools, if we look at US regions, they are only between about 7% and 29% of regional populations in 2009 in the U.S. But looking at the White-Hispanic gap may be important, although not necessarily the best way to answer my colleague's question. NCES identified states that are either closers or wideners of these gaps for 2009 test data for White vs. Hispanic students. Here they are for reading:
And for math:
The states who are narrowing the achievement gap between White and Hispanic students may deserve a second look in terms of their K-12 ELL services.
My quick look into the NCES data and publications show that in 2009 there was an achievement gap between Hispanic ELLs and White non-ELL White students in both reading and math. Looking state-by-state I was able to find data that shows a persistent gap between White and Hispanic students, but does not show ELLs scores separately.
My next step in this search would be to look at each state's department of education data on ELL achievement. I might start with the White-Hispanic "gap narrowers" in the charts above, especially New Jersey and New York, as they appear as "narrowers" on both the reading and math tests.
To look at each state's scores by subgroup including English Learners, the data can be found here at the US Department of Education. A quick look at a few states shows a persistent gap between English Learners and other subgroups in the state.
My colleague's question is a good one, one that we are all working to answer. The National Clearinghouse on English Language Acquisition has a treasure trove of research, data, and resources to help answer this question. Of course, there are multiple solutions and one size will not fit all. We must look beyond testing and the results of testing and think about each school's context, population, particular needs, cultural, economic, political and sociological issues when considering how to provide exemplary services to ELLs. How does your school or district provide exemplary services to ELLs? What does exemplary look like? How would you know if the services were exemplary? What evidence would be sufficient? High test-scores? Providing for linguistic human rights? Are exemplary services bilingual education? These are essential questions to answer before beginning to address if your state is providing exemplary services to K-12 ELLs.
Cheung & Slavin (Dec, 2012) synthesized research on English reading outcomes for Spanish dominant English Learners and conclude that in the end, instructional quality is more important than language of instruction for English reading. (Of course, we need to remember that language of instruction may not matter if you are only concerned about students learning English, but you'd have to have Spanish instruction as well to become literate in both languages...) However, their research did show that bilingual classrooms did give students an advantage (an effect size of +.21). Whether you are critical of their research or not, it is important to attend to instructional practice and recognize another study that emphasizes it's importance. What does quality instruction include? The interventions that Cheung & Slavin describe with the highest effect sizes for English reading outcomes are: a program with cooperative learning among 4 member teams, a program with peer-assisted learning, and small group instruction. I find it interesting that the higher effect sizes seem to be for interventions that involve students learning with one another. Discussion and interaction are key components of language acquisition theory and may be a key to effective practice.
Here are a few teaching tips and materials that promote interaction:
Reference: Cheung, A.C.K. & Slavin, R.E. (2012). Effective programs for Spanish-dominant English Language Learners (ELLs) in the Elementary Grades: A Synthesis of Research. Review of Educational Research, 82(4), 351-395.
The U.S. Department of Education's What Works Clearinghouse examines programs and practices intended to support English Learner achievement. The following classroom practices have been shown to have a positive or potentially positive effect on educational outcomes. For more details on the practices visit the What Works Clearinghouse.
1) My students often work in pairs or small groups discussing and interacting to complete academic tasks.
2) My students frequently engage in teacher-facilitated small group discussions about key concepts from readings.
3) My students often respond in writing in a literature log to a prompt about readings.
4) I teach students how to use reading comprehension strategies.
5) I teach students to use the writing process for a variety of purposes.
6) I provide high quality vocabulary instruction throughout the day.
7) I provide focused and intensive small group instruction for readers who are struggling.
The National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition has published a list of websites with younger ELs in mind.
Websites Offering Learning Activities for Young ELs
http://learnenglishkids.britishcouncil.org/en/: language games, songs, and stories
http://www.literacycenter.net/: activities to learn numbers, colors, shapes, reading and writing letters and words
http://www.starfall.com: reading instruction and reading games
http://www.rif.org/kids/readingplanet.htm: language-related activities and stories
http://www.storyplace.org/preschool/other.asp: stories and language-learning activities
http://pbskids.org/: a variety of reading, writing, and learning activities
http://pbskids.org/berenstainbears/games/story/index.html: learning activities to prepare children for school
http://www.storylineonline.net/: stories read by actors from the ScreenActors' Guild.
http://www.scholastic.com/clifford/: reading and writing activities
http://www.eduplace.com/kids/hmsc/content/simulation/#gk: science content from Houghton Mifflin Science Series
(Source: www.ncela.gwu.edu, Winter 2012 Issue of AccELLerate!)
Tactile Review - For K-2ND GRADE, have them trace letters, numbers or key vocabulary words listed on the board, on their partner's washed hand and the partner guesses the letter or word. A list of possible words can be listed on the board or on a chart. Switch roles.
A new poll by HuffPost/YouGov found that about 60 percent of Americans support immigration reform and even more - 81 percent - support a policy that requires immigrants learn English to become citizens. This brings up a lot of questions. What does it mean to learn English? What to Americans think about the first language(s) of immigrants? Resource or not? How might this effect policies and funding for English as a Second Language compared with Bilingual Education? Are our goals as a nation to be monolingual or bilingual? What does this mean for parents and children that we serve in our schools?
(Reference: Huffington Post, Emily Swanson, Feb. 1, 2013)
Everyday ELL is now Every Language Learner.