IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

The Value of Partnerships for Studying English Learner Education

English learners (ELs) can be a tricky student population to study. In some ways, these students who are learning English as part of their education are a homogenous population. For example, more than 75% of them speak Spanish, and more than half of the nation's 4.8 million EL students  are concentrated in grades K – 3. On the other hand, EL education can be very context-driven. For example, districts and states vary considerably both in the composition of their particular EL population, and in the specific policies, assessments, and instructional supports they use to guide ELs’ education.

In response to this latter point, some NCER grantees have figured out that one good way to study and support EL education is by working in close partnership with a specific education agency. In other words, don’t fight the place-based nature of EL education – rather, use it as an asset to make your research even more relevant.

There are several examples of IES-funded projects that have successfully worked using this approach. The most obvious are eight Researcher-Practitioner Partnerships we have funded that explicitly focused on ELs. These projects have tackled a range of EL-related issues including science education and trajectories through middle and high school, and have taken place in states like Utah and Oregon, and districts like Saint Paul, MN and Cleveland, OH. As intended for RPP projects, these partners have leveraged their mutual interests to complete rigorous analyses and create products with immediate value for practitioners (read more about one example here).

Partnerships and collaborations are not limited to the RPP competition, however. Some EL researchers have found ways to collaborate closely with agency partners even in the context of a more “typical” research project. One example of this is work done by Peggy Estrada with the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). Dr. Estrada’s Goal 1 grant focused on longitudinal patterns in EL performance before and after reclassification, or the point at which a student is deemed to no longer need the services and supports associated with EL status.

In LAUSD, reclassification decisions were made based on three criteria, and Dr. Estrada found that many students who are not reclassified miss only one of the three. She also observed that there are only eight different profiles that can describe a student’s status on the three criteria. She reasoned, further, that if teachers knew a student’s profile, they could tailor their supports to help the student meet the criterion on which he or she fell short.

To share these findings with LAUSD, Dr. Estrada created a number of actionable data visualization tools. These proved key in what happened next: LAUSD staff members Kathy Hayes and Hilda Maldonado immediately saw the value in Dr. Estrada’s findings and visualizations, and worked with their colleagues to create an English Learner Dashboard that incorporated both. The Dashboard is an interactive data tool that provides summary information about student reclassification profiles and allows staff to design reports tailored to their needs. LAUSD staff can download the names of students in each profile and generate reports with student names and detailed assessment results for each reclassification criteria.

Creation of this Dashboard is another great example of the value created through collaborations between researchers and practitioners – particularly for EL research. LAUSD staff cited the value of working with an external partner who provided objectivity and helped them to think more critically and deeply about an issue they found important. Dr. Estrada found that working with LAUSD enhanced both the validity and the utility of her research. In the end, both parties win – as do, more importantly, the EL students themselves.

Written by Molly Faulkner-Bond, Program Officer, NCER and Karen Douglas, former Program Officer, NCER

Results from a Study of the IES Researcher-Practitioner Partnership Grants

Funding research that makes it into classrooms and impacts the lives of students is an important goal for IES. One of the ways in which the Institute strives to make sure the work it funds is useful to education practitioners is through the funding of Researcher-Practitioner Partnerships (RPPs), which are grants to support researchers and education agencies working together to answer questions of high priority for the education agency. IES began funding these RPP projects in 2013 with the goal of supporting partnership development, initial research on problems of high priority for the education agency, and increasing the education agency’s capacity to use and understand research.

Because the RPP program is relatively new and little is known about the best way to frame and support these partnerships, IES funded the National Center for Research in Policy and Practice (NCRPP; an IES-funded national research and development center on knowledge utilization) to conduct a supplemental study to look at how researcher and practitioner partners form and maintain their partnerships, and strategies they use to increase research use by practitioners at the education agency. NCRPP also wanted to understand more about the IES RPP grant program in terms of funding amount, time frame, and Institute leadership and monitoring.

NCRPP just released its final report on the findings from the RPP study. In two waves of data collection, NCRPP distributed surveys and conducted interviews with key researchers and practitioners involved in 27 of the 28 RPPs funded by IES between 2013 and 2015. Findings from the report show that partnerships reported progress on goals related to developing findings that apply to other organizations and improving students’ socio-emotional outcomes. Additionally, researchers and practitioners both reported valuing their participation in the partnership work. Finally, when compared to a national sample of school and district leaders, practitioners who participate in an IES-funded RPP are much more likely to name journal articles as useful pieces of research and to indicate they integrate research processes into their own work.

