Inside IES Research

Notes from NCER & NCSER

Becoming a Citizen: Creating a Curriculum for Adult Civics Courses

As we return from our celebration of Independence Day, we also want to celebrate the efforts and dedication of the learners and educators who participate in adult literacy’s integrated English literacy and civics education. This important, but sometimes forgotten, aspect of adult education opens opportunities for learners and creates an engaged, informed citizenry.

What is “integrated civics” in adult education?

Under Title II of the 2014 Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), integrated English literacy and civics education refers to services for adult English language learners, including professionals with degrees and credentials in their native countries, to build their English language skills—foundational and more advanced—to support their roles as parents, workers, and citizens in the United States. These courses must include English literacy instruction and “instruction on the rights and responsibilities of citizenship and civic participation and may include workforce training.”

Are there specific curricula for these programs?

Although WIOA defined what had and could be included in this form of adult education, it did not specify how to include it. Nor did WIOA mandate a particular curriculum or instructional practices. Thus, programs offering these courses may leverage resources from multiple sources and design approaches to meet their communities’ needs.

Luckily, both the Office of Career, Adult, and Technical Education (OCATE, U.S. Department of Education) and the U.S. Citizen and Immigrations Services (USCIS, Department of Homeland Security) have developed resources and standards to help educators.

Though multiple guides, online education resources, and other teaching materials are available, the evidence base and promise of these is not always apparent.  

Is IES supporting research in this area?

In FY21, IES awarded a research grant, Content-Integrated Language Instruction for Adults with Technology Support (CILIA-T), to Dr. Aydin Durgunoglu (University of Minnesota). She and her team of researchers and educators are developing and pilot testing a curriculum that aims to strengthen English language proficiency, knowledge of U.S. history and civics, and digital literacy. This project, which is part of the CREATE Adult Skills Research Network, is the first field-initiated research project IES has funded for adult English learners or adult civics.

Why is integrating language and civics important?

A fundamental instructional practice in adult education is to link instruction to activities and goals highly relevant to the adult learner. For refugees, immigrants, and others new to the United States, becoming a citizen and being able to communicate with others are both highly relevant goals and both daunting tasks. By blending the two, these courses may help adults persist longer and gain knowledge in skills in multiple domains concurrently.

Dr. Durgunglu notes—

I don’t think conversational skills are enough for refugees or immigrants as they learn to navigate in their new communities. To be participatory citizens, they need “academic” English, especially about rights and responsibilities. To really belong to a community, individuals need to know their rights so that they are not exploited and know their responsibilities such as voting and participating in the community activities. Knowing how the system works help people contribute to different type of the decision-making processes, from selecting schoolbooks to selecting a president.

On a personal note, as a naturalized citizen who learned about U.S. history and civics and then took the citizenship exam, these topics really helped me understand the American psyche, such as the individualistic streak that goes back to the pioneers, why government’s role in social services is so controversial in this country, and why one state can be so different from another. Having experienced censorship and autocratic governments, I have a lot of respect for the principle of checks and balances and am aware how fragile democracy and individual rights can really be if not protected dearly.

Where can people learn more?

To learn more about CILIA-T, visit the ABE Teaching & Learning Advancement Systems article: Civics/History Curriculum: An Introduction to the CILIA-T Curriculum Project.

To learn more about the CREATE Adult Skills Research Network, please visit the network lead’s site.

For additional resources, visit the U.S. Department of Education’s LINCS website, which includes items about civics education, English language learners, and other topics relevant to adult education.

For additional information and resources about the citizenship test and courses, visit the USCIS Citizenship Resource Center.


Written by Meredith Larson (meredith.larson@ed.gov), adult education research analyst and program officer for the CREATE Adult Skills Research Network.

Valuing Culture and Community: Supporting Hmong Children’s Home Language and Early Language and Literacy Development

This year, Inside IES Research is publishing a series of blogs showcasing a diverse group of IES-funded education researchers and fellows that are making significant contributions to education research, policy, and practice. In recognition of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month we interviewed Dr. Lori Erickson, St. Paul Public Schools, and Dr. Alisha Wackerle-Hollman, University of Minnesota, who are developing a screening tool to assess the language and literacy skills of Hmong preschoolers. In this interview blog, we asked Lori and Alisha to discuss the motivation for their collaborative work, what they have learned so far, and the importance of conducting research with ethnically and linguistically diverse students and communities.  

What motivated your team to study the outcomes of Hmong preschoolers?

Our team is a unique collaboration between practitioners at the St. Paul Public Schools (SPPS) and researchers at the University of Minnesota IGDILab. We are both deeply committed to supporting children’s full language and early literacy profiles across their languages to better inform instructional decision making and show a commitment to valuing culture through honoring children’s home language. When we started this project, we knew that the Individual Growth and Development (IGDIs) early literacy screening and progress monitoring measures were available in English and Spanish, and we had been implementing with great success. However, given that the district provides pre-K immersion programming in Spanish, French, and Hmong, it became clear that there was also a concentrated need for a valid, reliable tool to measure early literacy development in the Hmong language. The Hmong community, parents, and teachers voiced the need for a deeper understanding of the Hmong language and literacy skills that children acquire prior to and during the preschool period.

