IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

Dual Languages and Dual Experiences: Supporting Educators to Make Data-Based Decisions to Serve Multilingual Children and Their Families

IES has funded scholars that push for equitable educational experiences. Dr. Lillian Durán is one researcher who stands out in this area. Her work has focused on improving instructional and assessment practices with preschool-aged dual language learners (DLLs). Dr. Durán recently was funded to expand the Individual Growth and Development Indicators (IGDI) suite of psychometrically robust measures for Spanish-speaking DLLs by developing and validating measures for 3-year-olds.  As a continuation of our Hispanic Heritage Month Series, we asked Dr. Durán to discuss her research with Hispanic student populations.

Lorena Aceves, a Society for Research Child Development Federal Postdoctoral Policy Fellow at the Administration for Children and Families’ Office of Head Start on detail with IES, asked Dr. Durán about her work and her experiences. See her responses below.

 

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

I am the first generation born in the United States. My mother was born in Rüstungen, Germany in 1931. This was in central Germany that was divided after WWII and became East Germany. She escaped as a young woman and made her way to the United States. My father was born in Nochistlán, Mexico in 1911, and his family migrated to the California when he was six years old because his father worked on building the railroads. In my home, we spoke German, Spanish and English, but English was my primary language. My personal experience in my family has fostered my interest in multilingual homes, and children who are growing up in first generation families.

Professionally, I became an early childhood special education teacher in 1998 and worked for 9 years both in Prince George’s County, Maryland and later in rural southwestern Minnesota. When I moved to Minnesota, I served three counties where Spanish-speaking children were about 25% of the population. I was the only teacher in nine school districts that spoke any Spanish, and I realized the incredible need in the field to support families who speak languages other than English, especially since there are so few teachers and specialists who are multilingual. In Minnesota, I was motivated to pursue a doctorate to fully immerse myself in understanding evidence-based solutions to serving multilingual children and their families.

What got you interested in a career in education science?

When I was a teacher, I had so many questions about best approaches to working with multilingual children and their families. I found myself looking for extra reading and trainings, but there was little information available to help me. At that time, I was a lead teacher and had signed up for my district to participate in a research project with Dr. Mary McEvoy out of the University of Minnesota. She was instrumental in encouraging me to apply to the doctoral program and agreed to be my advisor. In the end, she tragically passed away in an airplane accident, as many reading this will know, and Dr. Scott McConnell stepped in and took me on as an advisee. I tell this story because I think it is important to remember how important mentorship is to women of color out in the field and the incredible impact providing opportunities and encouragement can have. Without Mary pointing out my potential and giving me the confidence to even consider a doctorate, I might never have applied to a program.

In your area of work, 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?

This is a complex question because the truth is there are many competing priorities. However, I believe an important priority at this point is to develop more effective bilingual language and literacy interventions that support meaningful improved outcomes reflecting community priorities and values. The interventions need to move beyond a singular focus on English language and literacy development to include culturally and linguistically sustaining practices in intervention design. We need to think much more deeply about the outcomes we are working to achieve and conduct more longitudinal research that can document change and performance over time. There is significant evidence that multilingual learners, in particular, need time to progress and that short-term studies cannot adequately capture more meaningful academic and life outcomes. Our current IES-funded project is looking to develop IGDIs for 3-year-olds to help educators make data-based decisions to improve children’s language and early literacy performance in Spanish, as well as to track growth in their development over time. I also think we need to conduct more research with a broader range of understudied populations including more cultures and languages to better understand their needs as the United States increases in diversity. In order to improve equity, we need to move beyond treating all multilingual students as one uniform group and begin to more systematically explore within group differences to effectively differentiate educational approaches to maximize outcomes.

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

Quite honestly, the biggest challenge I have had to overcome in my life was my childhood. My parents had many challenges and struggles, and I had to care for my own needs and learn how to survive on my own from a very early age. I know this is personal, but I think this experience will resonate with many as we often do not address how many of us who go into education have experienced adverse early experiences ourselves and have had to draw on our inner phoenixes to get to where we are. Once I survived the first 18 years and was able to maintain my sense of self-worth, self-efficacy, and joy, there is not much else the world can throw at me that I can’t survive.

