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Cultivating English learner students’ home language reaps benefits for learning English

Cultivating English learner students’ home language reaps benefits for
                            learning English

By Marguerite Huber | September 11, 2018

Did you know that New Mexico has one of the highest proportions of English learner students in the United States? Many of these students speak primarily Spanish at home, and a new video from the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Southwest highlights how cultivating this home language can help students learn English.

>> View the video

The video presents the findings from REL Southwest’s 2018 report, Initial Spanish Proficiency and English Language Development Among Spanish-Speaking English Learner Students in New Mexico. This report describes our study investigating the relationship between English and Spanish development over time and the path to English and academic proficiency. This study was conducted in partnership with the New Mexico Achievement Gap Research Alliance and the New Mexico Public Education Department.

The video is the first installment in a two-part series on English learner students’ development of English language and features findings and reflections from Brenda Arellano, Ph.D., the report’s principal investigator, and Patricia Jiménez-Latham, Ed.D., director of the Center for the Education and Study of Diverse Populations at New Mexico Highlands University.

The study found that differences emerged among students according to their initial levels of Spanish proficiency. Dr. Arellano explains, “What we found was, generally, students with higher Spanish proficiency in kindergarten were more likely then students with low or medium levels of Spanish proficiency to achieve that English fluent proficient status.” Read the report to learn more about key findings from the study.

Practical takeaways

The video provides practical takeaways for families, teachers, and district and state education leaders.

  • Families: Encourage Spanish language development and nurture literacy in the home by having children hear, speak, read, and write a broad range of words in their home language.
  • Teachers: Provide students who have low or medium initial proficiency levels with targeted supports in their home language in the early grades.
  • District and state education leaders: Use assessment data on students’ initial kindergarten Spanish proficiency to help inform Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) annual growth targets for English learner students.

How can the findings be used for planning and decision making? Dr. Jiménez-Latham reveals, “Everybody within [New Mexico] will be able to use this, whether they are policymakers, university faculty, school district superintendents, [or] professional development providers. This is something that we have needed for a very long time.”

As for states beyond New Mexico, Dr. Arellano notes, “This study can be useful to other states with English learner student populations trying to make sense of differences in English language and literacy development trajectories. In addition, as states move toward achieving goals set forth in their ESSA plans, this report helps states consider whether English language proficiency targets are appropriate, given incoming levels of proficiency in a student’s home language.”

About the video series

The second video in the series will focus on the REL Southwest report Time to Proficiency for Hispanic English Learner Students in Texas, featuring Rachel Slama, Ph.D., the principal investigator; Gracie Guerrero, Ed.D., assistant superintendent for Multilingual Programs in the Houston Independent School District; and David Kaufman, Ed.D., executive director of Multilingual Education at Austin Independent School District. Look for the video later this fall!

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Author Information

Elise Kail

Marguerite Huber

Communications Associate | REL Southwest

mhuber@air.org