Recommendations for Policy, Practice, and Research
This chapter presents the committee’s recommendations for policy, practice, and research and data collection. This is followed by a research agenda that identifies gaps in current knowledge about dual language learners (DLLs)/English learners (ELs), including relevant policies, demographics, language development, effective programs and practices, DLLs/ELs with disabilities, and workforce preparation. This agenda is focused specifically on research needed to foster the educational success of DLLs/ELs.
The committee’s recommendations are supported by the conclusions presented at the end of Chapters 2-12. Based on its review of the available evidence, the committee concludes that all children and youth have the capacity to become bi- or multilingual given appropriate opportunities. The ability to communicate and to learn in more than one language is universal, and is an asset that can enhance cognitive control, social and cultural competence, educational outcomes, and work skills in a global economy.
Research also reveals that many institutions responsible for early childhood and pre-K to 12 education are failing to provide DLLs/ELs with appropriate opportunities to learn. The result is persistent developmental and achievement disparities between many students classified as ELs and those who are not. The educational success and well-being of DLLs/ELs can be enhanced by aligning education and health care policies and practices with scientific evidence on effective educational programs and practices, the nature of dual language development, and the value of multilingualism and respect for cultural heritages. DLLs’/ELs’ strong acquisition of their first
language (L1) serves as a foundation for learning English as a language that is essential for educational success in the United States.
This section presents the committee’s recommendations for practice, policy, and research and data collection.
Recommendations Pertaining to All DLLs/ELs
Recommendation 1: Federal agencies with oversight of early childhood programs serving children from birth to age 5 (such as the Child Care and Development Fund and Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program) and state agencies with oversight of such programs should follow the lead of Head Start/Early Head Start by providing specific evidence-based program guidance, practices, and strategies for engaging and serving dual language learners and their families and monitor program effectiveness.
To ensure successful outcomes for DLLs, programs should be improved with respect to both their global overall quality and their use of specific dual language and cultural supports to meet these children’s developmental needs. These improvements are needed across the range of early care and education (ECE) settings, including informal home-based and center-based programs.
Although the Head Start guidelines focus primarily on kindergarten readiness, they also include best-practice recommendations and toolkits for ensuring the cultural competency of staff, engaging families, and supporting the development of children from multilingual backgrounds. Guidelines regarding the early education of DLL children should include
- a clear statement of philosophy and goals for DLLs,
- a clear process for identifying DLLs and assessing their developmental trajectories in both their L1 and English,
- specification of qualifications for teachers of DLLs,
- direction on family engagement strategies,
- guidance on conducting community needs assessments,
- assistance in creating partnerships with community organizations and schools to increase access to high-quality education programs,
- guidance on instructional practices, and
- learning standards for infants and toddlers as well as preschoolers.
Recommendation 2: Federal, state, and local agencies and intermediary organizations with responsibilities for serving children birth to age 5 should conduct social marketing campaigns to provide information about the capacity of infants, toddlers, and preschoolers—including those with disabilities—to learn more than one language.
These campaigns should include information on the communicative, social, cognitive, emotional, and employment advantages of bilingualism and the absence of evidence of harmful effects. These government agencies and organizations, including professional associations whose members work directly with children, should also promote practices in families and programs that support the development of children’s bilingualism.
Recommendation 3: Federal and state agencies and organizations that fund and regulate programs and services for dual language learners (e.g., Office of Head Start, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, state departments of education and early learning, state child care licensing agencies) and local education agencies that serve English learners in grades pre-K to 12 should examine the adequacy and appropriateness of district- and school-wide practices for these children and adolescents. Evidence of effective practices should be defined according to the Every Student Succeeds Act.
Improvements in the care and education of DLLs/ELs will depend on a well-considered theory of change and action. Conducting self-studies through the analysis of assessment data, studying curriculum and instructional materials, observing classrooms, examining pedagogical approaches, interviewing students and parents, and working to build a culture in which learning and development are possible are all key to addressing the problems that have been identified. Changing practices is never easy and often entails professional development for all personnel involved.
Recommendation 4: Federal and state agencies and organizations that fund and regulate programs and services for dual language learners (DLLs) (e.g., Office of Head Start, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, state departments of education and early learning, state child care licensing agencies) and English learners (ELs) in grades pre-K to 12 should give all providers of services to these children and adolescents (e.g., local Head Start and Early Head Start programs, community-based child care centers, state preschool and child development programs) and local education agencies information about the range of valid assessment methods and tools for DLLs/ELs and guidelines for their appropriate use, especially for DLLs/ELs with disabilities. The
Institute of Education Sciences and the National Institutes of Health should lead the creation of a national clearinghouse for these validated assessment methods and tools, including those used for DLLs/ELs with disabilities.
