IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

Educating English Learner Students During the Pandemic: Remote and In-Person Instruction and Assessment

The IES-funded R&D Center, the Center for the Success of English Learners (C-SEL), is undertaking a focused program of research aimed at improving access and outcomes for English Learners. One of C-SEL’s recent activities has been to develop resources to aid policymakers and practitioners working with middle school and secondary English learners. The research team at the Center, including Drs Diane August and Coleen Carlson, along with Maria Yolanda Cieslak and Kenneth Michael Nieser, recently released a brief on Educating English Learner Students During the Pandemic: Remote & In-person Instruction & Assessment-Recommendations and Resources for State and Districts. In this guest blog, the researchers provide an overview of the brief.

English Learners (ELs) benefit from specialized support to help them acquire second language proficiency and core content knowledge that builds on their cultural and linguistic assets. This specialized support is required by law, and the U.S. Department of Education reminded States that this is the case, even when learning is remote. Based on a review of the existing relevant literature, this brief provides detailed information related to the impact of remote learning on English Learners (ELs) and their teachers during the pandemic and the potential and limitations of using digital learning resources (DLRs) to educate these students. For instance, while DLRs have the potential to support learning and engagement for ELs, districts report barriers to their use, such as lack of home access to DLRs; teachers’ level of expertise and technology skills; and the lack of knowledge around what are the appropriate DLRs for ELs.

The brief also describes current legislation that authorizes funds for a variety of activities that could be used to support ELs and their families when instruction is delivered remotely. Some of these federal resources include:

  • Formula Grant Programs Under the Every Student Succeeds Act
  • CARES Act
  • Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act

In addition, the brief includes information about policies and resources for each of the 50 states in place in December 2020 that support districts and schools in instructing and assessing EL students remotely. It also includes a reading list of recent resources focused on remote learning for ELs, with brief descriptions of each resource and links to the resource.

In March 2021, the Center hosted a webinar to discuss recent recommendations for states and districts. One set of recommendations focuses on methods to enhance the learning and emotional well-being of EL students who have lost ground during the pandemic. Recommendations are also made for assessing ELs when schooling is or has been remote or hybrid. These recommendations can be found in the brief.  

In the upcoming months, C-SEL investigators look forward to preparing future blog posts and research briefs on the research of the Center and the students and teachers we are serving. Next up on the agenda is an overview of the students, highlighting their diversity, and some too often ignored, forgotten, or simply unknown characteristics of this important subgroup. Stay tuned!


Dr. Diane August is Principal at D. August and Associates and a Senior Research Scientist at the Center for Applied Linguistics.

Dr. Coleen Carlson is an Associate Research Professor, and Associate Director at the Texas Institute for Measurement, Evaluation, and Statistics (TIMES) at the University of Houston.

Ms. Maria Yolanda Cieslak is a Professional Development Specialist at the Center for Applied Linguistics.

Mr. Kenneth Michael Nieser is a Researcher at the Texas Institute for Measurement, Evaluation, and Statistics at the University of Houston.

 

The Center for the Success of English Learners Launches Website to Support Policy and Practice for English Learners

Policies and practices affect English learners’ (ELs) education access and quality. Supporting these students requires alignment across all levels of the education system—from federal and state governments to districts and schools to individual classroom teachers and students. 

About the Center

To address these issues of policy and practice, IES funded the Center for the Success of English Learners (CSEL) with the goal of improving access and outcomes for English Learners across the United States. Specifically, CSEL’s focused program of research includes identifying and removing barriers related to ELs’ access to the classroom and developing and testing interventions that leverage transdisciplinary approaches (for example, foregrounding content knowledge and building knowledge and academic language simultaneously) to improve instruction for ELs in Grades 6 and 9 science and social studies. Some research questions that will be explored include:

  • How are potential barriers, such as educator attitudes and mindsets and stated policies, associated with school tracking practices?
  • How do educators encounter and/or overcome barriers to providing ELs with access to the general curriculum?
  • What is the impact of the CSEL developed lessons on student vocabulary, language, and content knowledge in science and social studies?
  • Can student outcomes be improved in science and social studies through integrated formative assessments that allow teachers to make meaningful interpretations of student learning and informed decisions to guide their instruction?

New Website Launched

CSEL has launched a brand-new website to engage with the larger education community to exchange ideas, disseminate information and resources based on their findings, and create learning and collaboration opportunities for state and local education agencies. Visit www.cselcenter.org for information to learn more about their research, resources, and events, including an upcoming event based on their recently published brief, Education English Learner Students During the Pandemic: Remote & In-person Instruction & Assessment.

For more information about IES’s investment in improving opportunities and achievement for English learners in secondary school settings, please see here.


Written by Helyn Kim (Helyn.Kim@ed.gov), Program Officer for the English Learners Portfolio, National Center for Education Research.

