IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

Importance of Measuring Spanish Literacy Skills

The Latinx population comprises the second largest ethnic group in the US and has grown more than 600% since 1970. In states like California, Texas and New Mexico, nearly half of people are Latinx and almost one third are bilingual. States in the Northeast, Midwest, and South have also experienced double-digit growth in their Latinx populations since 2010. Millions of children all across the country are growing up in communities where both English and Spanish are spoken. In response to these trends, there has been a push to support and celebrate student bilingualism and biliteracy. Forty states and Washington, D.C. offer a State Seal of Biliteracy for students who achieve proficiency in speaking, reading, and writing in English and an additional language, most often Spanish. In this guest blog, Drs. Ashley Adams Sanabria, Amy Pratt, and Elizabeth Peña discuss the importance of measuring literacy skills in Spanish and their new IES-funded measurement project that aims to develop assessments to measure Spanish language and literacy skills.

 

Why is it important to measure literacy skills in Spanish?

In the IES practice guide for effective language and literacy instruction for English language learners, the first recommendation is to monitor children’s reading progress and use the data to make informed instructional decisions. Traditionally, this type of assessment has been conducted exclusively in English; however, we risk missing an important part of the constellation of skills that bilingual children possess when we do not assess their Spanish (or other first language) skills. Bilingual children’s language and literacy skills are often divided across both of their languages. Factors like exposure to Spanish versus English, preference for using Spanish versus English, and the language of formal reading instruction will affect a bilingual’s early literacy development. Measuring skills in only one language may make it appear that bilinguals are behind when in actuality, the assessment strategy has not captured the entirety of their skill set.

Furthermore, research shows that bilingual language profiles are dynamic and interact with the type of instruction children receive. Progress monitoring assessments in both languages allow teachers to track how children are progressing in different skills in each of their languages and can provide important information that will inform how teachers plan instruction for bilingual learners. As part of a new IES-funded measurement project, researchers at the University of California, Irvine and San Diego State University are developing the A2i-ALE (Adquisición de Lectura en Español) assessments to measure Spanish language and literacy skills. These new assessments will be computer adaptive and designed to be used alongside the existing Assessment-to-Instruction (A2i) English assessments to monitor progress within and across school years for bilingual children in PreK through 3rd grade.

Which literacy skills should be measured in Spanish?

For our project, given we cannot measure everything, a key question we had to consider was which literacy skills to measure in Spanish. The Simple View of Reading holds that reading comprehension is the product of decoding skills and linguistic comprehension. Importantly, this framework can be applied to bilingual reading development, as well. Simply put, students must be able to decode written symbols into their spoken equivalent. But, we need to consider language differences. Languages with transparent orthographies and simple phonological structure, like Spanish, are easier to segment into their component sounds because there is a near 1-to-1 mapping between letters and sounds compared to English which has complex letter-sound mappings.

Once decoded, students must then apply their language skills (for example, vocabulary, knowledge of syntactic structures, background knowledge) to understand the meaning of the text they have just decoded. The Simple View of Reading has important implications for literacy instruction: (a) effective early reading instruction should develop skills in both decoding and language comprehension, and (b) given that these two domains develop relatively independently, reading comprehension outcomes will be enhanced by differentiating the amount of instructional time devoted to each of the two domains depending on individual learners’ skill level in each area.

Applying the Simple View of Reading to improve reading instruction for bilingual learners requires that teachers have valid, reliable information about decoding skills and language comprehension skills in all of their languages and use the information in planning and implementing reading instruction.

What’s next?

In our IES-funded study, we plan to develop A2i Spanish measures that will be designed to (a) describe each bilingual’s unique literacy skill profile in terms of their Spanish language, comprehension, and decoding skills, and (b) monitor children’s Spanish language and reading growth within and across school years. The goal is to inform Spanish language instructional decisions in dual language programs (that is, children demonstrating weaknesses in Spanish word reading or vocabulary could get more Spanish instructional time in those areas), as well as inform literacy instruction for bilingual children in English-only classrooms building on what is known about cross-language transfer.


This year, Inside IES Research is publishing a series of interviews (see here and here) showcasing a diverse group of IES-funded education researchers and fellows that are making significant contributions to education research, policy, and practice. As part of our Hispanic Heritage Month blog series, we are focusing on Hispanic researchers and fellows, as well as researchers that focus on the education of Hispanic students.

Ashley Adams Sanabria is an assistant professor at San Diego State University in the School of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences.

Amy S. Pratt is a project scientist at the University of California, Irvine in the School of Education

Elizabeth D. Peña is an associate dean of faculty development and diversity at the University of California, Irvine in the School of Education.

Produced by Katina Stapleton (Katina.Stapleton@ed.gov), co-Chair of the IES Diversity and Inclusion Council, and Helyn Kim (Helyn.Kim@ed.gov), Program Officer for the English Learners portfolio, National Center for Education Research.

NCES Welcomes Peggy Carr as Its New Commissioner

On August 24, 2021, President Biden announced the appointment of Dr. Peggy G. Carr as Commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) in the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) at the U.S. Department of Education. Prior to serving as the Commissioner, Carr was the Associate Commissioner for Assessment at NCES, where she oversaw the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and a portfolio of large-scale international assessments, including the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) and Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). Carr also served as Acting Commissioner of NCES between 2016 and 2018.

Since joining NCES in the early 1990s, Carr has played a lead role in planning, directing, and managing NAEP and the international assessments through several major milestones, such as the transition from paper-and-pencil assessments to digitally based ones. During her decades-long tenure with NAEP, Carr managed all aspects of its technical infrastructure, including item development, data collections, scoring, psychometrics, analysis, and reporting. Most recently, in January 2021, at the request of Secretary Cardona’s office and in response to an IES Executive Presidential Order to gather data on school openings and modes of instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic, Carr led the development and implementation of the NAEP 2021 Monthly School Survey. The survey reported crucial information on the reopening of schools for in-person learning from February through June of 2021, and it will provide valuable context for understanding student achievement results from the upcoming NAEP assessments in 2022.

Before coming to NCES, Carr served as the chief statistician for the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. While in this role, she applied statistics and survey methods to the field of discrimination in U.S. schools and institutions.

Carr received her B.S. in psychology, with a concentration in statistics, from North Carolina Central University. She earned her M.S. and Ph.D. in developmental psychology from Howard University.

Disrupting the Status Quo to Support Latino Students from Immigrant Families

Driven in part by massive demographic shifts in the U.S. population, education and social behavioral research has increasingly attended to the growing diversity of the student population. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Latinos accounted for more than 50% of the U.S. population growth between 2010 and 2020. While the country’s white population is shrinking, the Latino population grew by 23% in the last decade and now makes up almost 19% of the U.S. population. Although the raw numbers are worthy of attention, the change rate—and what it means for how schools and other systems serve students—may be even more important, especially given that the K12 education system is not built to accommodate such rapid demographic shifts.

NCES data show that, although there has been overall progress in improving high school graduation rates, the nation’s Latino student dropout rate is 65% higher than White students and almost 40% higher than Black students. Only 20% of Latinos aged 25 to 29 have obtained a college degree—the lowest degree attainment rate of any racial/ethnic subgroup. Growing evidence shows that the disparities in college participation among Latino and first-generation college students may become even more pronounced as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage.

Since 2015, with the support of two IES-funded NCER grants, my team of colleagues and I have led work designed to challenge and innovate how schools support the positive development and college access and success for Latino students from immigrant families. Our Juntos Project was designed to create a new intervention model working directly with teachers, school leaders, and parents of Latino middle school students. The goal of the project was to address common challenges confronting immigrant families as they navigate the U.S. education system, to use effective strategies for recognizing and transforming teacher bias, and to create a school climate that centers equity leadership and builds authentic family-school partnerships—all with the promise to improve academic and school success for Latino students. The second project, Project LEAPS (Latino Education After Public School), which is currently underway, extends the model we developed in Juntos by working with teachers, parents, and school counselors to support the postsecondary readiness (and ultimately the college access and success) of Latino students as they transition from middle school to high school.

Through this work, we continue to learn important lessons about how to be disruptive given that current approaches have too often failed to make a lasting impact on nurturing the academic success and positive behavioral health of Latino students. Here are a few of those lessons:

Parents are the most important teachers in a child’s life. As much as education researchers and professionals attend to the role educators play in student life, our approach is designed to capitalize on the strengths of Latino families and the deep cultural value of familismo, which prioritizes dedication, connectedness, and loyalty to family, as essential targets of our intervention. Notwithstanding the influence of adult agents inside the education system, parents (that is, all of the adults in a child’s life who play a major role in raising them) play the most important and sustained role in raising healthy children. Although the education system frequently frames parents and home environments as “the problem” when considering the challenges of underserved students, data from the NCES National Household Education Survey show that parents of students of color are as likely or more likely to be engaged in their children’s education (for example, checking on homework completion, monitoring school performance) than their white peers. This is especially true for Latino parents, including those who are Spanish speaking and those who have low educational attainment themselves.

Move from a deficit framing to an asset framing. Undoubtedly, many Latino students and their families experience challenges as they navigate the education system. However, many of these challenges are not of their making. The fact that we can mark disparities in educational outcomes and access to higher education by race/ethnicity, poverty, rurality and other factors should be a source of outrage. None of these demographic characteristics should be correlated with school success or can legitimately be described as causal. The true causes stem from deeply rooted inequities embedded in the education system. One way to shift away from a student or family deficit framing is to focus on a more interesting question: What makes students, families, schools, and communities thrive in the face of difficult circumstances? The answers to this question can help us leverage assets that too often go untapped in service of student success.

