IES supports Research and Development Centers (R&D Centers) to conduct focused, scientific research on key education issues that face our nation. One of the most pressing issues currently is a need for a large-scale, coordinated research effort to improve opportunities and achievement for English Learners (ELs) in secondary school settings. These students face numerous barriers and challenges in accessing education opportunities, as they simultaneously develop English language proficiency and subject-matter knowledge. This has resulted in large, persistent differences in academic achievement outcomes, for example, between ELs and non-ELs on the 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in reading and math. These differences have consequences for how prepared (or unprepared) students will be to access opportunities in the workforce and postsecondary education.
The National Center for Education Research (NCER), within IES, is funding two national R&D centers on the topic of “Improving Opportunities and Achievements for English Learners in Secondary School Settings” to contribute to the solution of this complex education problem. These R&D centers aim to identify systemic—including policies, rules, and processes—and instructional influences that affect ELs’ access to the general curriculum and its relation to their outcomes. The centers will carry out complementary projects and engage in research, development, evaluation, and national leadership activities. These activities will facilitate meaningful EL participation in the general curriculum and generate insights about levers that have the potential to improve access and education outcomes for ELs in secondary school settings.
Each of the centers is conducting two lines of research, in which they will:
- Identify and describe the policies and system-level practices that are associated with secondary ELs’ access to the general curriculum and their relation to education outcomes
- Identify approaches to improving secondary ELs’ access to and ability to learn from instruction in general education courses where English is the language of instruction.
The R&D Centers
Transdisciplinary Approaches to Improving Opportunities and Outcomes for English Learners: Using Engagement, Team-Based Learning, and Formative Assessment to Develop Content and Language Proficiency is headed by Dr. David Francis at the University of Houston. This center will undertake a five-year, focused program of research aimed at identifying and removing barriers related to school-level practices influenced by policies that constrain course-taking, as well as developing and testing interventions that leverage transdisciplinary approaches to improve instruction for ELs in grades 6 and 9 science and social studies. These approaches include—
- Foregrounding content to build language through content instruction
- Using activities that are engaging and meaningful to students while involving students in the practices of the discipline
- Organizing learning in heterogeneous teams (Team-Based Learning) to promote collaboration, discussion, and social motivation
- Integrating formative assessment to improve teachers’ and students’ understanding of students’ development.
The center will also engage in a systematic program of outreach and dissemination at national, state, regional, and local levels, to help connect research findings to policy and practice.
The National Research and Development Center to Improve Education for Secondary English Learners is headed by Aída Walqui at WestEd. The center’s five-year program of research focuses on understanding policies and systems-level practices that are associated with ELs’ access to the general curriculum and how curriculum resources can strengthen the learning opportunities and experiences of both teachers and ELs as they engage in disciplinary practices. The center will—
- Examine course-taking patterns across multiple states and explore how content-area course access is related to student outcomes
- Describe models for co-teaching across the country and its implementation in diverse settings
- Iteratively design and develop curricular materials in English language arts (ELA) and a math summer bridge course for grade 8 students to help teachers shift their pedagogical practices.
In addition, the center will engage in national leadership, capacity-building, and outreach activities to connect research findings to policy and practice and offer policymakers and practitioners compelling and actionable information.
Through the Education Research and Development Center Program, NCER’s goal is for the two centers to collectively and individually create innovative solutions, contribute to knowledge and theory, and provide reliable information about how to improve educational opportunities and achievement for ELs in secondary school settings. The body of research conducted by the two centers will identify and address the policies and system-level practices across the US that act as barriers to accessing rigorous courses. Their work will also inform instruction in four critical content areas of secondary instruction—science, social studies, ELA, and math—in several states, including Texas, Massachusetts, New York, and California.
For more information about IES’s support on the topic of English Learners, please see the program page; for current funding opportunities for research and training more generally, please see here. Stay tuned for updates on Twitter (@IESResearch) and Facebook as IES continues to support research to improve educational outcomes for English Learners.
Written by Helyn Kim (Helyn.Kim@ed.gov), Program Officer for English Learners at the National Center for Education Research.