English Learners improve

More English Language Learners are reaching proficiency on state reading and math tests, according to a Center on Education Policy report.  However, it’s impossible to compare data from one state to another, says CEP’s Jack Jennings. From Education Week:

Because of deficiencies in data on ELLs, Mr. Jennings said he’s inclined to think the nation should have a single definition for such students. Currently, each state creates its own definition for an English-language learner under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Kenji Hakuta, a Stanford education professor, called for benchmarking “state assessments against trusted common benchmarks such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress to verify if the gains are indeed real.”

By breaking out data on ELLs’ achievement, NCLB greatly increased the information available and the focus on non-fluent students. What’s missing is long-term data on how well former ELLs do over time after they leave the program.

Update:  In a long-term study of randomly assigned ELLs, children learned English reading equally well by fourth grade whether they were assigned to Success for All’s Spanish bilingual or English immersion reading program.  Both groups of fourth graders closed most of the gap, but not all, with native-English-speaking students.  John Hopkins’ Robert Slavin, who designed SFA, conducted the study.

SFA’s transitional bilingual program teaches reading in Spanish, “with a transition to English starting as early as 1st grade and completed by 3rd grade,” reports Ed Week.

The study found that students in bilingual education had an edge in Spanish reading skills over students in English immersion in the early grades, while the reverse was true for English reading skills. But differences evened out by the 4th grade, with students scoring about the same in Spanish and in English, the researchers reported.

Since all teachers used Success for All’s scripted curriculum and received the same training, the only difference was the language of instruction. I think the evidence for quite awhile has suggested that good teaching and a strong curriculum is much more important than the language of instruction.

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