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IES Grant

Title: Special Education Placement Based on Assessment Practices for Spanish-Speaking English Language Learners Struggling With Reading Comprehension
Center: NCSER Year: 2023
Principal Investigator: Mancilla-Martinez, Jeannette Awardee: Vanderbilt University
Program: Reading, Writing, and Language      [Program Details]
Award Period: 4 years (08/012023 – 07/31/2027) Award Amount: $1,659,552
Type: Exploration Award Number: R324A230154

Co-Principal Investigators: Luk, Gigi; Francis, David; Kulesz, Paulina

Purpose: The purpose of this project is to explore the associations among language comprehension (LC) skills in both Spanish and English, the processes involved in English reading comprehension (RC), and special education (SPED) placement decisions for elementary school students from Spanish-speaking homes. For the growing population of U.S. students from homes in which a language other than English is used—whether formally identified as English learners (ELs) or not—reliance on English-only language and reading assessments raises important educational equity concerns as these assessments target only one of their languages. National data consistently find ELs lag behind their non-EL peers in reading and ELs from Spanish-speaking homes (the largest such language group) continue to be disproportionately represented in SPED. Ultimately, the results of the study have the potential to mitigate English RC difficulties, improve school-based assessment practices to better inform SPED decisions, and reduce disproportionate SPED representation for students from Spanish-speaking homes.

Project Activities: Researchers will use a cohort sequential design to collect and analyze data from students from Spanish-speaking homes to explore the co-development of LC and RC, examine the role of Spanish and English LC in predicting English RC outcomes, and investigate the SPED placement rate based on LC and the consequences of SPED placement on English RC by language status.

Products: This project will result in an in-depth understanding of the associations among LC, RC, and SPED placement for students from Spanish-speaking homes, which may be used to inform school-based assessment practices, reading instruction, and SPED placement practices. The project will also result in a final dataset to be shared, as well as additional dissemination products that reach education stakeholders such as practitioners and policymakers.

Structured Abstract

Setting: The research will take place in elementary schools within a public school district in Tennessee with a large population of students from Spanish-speaking homes. Population/Sample: Approximately 600 students enrolled in kindergarten and grade 1 will participate in the study. Students will be included in the study if Spanish is used in the home, regardless of students' school-designated language status (current EL, former EL, and never EL).

Factors: Key factors to be studied include language comprehension (expressive vocabulary, general oral language, oral narrative ability, phonological awareness, English naming fluency, and phonological memory) in both Spanish and English, English word reading, reading comprehension, EL status, and SPED status.

Research Design and Methods: This study uses a cohort sequential design spanning grades K–4. Researchers will first recruit two cohorts of students from grades K and 1 and follow them longitudinally across four academic years. Language and reading will be assessed on eight occasions at children's schools by bilingual Spanish-English research assistants in the fall and spring of each year. Data from school records (including EL and SPED status) and parent report of family demographics and language use will be collected annually.

Control Condition:  Due to the nature of the research design, there is no control condition.

Key Measures: Reading comprehension will be measured with the Stanford Achievement Test-10th Edition, the Gates MacGinite Reading Test-4th Edition and the district administered Measures of Academic Progress and TNReady English Language Arts assessment. English word reading will be measured using the Letter-Word Identification subtest of the WMLS-III and the Test of Word Reading Efficiency-2nd Edition. Various aspects of language comprehension will be assessed with a number of different measures:Expressive vocabulary will be measured by the Woodcock-Muņoz Language Survey-III (WMLS-III)in Spanish and English and the Expressive One-Word Picture Vocabulary Test-4: Spanish-Bilingual Edition. General oral language will be measured by the Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals (CELF)-5th Edition and the CELF-4th Edition Spanish. Oral narrative ability will be measured by the Bilingual Spanish/English Narrative Story Retell protocol from the Systematic Analysis of Language Transcripts. Phonological awareness, phonological memory, and English naming fluency will be measured using the Comprehensive Test of Phonological Processing-2nd Edition. Data on demographics and language use will be collected using a parent questionnaire. Data on economically disadvantaged status, EL status, SPED status, and EL level of English proficiency will be collected annually from school records.

Data Analytic Strategy:  Individual growth models will be used to address questions regarding LC and RC growth trajectories, the role of LC in RC development, and the role of SPED placement on RC outcomes for students with comparable LC skills. Generalized mixed linear models with repeated measures and binary outcomes will be used to investigate the role of LC and EL status in determining SPED placement.