You can read a summary about the findings on the NCRPP website here, or download the full interim report here.

Becky McGill-Wilkinson, NCER Program Officer for the Knowledge Utilization Research and Development Centers

Understanding Outcomes for English Learners: The Importance of the ‘Ever EL' Category

The Institute of Education Sciences funds and supports Researcher-Practitioner Partnerships (RPP) that address significant challenges in education. In this guest blog post, Karen D. Thompson, of Oregon State University and Josh Rew, Martha Martinez, and Chelsea Clinton, of the Oregon Department of Education, describe the work their RPP is doing to better understand and improve the performance English learners in Oregon. Click here to learn more about RPP grants. This research will be part of a Regional Educational Laboratory webinar on June 21.


According to the most recent data, about 10 percent of K-12 students in U.S. public schools were classified as English learners (EL). But that only tells part of the story: a large proportion of students in U.S. schools are former ELs, who have attained proficiency in English and “exited” EL services. Currently, in most states and the nation, we do not know the size of the former EL group because states have only been required to monitor this group of students for a limited amount of time.

Education agencies and the media routinely report the achievement gap between current EL students and their non-EL peers. However, analyzing outcomes only for current EL students does not provide a complete picture of how well schools are serving the full group of students who entered school not yet proficient in English. We refer to this full group, which includes both current and former ELs, as Ever English Learners (Ever ELs).

Through our IES-funded partnership, the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) and Oregon State University (OSU) has identified the full group of both current and former ELs in Oregon public K-12 schools. Using 2015-16 Oregon data, we looked at the proportion of Ever ELs who are current and former ELs at each grade level. As seen in Figure 1 below, former ELs outnumber current ELs in grades 6 and above, with the relative size of the former EL population increasing at each grade level.


Figure 1


Starting with the 2012-13 school year, ODE began annually reporting to the public the outcomes of Ever ELs (e.g., achievement and growth, chronic absenteeism, rates of freshmen on-track, and graduation rates). These annual reports include school and district report cards, the statewide report card, and technical reports corresponding to specific state initiatives, such as graduation rates, chronic absenteeism, assessment participation, and district EL accountability. 

In the past, states have typically reported achievement outcomes for students currently classified as ELs and compared these to outcomes for all students not currently classified as ELs. Under this reporting scheme, the non-EL subgroup consists of students never classified as ELs and former ELs.  With this grouping (Figure 2), graduation rates for ELs appear much lower than graduation rates for non-ELs (52.9 percent for ELs compared to 75.8 percent for non-ELs).           

  

However, it may be more appropriate in some situations to instead analyze outcomes for the full group of students who entered school as ELs (Figure 3). Under this alternative reporting scheme, if we combine outcomes for both current and former ELs to create the Ever EL group, we see that graduation rates for Ever ELs are much closer to graduation rates for students never classified as ELs (71.1 percent for Ever ELs compared to 75.6 percent for Never ELs).

While the low graduation rates for current ELs are certainly concerning, it is also important to know that former ELs are graduating at rates slightly higher than students never classified as ELs (77.9 percent vs. 75.6 percent, respectively), as shown in Figure 4.

This is particularly noteworthy since former ELs represent a larger proportion of the student population than current ELs at the secondary level.

In addition to annual reporting, the ODE began using data for Ever ELs in 2015-16 to identify districts in need of support, assistance, and improvement, as required by state law.  The state’s accountability system identifies the districts with the highest needs and lowest outcomes as measured by demographic indicators (such as economically disadvantage, migrant or homeless status) and outcome data (e.g., growth, graduation, and post-secondary enrollment) for Ever ELs. Identified districts conduct a needs assessment, identify evidence-based and culturally responsive technical assistance, develop a technical assistance implementation plan, monitor progress, and review outcomes and make necessary adjustments. Along with its applications for reporting and accountability, we have used the Ever EL framework to analyze special education disproportionality, documenting implications for research, policy, and practice.