Attend to within-group variation. Like other racial/ethnic groups, Latinos are not monolithic. Comparative designs in which outcomes for Latino students are contrasted with White students or students from other groups often contribute little to nuanced understandings about how variables linked to these group identifications might explain differences in outcomes. Ample research shows that within-group variation among Latinos on factors such as country of origin, nativity, generational history, language, time in U.S. residency, context of reception for immigrants, and acculturation level are more important in understanding the nature of risk and protection around academic and social behavioral adjustment than are between-group differences. In designing intervention programs for the families and students we serve, our goals are to understand these sources of variation and carefully attend to them in our development work.  


This year, Inside IES Research is publishing a series of interviews (see here and here) showcasing a diverse group of IES-funded education researchers and fellows that are making significant contributions to education research, policy, and practice. As part of our Hispanic Heritage Month blog series, we are focusing on Hispanic researchers and fellows, as well as researchers that focus on the education of Hispanic students.

Charles Martinez (@c_martinez) is the dean of the College of Education at the University of Texas at Austin, a professor in the Department of Educational Psychology, and the founding director of the Texas Center for Equity Promotion. He is a first-generation college graduate and a third-generation Mexican American. His Project LEAPS co-investigators are Heather McClure, University of Oregon, and Elma Lorenzo-Blanco, University of Texas at Austin.

This guest blog was produced by Katina Stapleton (Katina.Stapleton@ed.gov), co-Chair of the IES Diversity and Inclusion Council.

Research Roundup: NCES Celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month

Breaking down data by race and ethnicity can provide a better understanding of education performance and outcomes than examining statistics representative of all students. In observation of Hispanic Heritage Month, this blog presents NCES findings on the learning experiences of Hispanic students throughout their education careers.

Early Childhood Education

  • In 2019, 43 percent of Hispanic 3- to 4-year-olds and 86 percent of Hispanic 5-year-olds were enrolled in school.

 

K12 Education



  • Between 2009 and 2018, the percentage of students enrolled in public schools who were Hispanic increased from 22 to 27 percent.


  • In school year 2018–19, the adjusted cohort graduation rate (ACGR) was 82 percent for Hispanic public school students. The ACGRs for Hispanic students ranged from 60 percent in the District of Columbia to 91 percent in Alabama and West Virginia.
  • Between 2010 and 2020, the percentage of Hispanic 25- to 29-year-olds who had completed at least high school increased by more than 20 percentage points, from 69 to 90 percent.

 

Postsecondary Education

  • In 2007, postsecondary enrollment of Hispanic students surpassed 2.0 million for the first time in history. In 2012, enrollment of Hispanic students surpassed enrollment of Black students, making Hispanic students the largest minority population enrolled in postsecondary education.


  • Between fall 2009 and fall 2019, Hispanic undergraduate enrollment increased by 48 percent (from 2.4 million to 3.5 million students).


  • In 2017–18, there were 99,718 bachelor’s degrees awarded to Hispanic students at Hispanic-serving institutions, which have a full-time undergraduate enrollment that is at least 25 percent Hispanic.


  • In academic year 2018–19, 17 percent of bachelor’s degrees conferred to Hispanic graduates were in a STEM field.
  • About 58 percent of Hispanic students who began seeking a bachelor’s degree full-time at a 4-year institution in fall 2013 completed that degree at the same institution within 6 years.

 

By Mandy Dean, AIR

Expectations Matter: Understanding Student Learning Outcomes and Implicit Bias in the Early Childhood Classroom

Educators bring implicit biases to the classroom which may impact discipline and development for students from historically disadvantaged households and communities, particularly students of color. Research has shown that some teachers show implicit (and explicit) preferences towards White students versus students of color. These implicit biases and lower expectations of students of color may negatively influence children’s early learning and development. With an IES exploration grant, Drs. Brian Boyd, Iheoma Iruka and Keith Payne are examining the relationship between malleable factors such as implicit bias, teacher expectations, and teacher-child interactions and student learning outcomes. Taking place in early education programs across 10 states and the District of Columbia, this study will examine links between implicit bias and school readiness skills in pre-school age children.

Bennett Lunn, a Truman-Albright Fellow at IES, asked Dr. Iruka about her work and background. Below are her responses.

How have your background and experiences shaped your scholarship and career?

