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IES Grant

Title: A Researcher-Practitioner Partnership to Promote English Language Learners’ Science Learning in the Elementary Grades
Center: NCER Year: 2014
Principal Investigator: Moorthy, Savitha Awardee: SRI International
Program: Researcher-Practitioner Partnerships in Education Research      [Program Details]
Award Period: 2 years (7/1/2014– 6/30/2016) Award Amount: $390,325
Type: Researcher-Practitioner Partnership Award Number: R305H140021

Co-Principal Investigator: Gilligan, Eileen

Partner: Clark County School District

Education Issue: In response to the call to make all students college- and career-ready, the state of Nevada adopted the Nevada State Academic Content Standards for Science (NVACSS), based on the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Clark County School District (CCSD) implemented the new science standards in the 2015–16 school year. The orientation towards science practices in the standards called for significant shifts in the orchestration of classroom conversations, requiring students to use sophisticated science talk in the process of developing and using models, constructing explanations, and engaging in argumentation from evidence. Although participation in discourse and language-intensive science practices can be challenging for English Language Learners (ELLs), the orientation towards science practices also promoted opportunities for students to use language in the context of science learning experiences.

Partnership Goal: CCSD and SRI International had been collaborating on a middle-school ELL science learning project in the year prior to this grant. This project expanded this collaboration to develop a system of instructional supports in science for ELLs in elementary school and develop a research agenda for the future testing the benefits of the new supports.

Partners and Partnership Activities: The partnership used a collaborative design process between CCSD and SRI to design a system of supports to promote the academic success of ELLs in science. Analysis of secondary data for three cohorts of fifth-grade students in these schools was used to identify a target sample of 6–8 schools for primary data collection, including schools where ELLs perform above, at, and below average on the standardized science assessment. CCSD and SRI worked together to create a theory of action to organize evidence about research-based strategies with promise for supporting science learning of ELLs and to design data collection tools for use in describing the enactment of these practices in classrooms.

Setting: This study took place in elementary schools in CCSD, the fifth largest school district in the U.S. and home to the second largest ELL population in the country.

Population/Sample: Participants included all elementary schools in CCSD (approximately 38) with over 50 percent of students classified as ELLs. A subset of these schools were identified for in-depth study based on findings from descriptive analyses.

Initial Studies: The partnership started with an initial sample of all elementary schools with over 50 percent of students classified as ELL, totaling 38 elementary schools in CCSD. A secondary data analyses of 3 cohorts of fifth grade students across the 38 schools—approximately 5,100 students—was conducted to quantify patterns of variation in ELLs' performance on the standardized science assessment and explore relationships between ELLs' science scores and other factors (student's demographic characteristics, ELL status, IEP status, and performance on state assessments in ELA, math, and science). Results of the secondary data analysis informed the selection of comparable schools for primary data collection, including schools in which ELLs performed below, at, or above average in science. A group of 6–8 schools representing these three categories were selected for a study in which principals and school-site science leaders were surveyed concerning instructional practices in science. A small sample of teachers were also selected for classroom observations and interviews. CCSD and SRI researchers used results to formulate a theory of action that relates instructional practices to science learning for ELLs. Partners also developed a classroom observation protocol to describe how teachers scaffold learning for ELLs, and instructional logs to capture the frequency of important aspects of instructional activities.

Outcomes: This partnership team developed and implemented a system of supports for teachers at four high-EL elementary schools through a Professional Learning Community structure. They also developed an online infrastructure to provide resources for educators. The research team presented their findings at several conferences.