To learn more about how education agencies are using the Ever EL category, join us and colleagues from New York City for a June 21 webinar, sponsored by Regional Educational Laboratory Northeast and Islands.

Every Transition Counts for Students in Foster Care

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Institute of Education Science funds and supports Researcher-Practitioner Partnerships (RPP) that seek to address significant challenges in education. In this guest blog post, Elysia Clemens (pictured left), of the University of Northern Colorado, and Judith Martinez (pictured right), of the Colorado Department of Education, describe the work that their IES-funded RPP is doing to better understand and improve outcomes for students in foster care.

May is Foster Care Awareness Month and 2017 is an important year for raising awareness of the educational outcomes and educational stability of students in foster care.

With passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 (ESSA), provisions are now in place for states to report on the academic performance and status of students in foster care. ESSA also requires collaboration between child welfare and education agencies to ensure the educational stability (PDF) of students while they are in foster care. This includes reducing the number of school changes to those that are in a student’s best interest and ensuring smooth transitions when changing schools is necessary.

To address the need for baseline data on how students in foster care are faring academically, the University of Northern Colorado, the Colorado Department of Education, and the Colorado Department of Human Services formed a researcher-practitioner partnership in 2014. This IES-funded partnership is currently researching the connection between child welfare placement changes and school changes and how that relates to the academic success of students.

Our goals are to raise awareness of gaps in academic achievement and educational attainment, inform the application of educational stability research findings to the implementation of ESSA’s foster care provisions, and develop and maintain high-quality data that can be easily accessed and used.

Achievement and educational attainment

Until recently, Colorado students in foster care were not identified in education data sets, and child welfare agencies did not always know how the youth in their care were faring in school. The Colorado partnership linked child welfare and education data from 2008 forward and found that across school years, grade levels, and subject areas, there is an academic achievement gap of at least 20 percentage points between students in foster care and their peers (see chart from the partnership website below).

The most critical subject area was mathematics, where the proportion of students scoring in the lowest proficiency category increased with each grade level. The data also revealed that less than one in three Colorado students who experience foster care graduate with their class.


Source: The Colorado Study of Students in Foster Care (http://www.unco.edu/cebs/foster-care-research/needs-assessment-data/academic-achievement/)


Like many states, Colorado has a long way to go toward closing academic achievement gaps for students in foster care, but with the availability of better data, there is a growing interest in the educational success of these students statewide.  

Educational Stability

Educational stability provisions, such as the ones in ESSA, are designed to reduce barriers to students’ progress, such as unnecessary school moves, gaps in enrollment, and delays in the transfer of records. To estimate how much implementation of these provisions might help improve educational stability for students in foster care, we used child welfare placement dates and school move dates to determine the proportion of school moves associated with changes in child welfare placements. A five-year analysis of school moves before, during, and after foster care placements revealed that the educational stability provisions in the ESSA would apply to two-thirds of the school moves Colorado students experienced.

To fully realize this policy opportunity, we began by generating heat maps on where foster student transfers occur (an example is pictured to the right). These geographical data are being used by Colorado Department of Education and Colorado Department of Human Services to prioritize relationship-building among specific local education agencies and child welfare agencies. Regional meetings are being held to strengthen local collaboration in implementing ESSA’s mandates regarding educational stability and transportation plans.

We also summarized the frequency of school moves by the type of child welfare placement change (e.g., entry into care, transitions among different types of out-of-home placements). We found that nearly one-third of Colorado students who enter foster care also move schools at the same time. This finding can help child welfare and education agencies anticipate the need for short-term transportation solutions and develop procedures for quickly convening stakeholders to determine if a school move is in a child’s best interest.

Accessible and Usable Data

A key communication strategy of the Colorado partnership is to make the descriptive data and research findings accessible and actionable on our project website. The data and findings are organized with different audiences in mind, so that advocates, practitioners, grant writers, and policy makers can use this information for their own distinct purposes. 

The website includes infographics that provide an overview of the data and recommendations on how to close gaps; dynamic visualizations that allow users to explore the data in-depth; and reports that inform conversations and decisions about how to best serve students in foster care.

In our final year of this IES RPP grant, we will continue to identify opportunities to apply our research to inform the development of quality transportation plans and local agreements. We also will study how the interplay between the child welfare placement changes relates to academic progress and academic growth.