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

The best advice I can give is to be true to yourself and have confidence in your intelligence and your contribution to the field. Change is difficult for many people, and there are many entrenched ideologies and practices in academic settings that might inhibit your creativity and ingenuity, but don’t let them! During my doctoral program, I had ideas about a Spanish version of the IGDIs. Initial reactions to the idea included, “Why do we need to measure kids in Spanish if we are teaching them in English?” I did not let that discourage me from reading and understanding what it would take to develop a measure in Spanish. After a decade of IES funding, it is clear there is a need for Spanish early language and literacy measures, and there is, in fact, currently a clear mandate to do a much better job of measuring children in their home languages to accurately capture their ability levels and reduce the likelihood that they will be underestimated reinforcing deficit-based stereotypes.

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

A critical but often overlooked part of education is assessment. Without accurate assessment, it is difficult to know whether what we are doing is working. I have had the great fortune to spend the last 10 years dedicated to Spanish assessment development. Having available high quality and psychometrically sound measures in Spanish that programs can use with confidence is critical to promoting equity in educational practices. It is important that measures developed in languages other than English are not simply translations of English measures, but rather true reflections of the cultural and linguistic characteristics of the population of interest. Technical manuals and evidence of the validity of the measure should be readily available just like they are for the English versions. Too often, measures developed in Spanish have undergone a less rigorous development process, and this does not support the accurate measurement of the ability levels of Spanish-speaking students. Therefore, my team’s assessment work has created a roadmap for embedding equity into measurement design, and I hope that our work leads to more strength-based approaches to assessment and intervention with young Spanish-speaking children that honors their home language and culture.

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

I think we need to create more accessible early career funding mechanisms for scholars of color and other underrepresented groups. Securing IES or NIH funding is a daunting process that realistically only pays off for very few of us. Smaller grants that can launch pilot work in emerging fields should be available to seed promising research careers and lines of research. This approach would support innovation and create space for more diverse scholarship and representation. We need to democratize the funding streams and think of new ways that scholars can enter the field with adequate support to launch their work.


Dr. Lillian Durán is an associate professor and associate dean for academic affairs at the College of Education at the University of Oregon.

This interview was produced and edited by Lorena Aceves, a Society for Research Child Development Federal Postdoctoral Policy Fellow at the Administration for Children and Families’ Office of Head Start on detail with National Center for Education Research, IES.

Celebrating Hispanic Heritage in Education

Hispanic Heritage Month was celebrated from September 15 to October 15 this year. There was much to be thankful for, but also much work still to do. In our work at the Center for the Success of ELs (CSEL), an IES funded National Research and Development Center, our team is diligently working to clarify issues related to English learner (EL) classification and achievement, as well as the special challenges brought on by the pandemic, and to identify future challenges to which we must turn our attention.

Proper Accounting for ELs and their Achievement

The linguistic diversity of our student population is remarkable. Over 300 languages other than English are spoken in U.S. homes with Spanish by far the most common. Although many student and school factors influence time to English proficiency, we do not celebrate often enough the significant accomplishments of these language minority students, including those who enter school as proficient English speakers, but especially those who achieve proficiency in English through their hard work in school and that of their teachers and families.  Many students with Hispanic heritage who are designated as language minority students enter U.S. schools in kindergarten fully proficient in English and are never designated as ELs within the school system. Many more who are initially designated as ELs become proficient in English within 3-5 years of entering US schools.

Our persistent focus on those students not yet proficient in English has merit. Focus placed on students during this stage of their development can improve progress towards English proficiency and student outcomes when students receive access to appropriate instruction and supports that afford access to grade level content. However, to focus exclusively on the achievement of students who are not yet proficient in English fails to recognize the temporary nature of this stage of development for most ELs. This skews our understanding of the achievement of ELs and undermines student efforts toward educational attainment and school efforts to foster that development. This deficit orientation in accounting and reporting creates an aura of inferiority that is at once unwarranted, unhelpful, and unnecessary.

Reclassification Should be Celebrated

Excluding reclassified students from analyses of EL achievement presents a misleading picture and ignores countless individual successes. Numerous studies, including work funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and IES within our group, have found that ELs who have attained proficiency in English perform at least as well as peers who were never designated as ELs. In fact, this comparability appears to be present for many ELs who remain classified as ELs but are scoring in the top performance band of the English proficiency test. The same cannot be said for students who have not yet achieved high levels of English proficiency.

