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Education Department's 'Practice Guide' Urges Data-Driven Instruction for ELLs

Educators should be very deliberate in teaching English-language learners how to read, and one effective way to do that is to test their reading progress frequently--and use the data to tailor instruction to them. That conclusion is contained in a research-based "practice guide" on ELLs published by the Institute of Education Sciences of the U.S. Department of Education last week.

The authors of the guide, "Effective Literacy and English Language Instruction for English Learners in the Elementary Grades," say research evidence for data-driven instruction for English-language learners is "strong." Teachers need to be poised to provide intensive reading interventions for any ELLs having problems learning to read in English--they shouldn't wait around until their students can speak and understand English before testing them in beginning reading skills. In fact, ELLs at a high risk of having reading problems should have their progress monitored weekly or biweekly, according to the guide. (See my earlier post, "Report Shows Data-Based Instruction is the Way to Go," which summarizes findings from an EdSource report.)

What I like about the practice guide is that it spells out "possible roadblocks and solutions" to each of the report's five recommendations. For example, it says that some teachers feel it's unfair to use a test in English to measure a student's early reading skills if he or she doesn't yet know English. Not to worry, says the report, because students will be able to use their "phonemic awareness" from their native language to take such a test.

In November, I wrote an article noting that the researchers writing the practice guide had decided not to address whether it's best for schools to use bilingual education or English-only methods in teaching ELLs how to read. The preface of the guide cites some reasons why the researchers didn't take a position on this issue, including that it has already been the "subject of great debate and numerous reviews in the literature." Another reason cited is that "in most cases school administrators have little say on issues involving language of initial reading instruction."

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