 

Supporting Teachers and their English Learners during Online Learning

Under an IES grant, Drs. Leslie Babinski, Steve Amendum, Steve Knotek, and Marta Sánchez are evaluating the impact of the Developing Consultation and Collaboration Skills (DCCS) program. The DCCS program is a year-long professional development intervention designed to support English-as-a-Second Language (ESL) and classroom teachers to develop their skills in collaboration, literacy instruction, and parent outreach and engagement for their Latino students. Unfortunately, COVID-19 disrupted their study, but rather than calling it quits, the research team used it as an opportunity to explore how teachers are responding to a new normal and learned some important lessons along the way.

 

Last spring, we were in the middle of conducting a randomized control trial in elementary schools working with teaching teams of kindergarten, first grade, and ESL teachers when COVID-19 hit, and schools pivoted to online instruction.

As we paused our efficacy trial and adapted our plans, we continued to stay engaged with teachers despite the rapidly shifting circumstances. We realized that the foundational skills central to our intervention—using high-impact instructional strategies for English learners (ELs), building on families’ cultural wealth, promoting collaboration between ESL and classroom teachers, and ongoing, supportive implementation coaching—could be modified and adapted for different contexts and modes of delivery. These ongoing interactions with teachers provided us with an up-close look at their experiences as they connected with families remotely and adapted to this new and unfamiliar way of teaching. We learned about the challenges, successes, and possibilities for providing online instruction for young ELs.

While online teaching during the current school year looks and feels very different from the emergency shift to remote teaching from last spring, we learned important lessons from the experiences of teachers and students.

 

First, we learned that our implementation coaching model could be productive in a virtual format. In fact, teachers were eager to engage in reflective conversations despite the demands on their time and the stress of the pandemic. Each of the school teams continued to meet with our implementation coach. Together, they found new ways to scaffold instruction for ELs during online learning. Teachers supported one another in finding creative ways to use technology to communicate with families and provide support that reached beyond academics. They also created lessons that intentionally adapted instruction to reach ELs in their classrooms. For example, embedded in the videos the teachers created, they continued to use our core instructional strategies, such as previewing academic vocabulary before reading a new text, supplementing student background knowledge related to the content, providing sentence frames for both oral and written participation, and selecting texts related to student cultures and families.

 

Second, it is clear that there are serious inequities in access to online schooling. In our study, even as teachers made the commendable efforts described above, they also reported that more than half of their EL students required a device from the school district, while one-third of the families also needed a Wi-Fi hotspot to access online learning. This rate is considerably higher than a Pew Research Center poll that found that one in five parents reported difficulties with online learning due to lack of a computer or Wi-Fi access, highlighting the fact that many English Learners may have limited access to the technology necessary for online learning.

 

Third, online learning requires a partnership between teachers, families, and other caregivers. Even with a device and internet access, many young children and their families had difficulty logging onto their school accounts and navigating the technical aspects of the learning platforms for online schooling. Teachers reported that about half of the EL students in their classrooms had a parent or guardian who was able to help them with schoolwork at home. About 20% had help from another adult or a sibling. In one case, a teacher described a family in which a kindergarten student received support for online schooling from her brother in second grade. In our study, support at home was critical for student participation in online lessons. Our work with teachers during remote teaching and learning highlighted how parents and other caregivers are important advocates for their children’s education and are eager to partner with teachers and schools to help their children succeed.

 

Looking to the future, it is clear that instruction for ELs will need to focus on equitable access to high-quality instruction, whether online or in-person. Access to devices and Wi-Fi is essential, not only for online teaching and learning, but also for extending learning into the home. Finally, we note that teacher collaboration and coaching can be effectively adapted for an online environment and is an essential component in providing support to teachers for high-quality instruction for ELs.

Although we could not have anticipated the value of continuing to work with teachers during the pivot to remote instruction, we are grateful for the experience and all that we have learned during the process.

 

For more information, see this EdWeek article and this interview on The TakeAway.


Dr. Leslie Babinski is an associate research professor in the Sanford School of Public Policy and the Director of the Center for Child and Family Policy.

Dr. Steve Amendum is a professor at the School of Education at the University of Delaware.

Dr. Steve Knotek is a professor in the School of Education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Dr. Marta Sánchez is an associate professor in the Watson College of Education at the University of North Carolina Wilmington.

This is part of a series of blog posts focusing on conducting education research during COVID-19.

 

The Importance of Partnering with Practitioners in English Learner Research

IES values and encourage collaborations between researchers and practitioners to ensure that research findings are relevant, accessible, feasible, and useful. In FY 2014, Dr. Karen Thompson was awarded a grant for The Oregon English Learner Alliance: A Partnership to Explore Factors Associated with Variation in Outcomes for Current and Former English Learners in Oregon to determine best practices to support academic achievement among current and former English learners. Dr. Thompson and her colleagues wrote a guest blog post describing the work that the partnership undertook to better understand and improve the performance of English learners in Oregon. In this blog, we interviewed Dr. Thompson—three years after the end of the grant—to get her perspectives on the partnership, outcomes of their work, and where things currently stand.

