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IES Grant

Title: Partnership to Study Dual Language Immersion in Utah
Center: NCER Year: 2017
Principal Investigator: Slater, Robert Awardee: American Councils for International Education
Program: Researcher-Practitioner Partnerships in Education Research      [Program Details]
Award Period: 2 years (7/1/2017–6/30/2019) Award Amount: $398,544
Type: Researcher-Practitioner Partnership Award Number: R305H170005

Co-Principal Investigator: Johanna Watzinger-Tharp (University of Utah); Jennifer Steele (American University); Gregg Roberts (Utah State Board of Education)

Partner Institutions: American Councils Research Center (American Councils for International Education), Utah State Board of Education, University of Utah, American University.

Purpose: The purpose of this two-year grant was to create partnership to assess the causal effects of immersion program participation on student achievement. Dual language immersion (DLI) refers to programs in which students receive general academic instruction in two languages beginning in the early grades. In Utah, DLI programs come in two forms: two-way programs, in which at least a third of the students in a classroom are native speakers of each of the two classroom languages (here, English and a "target" language), and one-way programs, in which most students are native speakers of English immersed half-time in a "target" language. Both program types aim to graduate students who are bilingual and biliterate. In 2009, Utah enacted legislation that awards schools $10,000 per grade level for adding or expanding their DLI programs. In response, DLI in Utah has grown from a handful of programs in 2008–09 to 138 programs serving more than 28,000 students in 2015–16. This researcher-practitioner partnership studied Utah's DLI expansion—including an assessment of its causal effects on students' academic achievement—to explore the mechanisms by which it yields those effects.

Partnership Activities: During this two-year grant, the partnership worked with extant data to assess the causal effects—overall and by key subgroups—of immersion program participation on student achievement. Although the majority of students in DLI in Utah are native English speakers, the partnership also worked, in particular, to describe English learners' (ELs') access to immersion education. The research team also worked on  planning and instrument development for next-phase studies.

Setting: The research incorporated all 41 districts in the state of Utah, 22 of which currently offer dual language immersion programs. In the 2015–16 academic year, Utah's public schools enrolled 633,896 students, 4.4% of whom were enrolled in dual language immersion programs.

Population/Sample: The study used administrative data for all students who entered kindergarten in a Utah public school in the years 2004–05 through 2014–15—approximately 536,000 students. In 2014–15, Utah students were 76% white, 17% Hispanic, 3% Asian or Pacific Islander, 2% mixed race, 1% black, and 1% American Indian. Thirty-five percent were low-income; 11% received special education services; and 6% were English learners (ELs).

Data Analytic Strategy: The researchers used an instrumental variables strategy to estimate the causal effect of DLI participation on student achievement, as well as differential effects of one-way and two-way programs for ELs versus native English speakers. District-by-year variation in access to first-grade DLI slots provided plausibly causal identification. Student-level models were used to estimate achievement at each grade using district and year fixed-effect models that include controls for students' baseline characteristics.

Outcomes: This two-year partnership grant laid the groundwork for further research and produced two working papers as well as several presentations.