On January 14, Thomas W. Brock joined IES as the Commissioner of the National Center for Education Research. Brock comes to IES from MDRC, where he served as director of the Young Adults and Postsecondary Education Division, leading MDRC's higher education projects focused primarily on finding ways to increase academic achievement, persistence, and completion among low-income college students. Lean more about Thomas Brock at http://ies.ed.gov/ncer/aboutus/.
International Innovation, a magazine focused on globally disseminating the latest science and technology research, recently interviewed Acting Commissioner Elizabeth Albro. In the interview, Albro talked about IES' and NCER's scientific goals and priorities and contributions to global scientific research. Albro highlighted NCER's investment in math, science, and education technology research through the Education Research grant program. She focused on the growing importance of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education and the fact that NCER funds over 200 individual research projects that look at improving math and science outcomes. In addition, Albro discussed technological innovations funded through IES' Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. To read the full interview, click here.
Improving the educational outcomes of English Learners is a pressing need in U.S. schools. Many English Learners need additional supports as they attempt to simultaneously master challenging content and build proficiency in English. The reclassification decision regarding when an English Learner has sufficient mastery of English to function without additional supports is complex, and criteria and decision processes determining reclassification for students out of English Learner status vary greatly among schools, districts, and states.
Jinok Kim and Joan Herman, researchers at the National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing (CRESST) at UCLA, recently completed a grant funded by NCER to investigate the validity of reclassification systems in two states.
Karen Douglas, the NCER program officer for the English Learner research program, asked Kim and Herman to share some highlights of what they learned in conducting the studies for this grant.
What led you to study reclassification policies and processes for English Learners?
From our previous study looking into the performance of ELL (English language learner) students in three states based on statewide data, we found that in some cases ELLs outperformed their non-ELLs peers on academic measures, but could not pass the standards for reclassification. In addition, literature emerging at the time highlighted dilemmas in ELL's reclassification decisions. Premature exit might leave ELLs without the assistance they need for academic progress, which could result in them being reclassified back into ELL status in later years. On the other hand, there were negative outcomes associated with protracted ELL status. Especially in secondary school, ELL students might not have the opportunity to take core, college preparatory courses, which could limit their future access to higher education. This motivated us to study how reclassification criteria relate both to academic growth after reclassification in mainstream classrooms and to school persistence.
What are the implications of your findings for policymakers, administrators, and researchers?
We found that too stringent criteria in reclassifying ELLs might be associated with outcomes that are not what we are hoping for—such as slower growth rates in math achievement in the middle school years, and lower probability of remaining in school. Although we do not claim any causality here, our findings raise the possibility that uniform, statewide criteria that are too high may not help ELL students eventually succeed in secondary school. Currently, most states use a conjunctive rule to determine reclassification in which ELLs must meet minimum criteria on each of several indicators and failing even one criterion stops ELL students from exiting. Our findings suggest that ELLs show more rapid subsequent growth when the criteria include course grades and are flexibly applied in concert with reasoned professional judgment. In addition, states may need to consider taking a more differentiated approach in combining academic proficiency and English language proficiency. Our findings also suggest the need for a more individualized approach for ELL students' coursetaking, particularly in secondary school. For example, an ELL student who still needs linguistic assistance but appears ready for more challenging academic courses, for instance in mathematics, should have a choice to take the courses so that ELL students are not prevented from accessing higher level content courses just because of their ELL status.
What did you learn about how best to structure future studies on reclassification decisions for English Learners?
There is a strong need for more contextualized studies of ELLs' reclassification. We found that existing, quantitative data may be very useful in examining longitudinal trends in student learning to inform policy and practice, but qualitative studies are also essential in clarifying the underlying processes and mechanisms that contribute to ELL's academic progress. Secondly, we learned that ELL instruction and reclassification challenges vary in different contexts and at different levels of schooling. For example, in elementary schools where most classrooms are self-contained, early misclassification and premature exit may be the primary threats. In middle schools, there are additional concerns raised by prolonged ELL status that restrict access to core, academic courses in mainstream classrooms. In high school, ELLs who are recently arrived and long-term ELLs have a particularly high risk for dropping out before graduation. Lastly, our interviews with district personnel show that districts all followed their state's guidance in their ELL reclassification decisions, but there were wide variations in how they interpreted the guidelines. More research is needed to confirm these findings and to suggest more concrete, optimal criteria and processes for reclassification decision making.
For more information on this IES-funded project, Reclassification of English Language Learners as Fully English Proficient, click here.
For American high school students, obtaining information on the college application process is critical to successful college admissions. Yet access to such services is limited for students in urban schools. With support from an NCER grant, University of Southern California (USC) professor William G. Tierney is leading a team of researchers, in collaboration with Tracy Fullerton, director of USC's Game Innovation Lab, to find a solution to this problem.
The research team is helping students in urban areas engage meaningfully with the college application process through a series of games designed to cultivate college knowledge. Tierney and his colleagues have developed a Facebook application of what was originally a counseling card game: "Mission: Admission." The goals of the game include: building college-related vocabulary, prioritizing how to allocate time toward college preparation, understanding the value of extracurricular leadership positions, and increasing understanding of financial aid opportunities. The game takes place over the course of a real-time week and relies on popular online game mechanics, thus bringing robust content to students in a fun and non-threatening format. Players choose an avatar and guide the character while balancing studying, extracurricular activities, and college applications.
The primary goal of the game is to be accepted into and be able to afford college. Pilot study results from observations and interviews with students have been positive, including students' increased awareness about college admission and the financial aid processes.
If you have a Facebook account you can play the game by going to http://apps.facebook.com/missionadmission/.