Prior to our current work, the IGDILab had significant experience developing the IGDIs Español, during which we refined a community-based approach for understanding language and early literacy development that took into consideration the developmental trajectory of each language, rather than as a translation to English. IGDI users noticed this difference, and SPPS approached our team about using a similar approach to develop the Hmong IGDI measures.

Please tell us about the two projects you have worked on together to address the early learning needs of Hmong students.

Our partnership has had the good fortune to receive two IES awards. The first award was a 2017 research partnership grant. We invested two years in gathering information from the community about what Hmong IGDI measures should include and developing a deeper understanding of the Hmong language landscape. The success of that program led to an IES measurement award to fully develop the Hmong IGDI measures. Currently in Year 1 of the measurement award, we have learned so much from both projects over the past four years.

  • There is tremendous passion around the Hmong language. Stakeholders, including community elders, families, students, and educators, have shown a deep passion for celebrating and honoring the Hmong language. These discussions have focused on nuances of the language including generational differences, dialectical differences, and cultural representation.
  • We have learned much about how the language has evolved. The Hmong language is spoken most frequently by elders. Children are often exposed to the language in the presence of elders, creating a cultural and social dynamic that requires inter-generational conversation to support language preservation.
  • Although it is important to understand how a child’s native Hmong language can support their academic success in Hmong and English, it is also critically important to support Hmong language development to support social pride and cultural identity.

Throughout our work we have affirmed that studies like ours that focus on minoritized languages in concentrated communities are critical to support children’s success and to promote language preservation.       

How does your research contribute to a better understanding of the importance of studying low incidence populations, including ethnically and linguistically diverse students?

There are over 300,000 Hmong in the United States, and the Hmong population is the fastest growing of the East Asian group (US Census Bureau, 2017). Hmong Americans represent one of the most under-served cultural communities in the US, concentrated in two specific areas: the Midwest—St Paul, MN and Madison, WI—and the Central Valley of California (Pew Research, 2015).

Given the high levels of poverty and the large percentage of students entering the U.S. education system, Hmong Americans represent an important Asian subgroup that may continue on a negative academic and economic trajectory if meaningful intervention is not put into place.  The needs of Hmong Americans warrant our attention to bring educational opportunity and equity to a growing but marginalized group of children and to contribute to our broader mandate to conduct research that contributes to the betterment of all children.

Our effort to develop Hmong IGDIs will provide educators with a set of resources that are instructionally relevant—that is, the measures can be used to provide data that have direct implications for instructional practices, such as informing how to modify instruction to maximize Hmong language and early literacy development. In this way, our work aims to demonstrate a deep value of the Hmong language, support educators to understand children’s Hmong language and early literacy skills and improve their academic outcomes through differentiated instruction.

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

Volumes of research demonstrate the importance of language and early literacy development during the preschool years. However, this research has provided little attention on low incidence populations, including ethnically and linguistically diverse students (for example, Hmong, Karen, Somali, and Indigenous dialects). These children’s outcomes are just as important as those of majority populations. We must invest in these low-incidence populations to create a more equitable educational experience for our youngest learners.

An omnipresent need in this arena is the need to involve and collaborate with the communities, families, and educators that education research intends to serve. Indeed, the strongest parts of our work involves the feedback we receive from community and family members. Our team includes three Hmong community members as staff, and we continuously engage the community in our process. Our initial interview and focus groups drove the creation of a community level survey to gather input on what features of the language were most important to the community. We then used those data as a catalyst to form a strong partnership between the community, family members, and the research institution, which has resulted in a process that is meaningful to all parties. If we expect our education research to be meaningful in communities of practice, we must improve how we value and collaborate with those communities in partnership.

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

This work has a direct connection to equity and inclusion in education. The Hmong are a low-incidence population, which has contributed to their marginalization. As an example of how this community experiences marginalization and inequities, we share our experience in the IES review process. When we first submitted our application for a measurement goal project the review panel provided a weak score for our application noting that they could not justify the resources of an IES award on such a small population, among other weaknesses. These results illustrate just how inequitable our system has been. When we reapplied the following year, we developed an argument around equity. Fortunately, the reviewers agreed with our rationale and funded this project.

We fully recognize the Hmong community is small and highly concentrated, and we fully believe developing the Hmong IGDI measures will provide a meaningful resource to these communities to support Hmong children’s language and early literacy development. As our nation continues to grow in diversity, we will see more and more languages in our classrooms. We must develop procedures and resources that can support all students, not just those historically centered. As evidence grows, we are learning about how a child’s native language used in community can be an asset to their academic performance in the classroom, even when the instructional language is English. These findings provide evidence of how inclusive practices that include native languages can be beneficial to all students, not just to monolingual English speakers.


Produced by Caroline Ebanks (Caroline.Ebanks@ed.gov), Team Lead for Early Childhood Research and program officer for the National Center for Education Research.

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