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Dual Language Programs
March 2019


What does the research say about the effect of dual language programs on students’ reading achievement?

Ask A REL Response

Thank you for your request to our Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Reference Desk. Ask A REL is a collaborative reference desk service provided by the 10 RELs that, by design, functions much in the same way as a technical reference library. Ask A REL provides references, referrals, and brief responses in the form of citations in response to questions about available education research.

Following an established REL Northwest research protocol, we conducted a search for evidence- based research. The sources included ERIC and other federally funded databases and organizations, research institutions, academic research databases, Google Scholar, and general Internet search engines. For more details, please see the methods section at the end of this document.

The research team has not evaluated the quality of the references and resources provided in this response; we offer them only for your reference. The search included the most commonly used research databases and search engines to produce the references presented here. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. The research references are not necessarily comprehensive and other relevant research references may exist. In addition to evidence-based, peer-reviewed research references, we have also included other resources that you may find useful. We provide only publicly available resources, unless there is a lack of such resources or an article is considered seminal in the topic area.


Boyle, A., August, D., Tabaku, L., Cole, S., & Simpson-Baird, A. (2015). Dual language education programs: Current state policies and practices. Washington, DC: American Institutes for Research. Retrieved from

From the Website:
"This report is the result of an examination of research and reports on dual language programs, along with information collected from state education agency websites and state and federal databases. The authors also interviewed officials in six states: Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Utah."

Lindholm-Leary, K. J., & Hernández, A. (2011). Achievement and language proficiency of Latino students in dual language programmes: Native English speakers, fluent English/previous ELLs, and current ELLs. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 32(6), 531–545. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"The purpose of this research is to examine the achievement and language proficiency of 732 Grade 4 to Grade 8 Latino students enrolled in a dual language programme who differed by language proficiency. Results show that these Latino student groups achieve at higher levels than their peers in English mainstream."

Marian, V., Shook, A., & Schroeder, S. R. (2013). Bilingual two-way immersion programs benefit academic achievement. Bilingual Research Journal, 36(2), 167–186. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"The effects of bilingual education on reading and math achievement were examined by comparing test scores across different elementary-school programs. Results revealed that bilingual two-way immersion programs benefited both minority-language and majority-language students."

Slavin, R. E., Madden, N., Calderón, M., Chamberlain, A., & Hennessy, M. (2011). Reading and language outcomes of a multiyear randomized evaluation of transitional bilingual education. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 33(1), 47–58. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"This article reports the outcomes of a multiyear study comparing the English and Spanish language and reading performance of Spanish-dominant children randomly assigned, beginning in kindergarten, to transitional bilingual education (TBE) or structured English immersion (SEI) for periods of up to 5 years."

Steele, J. L., Slater, R. O., Zamarro, G., Miller, T., Li, J., Burkhauser, S., & Bacon, M. (2017). Effects of dual-language immersion programs on student achievement: Evidence from lottery data. American Educational Research Journal, 54(1-suppl), 282S–306S.

From the Abstract:
"Using data from seven cohorts of language immersion lottery applicants in a large, urban school district, we estimate the causal effects of immersion programs on students’ test scores in reading, mathematics, and science and on English learners' (EL) reclassification. … We find little benefit in terms of mathematics and science performance but also no detriment."

Umansky, I. M., Valentino, R. A., & Reardon, S. F. (2015). The promise of bilingual and dual immersion education (CEPA Working Paper No. 15-11). Stanford, CA: Stanford University, Stanford Center for Education Policy Analysis. Retrieved from

From the Introduction:
"Our research shows that EL students in English immersion programs generally have higher English proficiency and standardized academic test scores by second grade than their peers in two-language programs (bilingual and dual immersion programs). By late elementary or middle school, however, these differences are generally eliminated or reversed. By these later grades, ELs who spend their elementary school years in two-language programs have test scores, English proficiency levels, and reclassification rates that are, on average, as high as or higher than similar students who were in English immersion classrooms."

Vela, A., Jones, D., Mundy, M.-A., & Isaacson, C. (2017). Determining the effectiveness of bilingual programs on third grade state exam scores. Research in Higher Education Journal, 33.

From the Abstract:
"This ex-post-facto quasi-experimental research design was conducted by selecting a convenient sample of approximately 2,000 3rd grade ELLs who took the regular reading and math English STAAR test during the 2014-15 school year in an urban southern Texas school district. Conclusions to the findings determined that there were significant differences among the three educational programs for ELL students in third grade on the STAAR test results in the regular English math STAAR test for ELL students in third grade, but did not find significant differences in the test scores in the regular English reading STAAR test results."


Keywords and Search Strings: The following keywords, subject headings, and search strings were used to search reference databases and other sources: Dual language OR Two-way immersion, English learner, Reading OR Literacy OR English language arts, Achievement OR Outcome

Databases and Resources: We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of more than 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). Additionally, we searched Google Scholar and EBSCO databases (Academic Search Premier, Education Research Complete, and Professional Development Collection).

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

Date of publications: This search and review included references and resources published in the last 10 years.

Search priorities of reference sources: Search priority was given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations, as well as academic databases, including ERIC, EBSCO databases, and Google Scholar.

Methodology: The following methodological priorities/considerations were given in the review and selection of the references:

  • Study types: randomized control trials, quasi experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, and policy briefs, generally in this order
  • Target population and samples: representativeness of the target population, sample size, and whether participants volunteered or were randomly selected
  • Study duration
  • Limitations and generalizability of the findings and conclusions

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by stakeholders in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington, which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Northwest. It was prepared under Contract ED-IES-17-C-0009 by REL Northwest, administered by Education Northwest. The content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.