The significant accomplishments of our ELs receive too little attention in our reports and conversations about education. Unfortunately, this statement is true for Hispanic students as well as for students from the hundreds of other language backgrounds who populate our diverse schools. This year, as schools and districts announce their valedictorians, college bound students, rising elementary and middle school students and other academic accomplishments, we should take note of how many of these students began school as ELs and celebrate their success—an outcome achieved by the hard work of teachers and students.

New and Unprecedented Challenges for EL Education

"This is the worst educational crisis ever seen in the region, and we are worried that there could be serious and lasting consequences for a whole generation, especially for the most vulnerable sectors."  Carlos Felipe Jaramillo, World Bank VP for Latin America and the Caribbean

Despite these successes and our general optimism for the post-pandemic educational system, there are significant challenges on the horizon as we consider educational practices for ELs. In March 2021, UNICEF estimated that total and partial school closures in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) had left approximately 114 million students in the region without face-to-face schooling. The impact of these school closures is particularly devastating in a region in which the majority of students did not achieve basic proficiency in reading, math, and writing prior to the pandemic. The World Bank estimates that as many as 71% of lower secondary education students in the region may not achieve basic levels of reading proficiency following this pandemic. Their educational risk is further compounded by twin crises of violence and poverty across the region.

This regional crisis is already felt in U.S. schools. Immigration data document a sharp increase in the number of families and unaccompanied minors from Latin America entering the US this past spring. This fall and beyond, U.S. schools will face the challenge of meeting the educational and social emotional needs of these at-risk immigrant youth but must do so with limited guidance from the research community on effective educational programs for newcomer English learners. Previous research with students who entered schools at a young age as ELs may not reliably generalize to students arriving at an older age following the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to the pandemic and other socio-political challenges, many newcomers have interrupted formal educations, speak very little or no English on school entry, and may demonstrate academic weaknesses in their native language. A significant number are fleeing crises of violence and poverty with related psychological trauma that impacts learning.

Fortunately, this critical gap in research is explicitly acknowledged in the most recent Request for Applications for the National Center for Special Education Research, who set aside their research funding for the current year to specifically address educational challenges linked to the pandemic. Meeting the critical need for evidence-based strategies to ensure successful outcomes for newcomer ELs at significant educational risk will require everyone’s best efforts. The LAC region was disrupted more than any other region on the globe, experiencing the world’s longest school closures and inconsistent or non-existent remote learning options in the context of the deepest recession in decades. The learning loss resulting from this pandemic-related disruption is likely to be deep and pervasive, increasing school dropout and negatively impacting wellness and mental health.  

As we take stock and celebrate the joy and enrichment that Hispanic heritage brings to everyone in the US, regardless of their own heritage, let us commit to doing all we can to ensure the academic success and socio-emotional health of our ELs in the United States.  In doing so, let’s also keep in mind that these students willingly face many challenges in pursuit of their own American Dream, and their success in this pursuit benefits us all. 


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.

David J. Francis is the Hugh Roy and Lillie Cranz Cullen Distinguished University Chair of Quantitative Methods in the Department of Psychology at the University of University. He is also the Director of the Texas Institute for Measurement, Evaluation, and Statistics (TIMES) and the Director of the IES-funded Center for the Success of English Learners National Research and Development Center.

Jeremy Miciak is an associate research professor at the University of Houston in the Department of Psychology and at the Texas Institute for Measurement, Evaluation, and Statistics (TIMES). He is also a co-investigator on the IES-funded Center for the Success of English Learners National Research and Development Center.

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 at the National Center for Education Research for the ELs portfolio.

Listen Now: English Learners in Secondary Schools Podcast

In FY 2020, IES established the National Research & Development Center to Improve Education for Secondary English Learners to support a large-scale, coordinated research effort to improve opportunities and achievement for English learners (ELs) in secondary settings, who represent more than one-third of all K-12 ELs enrolled in the United States. The Center, composed of experts and leaders in the field, and led by Dr. Aída Walqui at WestEd, is conducting a multi-pronged research approach to better understand the systemic and instructional influences that affect secondary ELs.

As part of their work, Dr. Walqui, Dr. Ilana Umansky from the University of Oregon, and Dr. Karen Thompson from Oregon State University participated in a webinar on English Learners in Secondary Schools: Trajectories, Transition Points, and Promising Practices hosted by the Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA) in early 2021. The purpose of this webinar was to discuss what research has shown about the academic trajectories of ELs in secondary school settings, including the trajectories of newcomer students, students who have been labeled as long-term ELs, ELs with disabilities, and former ELs.

