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Study of Dual-Language Immersion Launches in Portland Schools

RAND Corporation researchers have kicked off a three-year research project—backed with a $1.7 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education—to examine the effects of dual-language programs on student achievement in English/language arts, math, and science in the public schools in Portland.

This study's results will be highly anticipated, as the demand for dual-language programs increases and more school districts look to them as the future of language instruction for both English-language learners and native English-speakers.

Researchers will compare achievement, attendance, and behavior outcomes between Portland students who applied through a prekindergarten lottery to enroll in a dual-language program and were selected and students who applied but did not receive entry.

The school district in Portland offers 10 dual-language immersion programs: seven in Spanish, and one each in Japanese, Russian, and Mandarin Chinese.

Portland's programs are somewhat unusual in that they span from kindergarten (in a few cases, prekindergarten) through 12th grade. None of the programs is able to accommodate all the demand for them, so Portland uses a lottery system to determine admission. For the Spanish and Russian dual-language programs, as many as half of the spaces go to native speakers, with the balance left for native English-speakers, which fits the two-way immersion model because of the mix of native and non-native speakers of the target language. The Japanese and Mandarin programs are primarily for native English-speakers.

RAND researchers will partner with researchers from the American Councils for International Education for the study.

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