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IES Grant

Title: The Oregon English Learner Alliance: A Partnership to Explore Factors Associated with Variation in Outcomes for Current and Former English Learners in Oregon
Center: NCER Year: 2014
Principal Investigator: Thompson, Karen Awardee: Oregon State University
Program: Researcher-Practitioner Partnerships in Education Research      [Program Details]
Award Period: 2 years (8/1/2014 – 7/31/2016) Award Amount: $399,928
Type: Researcher-Practitioner Partnership Award Number: R305H140072

Co-Principal Investigators: Bautista, David; Martinez, Martha

Partners: Oregon Department of Education, WestEd

Purpose: The number of English language learners (ELLs) in Oregon increased greatly over the past two decades, and ELLs now comprise 10% of the state's K-12 population. Efforts to explore the factors that contribute to ELL academic success are hampered by a lack of information on what differentiates ELLs who are eventually reclassified out of ELL status from those who are not. Furthermore, information describing the instructional programs that ELLs in the state experience needs further development and validation in order to support analysis of characteristics of instruction that contribute to better educational outcomes for ELLs. Under this project, the Oregon English Learner Alliance conducted analyses to determine best practices to support academic achievement among current and former ELLs. The partnership enhanced existing databases to include information on ELL classification status and established new definitions to characterize the instructional programs students experience.

Partners and Partnership Activities: The Oregon English Learner Alliance was a new partnership that built on existing relationships and statewide momentum to work towards improving outcomes for the state's ELLs, and was comprised of Oregon State University, the Oregon Department of Education (ODE), and WestEd. The Oregon Education Investment Board, which oversaw education initiatives in Oregon, approved the first-ever statewide ELL Strategic Plan in April of 2013. Approximately 150 superintendents and 400 educators contributed to crafting this plan, the mission of which was to prepare all ELLs to be ready to meet demanding college and career-ready standards. This plan identified the need to follow both current and former ELLs in order to identify instructional programs that best serve ELLs. Furthermore, interest in bilingual education in Oregon continues to grow and resulted in the creation of a grant program to support development of dual-language instructional programs. Using a longitudinal, student-level database including information on all students enrolled in Oregon public schools from 2006-2007 through 2016-2017, the Alliance addressed six specific research questions about English learner (EL) outcomes in Oregon, including how student, program, school, and district factors affect their performance and their opportunity to learn. In addition, the Alliance collaborated with a statewide work group to establish new program model definitions that went into effect for the 2015-16 school year, which improved the validity and reliability of program model data going forward.

Population: The project analyzed longitudinal data from all public schools in Oregon. The sample consisted of all current and former ELLs enrolled in Oregon schools from 2006 – 2017. Approximately 75% of Oregon ELLs were native Spanish speakers, with Russian, Vietnamese, Chinese, and Arabic representing the other most frequently spoken home languages.

Key Outcomes: The main findings from this partnership work include:

  • Based on the creation and application of a decision rule to identify former ELs in the state data system, approximately 9% of students were identified as former ELs between 2006-07 through the 2016-17 school years. By high school, former ELs outnumbered current ELs by more than three to one. Former ELs were as likely or more likely than their Never EL peers to graduate with a regular diploma in four years.
  • After seven years, students who entered Oregon schools as ELs in kindergarten had a 73% cumulative likelihood of exiting EL services. The median number of years it took students who enter Oregon schools as ELs in kindergarten to exit EL status (i.e., the median lifetime) was 5.6 years. Girls, students who entered kindergarten with higher initial English proficiency, and students who did not qualify for free/reduced-price lunch were more likely to exit sooner.
  • Reclassification had no significant effect on students' likelihood of graduating in most districts but had a positive effect in some districts and a negative effect in other districts.
  • Ever ELs were significantly less likely than Never ELs to be identified with a disability. Notably, ELs with disabilities were significantly less likely to attain English proficiency and exit EL services than ELs without disabilities.
  • Current ELs were significantly more likely than other students to be excluded from core content courses. For example, 80% of current ELs were enrolled in a science course in 9th grade compared to 95% of never ELs and 96% of former ELs.

In addition, the partnership work influenced policy and practice in Oregon in three specific ways:

  • ODE incorporated information about outcomes for Ever ELs (e.g., achievement and growth, chronic absenteeism, and graduation rates) into school and district report cards, the statewide report card, and technical reports corresponding to specific state initiatives.
  • ODE began using data for Ever ELs in 2015-16 to identify districts in need of support, assistance, and improvement per Oregon House Bill (HB) 3499. This district accountability system identifies the districts with the highest needs and lowest outcomes as measured by demographic (e.g., proportions of students who are economically disadvantaged, migrant, homeless, etc.) and outcome data (e.g., growth, graduation, and post-secondary enrollment) for Ever ELs.
  • The team's analysis of the time necessary for ELs to attain English proficiency and exit EL services informed the design of the EL progress indicator for Oregon's state plan for implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

WWC Review: The partnership's analysis of the effect of reclassification on later outcomes was reviewed by WWC:

Related IES Projects: National Research and Development Center to Improve Education for Secondary English Learners (R305C200008)

Project Website:

Products and Publications

Inside IES Research Blog

Understanding Outcomes for English Learners: The Importance of the 'Ever EL' Category (2017)

Journal publications

Kieffer, M. & Thompson, K. D. (2018). Hidden progress of multilingual students on NAEP. Educational Researcher, 47(6), 391-398.

Robinson-Cimpian, J.P., Thompson, K.D., and Makowski, M. (2017). Evaluating English learner reclassification policy effects across districts. American Educational Research Journal, 54(1): 255S–278S. WWC Review of this study.

Robinson-Cimpian, J.P., Thompson, K.D., and Umansky, I.M. (2016). Research and policy considerations for English learner equity. Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 3(1): 129–137.

Thompson, K.D., Martinez, M.I., Clinton, C., and Díaz, G. (2017). Considering interest and action: Analyzing types of questions explored by researcher-practitioner Partnerships. Educational Researcher, 46(8): 464–473.

Umansky, I.M., Thompson, K.D., Diaz, G. (2017). Using an Ever-EL framework to examine Special education disproportionality among English learners. Exceptional Children, 84(1): 76–96.

Thompson, K. D., Umansky, I. M., & Porter, L. (2020). Examining contexts of reception for newcomer students. Leadership and Policy in Schools 19(1), 10-35.

Nongovernment report, brief, or newsletter

Burho, J. & Thompson, K. D. (2019). Policy brief: Family engagement for English learners with disabilities. Corvallis, OR: Oregon State University.

Thompson, K. D. & Díaz, G. (2016). Policy brief: English learner students with disabilities. Corvallis, OR: Oregon State University.

Thompson, K. D. & Díaz, G. (2019). Policy brief: Timeframes for students to attain English proficiency. Corvallis, OR: Oregon State University.

Thompson, K. D. & Umansky, I. (2019). Policy brief: Access to core content for secondary English learners. Corvallis, OR: Oregon State University.

Thompson, K. D., Umansky, I. M., & Porter, L. (2019). Policy brief: Newcomer students in Oregon schools. Corvallis, OR: Oregon State University.

Thompson, K. D., Umansky, I. M., & Rew, W. J. (2019). Policy brief: Better understanding outcomes for English learners. Corvallis, OR: Oregon State University.

Additional online resources and information

Webinars and policy briefs: