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REL Southwest to study an enhanced approach to literacy instruction for English learner students in New Mexico

Southwest | March 21, 2023

Young boy smiling at camera during class in elementary school classroom. Behind him are three young girls writing with a female teacher

In New Mexico, English learner students comprise nearly 17 percent of statewide student enrollment, the third highest percentage in the United States. The percentage of English learner students tends to be even higher1 in lower grades than in upper grades because each year some English learner students are reclassified as English proficient and exit their English learner program.

Current and former English learner students require support to meet grade-level academic standards. A recent study conducted by REL Southwest found that few American Indian English learner students met grade level standards on New Mexico state assessments in English language arts and math in grades 3 and 4.2 Further, a study of Spanish-speaking English learner students found that approximately 15 percent of English learner students who were reclassified as fluent English proficient by grades 4 or 5 met grade level standards on the state assessments.3

Supporting English learner students is a priority in New Mexico. In 2018, the Martinez and Yazzie v. State of New Mexico lawsuit ruled that the state of New Mexico violated students' fundamental rights by failing to provide a sufficient public education, specifically by failing to include culturally and linguistically relevant education.4 In response, the New Mexico Public Education Department (NMPED) developed a strategic plan that includes supporting the whole child through literacy instruction that is culturally and linguistically responsive (CLRI) to strengthen equitable educational opportunities and achievement for English learner students.5

However, a large percentage of teachers feel underprepared to support English learner students.6 Research has found that professional learning can lead to improvements in classroom instruction and student learning.7 Equipping both English learner specialists and content teachers with the skills to deliver evidence-based literacy instruction has the potential to improve outcomes for not only English learner students but all students.

Write to Succeed professional learning program

To support the state's need for effective literacy instruction for English leaner students of all backgrounds, REL Southwest, NMPED, and regional education cooperatives and school districts in New Mexico have formed the Southwest English Learner Literacy (SWELL) partnership. The partnership's goal is to help New Mexico educators deliver high-quality literacy instruction that supports all students, including English learner students, in developing stronger literacy and writing skills.

To achieve this goal, the partnership will implement, refine, and test Write to Succeed, a research-based professional learning program to help grades 4–8 teachers implement literacy instructional units with appropriate supports for English learner students. Within a school, the program will provide teacher teams from grades 4–8 with opportunities to:

  • Engage in collaborative professional learning on evidence-based literacy practices to effectively scaffold writing instruction in any content area.
  • Foster all students' writing skills by integrating language and cultural supports for English learner students of all backgrounds across New Mexico.
  • Receive ongoing support from a coach and colleagues to elevate their existing instructional units.

REL Southwest experts will train school or district coaches to deliver the Write to Succeed program to teachers. Within a school, teacher teams will participate in group coaching, where they will learn about evidence-based literacy practices and receive support from their school or district coach to integrate those practices into an existing instructional unit. As teachers implement the unit, they will participate in four coaching sessions to assist them in their use of the evidence-based literacy practices. In addition, the program will embed CLRI throughout the coaching sessions and delivery of the instructional units.

Looking ahead: We need you!

Over the next five years, the SWELL partnership will progress through two phases. In the first phase, REL Southwest will test and refine Write to Succeed with up to 16 schools that each have four teachers participating during the 2023/24 school year. In the second phase, REL Southwest will test the efficacy of the refined program with schools across the state. Throughout the five-year partnership, REL Southwest will share important takeaways, resources, and policy implications.

Join the study. The SWELL partnership is looking to connect with schools and districts across New Mexico to participate in the first phase of the study.

Schools Teachers who participate will . . .
  • Identify grades 4–8 teachers to participate in Write to Succeed.
  • Identify staff to be trained and supported as Write to Succeed coaches by REL Southwest experts.
  • Collaborate to schedule professional learning time for participating teachers and coaches.
  • Participate in 10–12 hours of professional learning during the 2023/24 school year.
  • Receive ongoing support from their coach as they implement their existing instructional units (one in the fall and one in the spring).
  • Participate in data collection during the 2023/24 school year.

Benefits of participation. Coaches who participate will learn to facilitate Write to Succeed and increase their capacity to support grades 4–8 teachers during and after the study. Grades 4–8 teachers who participate will receive coaching in using evidence-based practices that can improve their literacy and writing instruction. In addition, as permissible by local district policy, participating coaches and teachers may receive a stipend for their time and gift cards for completing data collection activities. REL Southwest will present research findings directly to the participating schools and districts, helping local educators better understand the value of using evidence-based literacy practices in their classroom.

Contact us! If you are interested in Write to Succeed, contact Diana Torres ( to schedule a time to learn more and ask questions.

Additional REL Southwest resources on English learner students:


1 National Center for Education Statistics. (2022). English Learners in Public Schools. Condition of Education. U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences. Retrieved [February 7, 2023], from

2 The percentage varied from 3 to 39 percent, depending on grade level, cohort, subject area, and reclassification status. Stoker, G., Arellano, B., & Hoon, D. L. (2022). English language development among American Indian English learner students in New Mexico (REL 2022-135).U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Southwest.

3 Arellano, B., Liu, F., Stoker, G., & Slama, R. (2018). Initial Spanish proficiency and English language development among Spanish-speaking English learner students in New Mexico (REL 2018-286). U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Southwest.

4 Martinez and Yazzie v. State of New Mexico, No. D-101-CV-2014-00793 (2018).

5 New Mexico Public Education Department. (2022). Comprehensive strategic plan 2022.

6 Goodson, B., Caswell, L., Dynarski, M., Price, C., Litwok, D., Crowe, E., Meyer, R., and Rice, A. (2019). Teacher Preparation Experiences and Early Teaching Effectiveness (NCEE 2019-4007). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education.; Wynn, L., Zahner, W. (2022). Raising Teachers' Voices: What do teachers say about how well their instructional materials support English Learners? English Learners Success Forum (ELSF).

7 Garrett, R., Citkowicz, M., & Williams, R. (2019). How responsive is a teacher's classroom practice to intervention? A meta-analysis of randomized field studies. Review of Research in Education, 43(1), 106–137.; Garrett, R., Zhang, Q., Citkowicz, M., & Burr, L. (2021). How Learning Forward's professional learning standards are associated with teacher instruction and student achievement: A meta-analysis. Center on Great Teachers and Leaders at American Institutes for Research.


Carol Felicio

Carol Felicio

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