 

What was the purpose of your research and what led you to do this work?

When I came to Oregon from California in 2012, there was growing momentum in the state to better understand and meet the needs of the state’s multilingual student population, particularly students classified as English learners (ELs). The state had developed an ambitious EL strategic plan, which included a variety of goals and action steps, such as identifying model programs and sharing best practices. I noticed that Oregon did not have publicly available information about the state’s former EL students. In prior work, other researchers and I had demonstrated that analyzing data only about students currently classified as English learners without also analyzing data about former EL students can provide incomplete and misleading information. Therefore, for Oregon to realize its goals and truly understand which programs and practices were most effectively educating its multilingual students, the state needed to make changes to its data systems. This was the seed that led to the Oregon Department of Education/Oregon State University English Language Learner Partnership. Our first goal was to simply determine how many former EL students there were in the state. Then, once the state had created a flag to identify former EL students, we were able to conduct a wide range of analyses to better understand opportunities and outcomes for both current and former EL students in ways that have informed state reporting practices and policy decisions.

 

How does this research differ from other work in the field? Why do you think partnerships with practitioners were necessary to carry out the work?

When we began our partnership, collecting and analyzing information about both current and former EL students was not common. Happily, more and more researchers and education agencies have now adopted these approaches, and we think our partnership has helped play a role in this important and illuminating shift.  

It was crucial to conduct this work via partnerships between researchers and practitioners. Practitioner partners had deep knowledge of the state’s current data systems, along with knowledge about which reporting and analysis practices could shift to incorporate new information about current and former EL students. Research partners had the bandwidth to conduct additional analyses and to lead external dissemination efforts. Our regular partnership meetings enabled our work to evolve in response to new needs. 

 

What do you think was the most important outcome of your work and why?

I think the most important outcome of our work is that educators across Oregon now have information about both their current and former English learner students and can use this data to inform policy and practice decisions. Other analyses we conducted have also informed state actions. For example, our analysis of how long it takes Oregon EL students to develop English proficiency and exit EL services informed the state’s EL progress indicator under the Every Student Succeeds Act.

 

What are the future directions for this work?

Our IES-funded partnership led to funding from the Spencer Foundation to do further research about EL students with disabilities in Oregon, which has impacted practices in the state. In addition, I am excited to be one of the collaborators in the new IES-funded National Research and Development Center to Improve Education for Secondary English Learners (PI: Aída Walquí, WestEd). As part of the Center’s research, I am working with colleagues at the University of Oregon and the University of California, Los Angeles to analyze malleable factors impacting content-course access and achievement for secondary EL students. We are collaborating with four states in this work, and as in our ODE/OSU partnership, we will be analyzing data for both current and former EL students. At a policy level, colleagues and I are involved in conversations about how data collection and reporting at the federal level could also incorporate analysis of data for both current and former EL students, including ways this might inform future reauthorizations of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

 

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Dr. Karen Thompson is an Associate Professor at the College of Education at Oregon State University. Her research focuses on how curriculum and instruction, teacher education and policy interact to share the classroom experiences of K-12 multilingual students.

 

Written by Helyn Kim (Helyn.Kim@ed.gov), Program Officer for English Learner Program, National Center for Education Research.

National Research & Development Center Launches Website to Provide Research Evidence and Actionable Information for Improving Education Outcomes for Secondary English Learners

Many English Learners (ELs) in secondary school settings are identified as long-term ELs—students who have been enrolled in U.S. schools for six or more years who have not made significant progress in English—and are at risk for dropping out of high school. These students face unique challenges and barriers in accessing education opportunities, which has resulted in persistent differences in academic outcomes between ELs and non-ELs, as well as negative consequences that reach far beyond school.  

 

About the Center

The IES-funded National Research & Development Center to Improve Education for Secondary English Learners has identified two specific challenges that ELs in secondary school face as they simultaneously develop English proficiency and subject-matter knowledge: 1) barriers to enrollment in challenging courses, and 2) scarcity of quality learning opportunities. The Center is taking a multi-pronged research approach to improve outcomes for ELs in secondary school settings by:

  • Identifying and describing the systemic barriers that prevent secondary ELs from successfully accessing the general curriculum
  • Developing and testing innovative curricular materials that strengthen the learning opportunities and experiences of both teachers and ELs as they engage in disciplinary practices

 

New Website Launched

The Center has launched a new website that provides information about their work and resources for researchers, practitioners, policymakers, and other education stakeholders to address current challenges and needs facing ELs in secondary school settings. Visit https://www.elrdcenter.wested.org/ for information ranging from how teachers and school and district leaders can support adolescent ELs in distance learning to modules that can be used for teacher preparation or professional development sessions to develop expertise in working with adolescent ELs.

For more information about IES’s investment in improving opportunities and achievement for English learners in secondary school settings, please see here.


Written by Helyn Kim (Helyn.Kim@ed.gov), Program Officer for English Learners Program, National Center for Education Research.