I am a Black woman, born in the United States but with parents who were born in Nigeria. I am the African diaspora that is rarely discussed because people see Black people as homogeneous. I was not always proud of my African roots or of my American roots – there is a double-edged sword in being a Black person in America and being an American Black in Nigeria. I was not always proud of being a Black person in America because of constant reminders about how much I have to overcome. I think my experiences as a Black woman in the U.S. with direct roots to Africa (my name is Nigerian), and who grew up in poverty (but did not know that then), give me an edge and a drive compared to those who just study poverty. Even when my papers and grants get rejected, I still know my experiences are valuable to me, my children, my family, and those fighting for justice. I bring all of who I am to my talks, papers, mentoring, networks, and partnerships. For me, there is no Iheoma without the village that I am a part of, my ancestors, my Nigerian and African diasporic heritage, and my experiences. I realize that my gender, race, culture, and other intersectional identities continue to shape my career and, most importantly, the journey I am on.

How does your research contribute to a better understanding of the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in education?

I see my research as part of a tapestry that shapes how people see others, especially those who are often made to feel invisible, like young Black boys and girls, their families, and their communities. I hope that my research is more than just “DEI,” which is the phrase of the season. I don’t mind that it is, but I hope it is not only for the moment, especially when discussing racial equity and anti-racism. I want my research and other collaborative work to be about seeing the humanity, the beauty, the joy, the assets, and the possibilities of those we often see and treat as invisible. Examining the role of implicit bias in the classroom is the focus of my current IES-funded research, and my most recent book, Don’t Look Away: Embracing Anti-Bias Classrooms, is a call to action for all educators, professionals, and others to not look away from the injustices directed at minoritized groups, especially Black people. We cannot look away; we must act and continue to act until justice has won. In the words of Malcom X, “Speaking like this doesn’t mean that we’re anti-white, but it does mean we’re anti-exploitation, we’re anti-degradation, we’re anti-oppression”. I hope my research, my talks, and my entire body of work cause researchers and those who fund research to look at themselves and ask how they can do better with the weapon they have–research!

In your area of research, what do you see as the greatest research needs or recommendations to address diversity and equity and improve the relevance of education research for diverse communities of students and families?

There is so much that can improve the enterprise of research and science. In early childhood education, as well as in other areas, it takes more than practice to create more equitable outcomes—research is needed to examine how systems create inequities. My RICHER framework, which provides actionable steps toward addressing bias and racism, is an ode to researchers and scholars, especially White scholars, about how they can do better in their science when their participants are non-white.

What has been the biggest challenge you have encountered and how did you overcome the challenge?

My biggest challenge is myself. While I have always had confidence in my skills, I was not always sure how direct I could be, especially with my White mentors, colleagues, and peers. There were times I felt I had to use coded language. As my journey has gone on, or because I am getting older and don’t have the energy to code, I have become more direct so the actions can be straightforward and clear. It is also crucial that I bring my lived experiences, including being the mother of two young Black children in America and wanting to see their experiences be even more equitable than mine. I want them to understand that their heritage, language, skin color, gender, and whatever other identities they have should be embraced because that will make them unique and motivate them to get through all the obstacles, including rejection, which are part of academia. I want them to embody Black joy!

How can the broader education research community better support the careers and scholarship of researchers from underrepresented groups?

Lean into the RICHER framework. You can’t truly support scholars from historically underrepresented groups, especially Black ones, unless you have a sense of critical consciousness. I would say that I have been fortunate in having mentors who did not question my skill or talent but created opportunities even before I thought I was ready. When I think about those specific individuals, I realize that they were mentors who supported many people of color. These mentors cared about me, not just the scholar but the person, and they still do. To support underrepresented researchers, you have to see “us,” not just our color or race, or ethnicity. Scholars of color are multi-faceted and bring a lot to the table because we have had to live in multiple worlds and speak multiple languages.

What advice would you give to emerging scholars from underrepresented, minoritized groups that are pursuing a career in education research?

First, find your village of peers, scholars, and mentors, whether through your university, professional organization, or social organization. You want a place where you can lay your burdens down, have joy, and just be your full self. Second, be truthful and authentic about your journey. Allow mistakes to guide you and realize that mistakes ensure growth and do not define you. And third, be sure to have fun and enjoy what you do. While the research I do is emotionally laden, it is joyful and motivational because I get to be part of a larger community focused on justice and asset-building. When I can bring my whole self into my research and work, I know I am doing the right thing. So always ask yourself, am I doing what I am supposed to be doing, and how do I know?


This blog is part of a series of interviews (see here and here) showcasing a diverse group of IES-funded education researchers that are making significant contributions to education research, policy, and practice. For other blog posts related to diversity, inclusion, equity, and accessibility, please see here.

Dr. Iheoma U. Iruka is a Research Professor of Public Policy and the Founding Director of the Equity Research Action Coalition at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

This interview was produced and edited by Bennett Lunn, Truman-Albright Fellow for the National Center for Education Research and the National Center for Special Education Research.