Due to the overwhelming response from the audience, OELA brought the panelists back together for a two-part podcast to answer questions submitted during the webinar. In part 1, the panelists discuss how to support ELs in meeting graduation requirements, mitigate risks that may lead ELs to drop out of school, and provide English language development instruction. In part 2, the panelists discuss the needs of students with limited or interrupted formal education, professional learning opportunities for educators of secondary ELs, and promising practices that can help educators meet the needs of ELs in secondary schools.

Listen now to learn more about the work that Drs. Walqui, Umansky, and Thompson are doing regarding the education of ELs in secondary schools.


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

IES Funds Innovations Across the Age Spectrum for Students with ADHD

Nearly 10% of all children in the United States have at one time been diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)—over 6 million children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As the name implies, ADHD can lead children to have primary problems with attention, hyperactive behavior, or both. Over the past two years, NCER and NCSER have awarded more than $12 million to four projects focusing on children and youth with ADHD through their primary grant competitions, from preschool to high school.

Comparing Virtual and In-Person Sessions for Parents of Young Children

Photo of George DuPaulPhoto of Lee KernDeveloped with NCSER funding, the Promoting Engagement with ADHD Pre-Kindergartners (PEAK) program has preliminary evidence of positive impacts on parent and child outcomes. Building on these findings, Principal Investigators (PIs) George DuPaul and Lee Kern are now testing the efficacy of the intervention with both face-to-face and online delivery methods. PEAK gives parents information on ADHD and a host of strategies, including behavioral management and response, reading and math skill development, and communication with school personnel to aid in the transition to kindergarten. The research team is comparing the face-to-face version, online version, and a control group without PEAK to determine the efficacy of the intervention and comparative efficacy between each method of delivery. They will also determine whether effects are maintained for up to 24 months after the end of the parent sessions.

English Language Learners (ELLs) in Early Elementary Grades

Photo of Nicole Schatz

PI Nicole Schatz and her team are addressing a gap in existing research: very few interventions for the development of language and reading skills in ELL students are tailored to those who also have disabilities, particularly for ELL students with behavior disorders such as ADHD. Their 2021 NCSER-funded study will examine whether language and behavioral interventions, delivered independently or combined, improve learning outcomes for kindergarten and first grade ELLs with or at risk for ADHD. The research team will examine the impact of one of these three interventions: 1) an educational language intervention involving small-group, interactive reading; 2) a behavioral classroom intervention; and 3) a combined intervention in which students receive both the language intervention and the behavioral classroom intervention.

Academic and Social Effects of Sluggish Cognitive Tempo (SCT) in Elementary and Middle School

Photo of Stephen Becker

SCT is an attention disorder associated with symptoms similar to ADHD, such as excessive daydreaming, mental confusion, seeming to be "in a fog,” and slowed behavior/thinking. In this recent extension of PI Stephen Becker’s initial NCER grant, he explores how SCT is associated with academic and social impairments over development. The research team will collect measures of student engagement and organization, withdrawal and social awareness, and contextual factors like student-teacher relationship and school climate. The yearly observations will follow cohorts of 2nd-5th graders through their 5th-8th grade years, half with and half without SCT.

Peer Support from Upperclassmen for 9th Graders with ADHD

Photo of Margaret Sibley

Sometime in adolescence, there tends to be a shift from the influence of parents and teachers to the influence of peers. With their recent grant from NCER, researchers Margaret Sibley and Joseph Raiker will be testing Sibley’s peer-intervention program, Students Taking Responsibility and Initiative through Peer-Enhanced Support (STRIPES). Developed with IES funding, STRIPES was designed to support students with ADHD by leveraging successful peer influence to address organization, time management, and planning. Supervised by a campus staff member, 11th and 12th grade students who have demonstrated academic and social competencies mentor 9th grade students with ADHD. These older peers are trained to help with goal setting, strategies for completing homework and organization, and maintenance of skills once the program is finished.

Stay tuned for findings and lessons learned from these newly funded studies.

Written by Julianne Kasper, Virtual Student Federal Service Intern at IES and graduate student in Education Policy & Leadership at American University.

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.