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Houston's Two-Way Dual-Language Programs Best for ELLs, Study Finds

Native Spanish-speaking students in the Houston school district have more success learning English when they're enrolled in two-way dual-language programs that include native English speakers in the classroom, a joint study by the district and Rice University has found.

The study's findings should dispel notions parents have that their English-language-learner children will learn English faster if they're totally immersed in the language, researchers argued.

"The best way to help them learn that language involves teaching them in their native tongue," a research summary indicated.

Here are some of the study's findings:

  • Through 3rd grade, ELLs in two-way programs demonstrated higher Spanish reading scores and slightly faster growth than their peers in other bilingual programs.
  • Regardless of the type of bilingual program, ELLs who participated in their original program for approximately four years (through grade 3) had the highest English reading achievement.
  • ELLs in two-way programs had consistently higher English performance in grade 5.
  • With additional program exposure (greater than one year), two-way students met and surpassed the performance of students whose parents opted out of bilingual or dual-language programs.
  • ELLs in poverty had significantly lower Spanish- and English-language reading performance.
  • Girls outperformed boys on both Spanish- and English-language reading outcomes.

Researchers from Rice University's Kinder Institute for Urban Research tracked test results for a cohort of ELLs who started kindergarten in 2007, examining how those students performed on Spanish-language reading tests as well as English tests.

The two-way dual-language program is just one of four options for language instruction for ELLs in the Houston. The study shows that two-day, dual-language programs are the most effective, but also the most expensive, the authors found.

This new study builds on other recent analyses of different language-instruction models for ELLs. A Stanford University analysis of English-learners' performance in San Francisco's public schools found that ELLs were equally proficient in English by the time they reached 5th grade, regardless of whether they had been in a bilingual program or had received all of their instruction in English. And though ELLs who were in bilingual education programs in San Francisco lagged in the earlier grades, they also scored similarly on the state's academic tests and had virtually the same rates of reclassification to English-fluent status by 5th grade as their ELL peers who were in the district's English-immersion program.

More than a third of students in Houston are not fluent in English, but the district has had success with English-language learners. More than half the district's high school valedictorians this year school year are former ELLs.

Houston offers Spanish language dual-language programs at 31 of its 287 schools. District Leaders want to add dual-language programs to an additional 21 campuses in the fall.

 

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