The uses of these assessment methods and tools include informing educational programming, instructional differentiation, formative assessment, continuous program improvement, and accountability. Any initial assessment of DLLs/ELs should be conducted in both the child’s L1 and English and should make use of a variety of informants, including individuals who are proficient in the L1, and multiple sources of data collected over time. High-quality academic assessments should be available to ELs in grades pre-K to 12 who are in bilingual programs in their L1 to the extent practicable. Assessments of ELs’ L1 should focus specifically on how the L1 is used in school and literacy settings, and test results should be interpreted to apply to each specific domain of language use.
Recommendations for Specific Populations of DLLs/ELs
Recommendation 5: The U.S. Department of Education should provide more detailed guidelines to state education agencies (SEAs) and LEAs on the implementation of requirements regarding family participation and language accommodations in the development of individualized education plans (IEPs) and Section 504 accommodation plans for dual language learners/English learners who qualify for special education. The SEAs and LEAs, in turn, should fully implement these requirements.
These guidelines should cover the following:
- identification of evidence-based resources and practices for increasing family participation that take into account parents’ workplace policies and the socioeconomic, cultural, and educational circumstances of families of DLLs/ELs with disabilities;
- identification of evidence-based resources and practices that enable professionals to communicate with families of DLLs/ELs with disabilities in their L1, as well as communication strategies to use when following such guidelines is not feasible (e.g., because of a lack of bilingual school staff or of professionally certified interpreters); and
- identification of evidence-based resources and practices for conducting IEP meetings with families of DLLs/ELs with disabilities
in culturally responsive ways while discussing how to support the child’s L1 and make joint decisions about the appropriate use of languages for instruction.
Recommendation 6: The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Education should direct programs to strengthen their referral and linkage roles in order to address the low rates of identification of developmental disorders and disabilities in dual language learners (DLLs)/English learners (ELs) and related low rates of referral to early intervention and early childhood special education services. In addition, the U.S. Department of Education should address underidentification of DLLs/ELs in its analyses, reports, and regulations in order to examine the multidimensional patterns of underrepresentation and overrepresentation at the national, state, and district levels in early childhood (birth to 5) and by grade (pre-K to 12) and for all disability categories.
The MIECHV and ECE programs overseen by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services should also consider adapting guidelines from other federal agencies for developmental screening of DLLs and having available the appropriately trained professionals needed to conduct these screenings. Initial standardized developmental screenings that are administered to large numbers of DLLs should obtain information from multiple sources, including standardized screening instruments, observational data on the child’s behavior, and parental reports, to determine whether referral for more in-depth assessment is warranted. Professionals should be aware that most standardized screening tools have not been designed or normed for DLLs; that is, they are not culturally and linguistically appropriate instruments. Teachers and assessment professionals should be trained to conduct assessments with DLLs and ELs. All procedures should be carefully documented, with final decisions being made by the team in collaboration with children’s families.
To differentiate properly between language differences attributable to growing up with two languages and language delays in screening and identifying DLLs and ELs who may need special services, assessors should employ multiple measures and sources of information; consult with a multidisciplinary team that includes bilingual experts; collect information over time; and use family members as informants regarding birth, medical, developmental, and family history (Barrueco et al., 2012). These practices are consistent with expert guidelines of professional societies on assessing for language impairment, autism spectrum disorder, global developmental delay, and learning disabilities.
The recent efforts by the U.S. Department of Education to address dis-
parities in special education through multiyear disproportionality analyses and regulations represent a positive step forward, but have focused only on overrepresentation, overlooking the critical possibility of underrepresentation (which has already been documented) for a number of disability categories.
Recommendation 7: Local education agencies serving American Indian and Alaska Native communities that are working to revitalize their indigenous heritage languages should take steps to ensure that schools’ promotion of English literacy supports and does not compete or interfere with those efforts.
Students’ indigenous heritage languages are crucial to their social, cultural, and emotional well-being and to the continuation of their communities’ ways of life, just as English is crucial to their participation in the economic and political life of the larger society. Both languages are necessary for American Indian and Alaska Native youth to become productive members of their communities.
Recommendations Related to the Workforce
Recommendation 8: Research, professional, and policy associations whose members have responsibilities for improving and ensuring the high quality of educational outcomes among dual language learners (DLS)/English learners (ELs) should implement strategies designed to foster assessment literacy—the ability to understand and interpret results of academic assessments administered to these children and adolescents in English or their primary language—among personnel in federal, state, and local school agencies and DLL/EL families.
These organizations should work with institutions of higher education that prepare educators and allied professionals (school psychologists, researchers, and others) and assessment developers to ensure that assessment literacy is part of continuing education and improvement programs and that these professionals are well prepared to work with families of DLL/ELs.
Recommendation 9: State and professional credentialing bodies should require that all educators with instructional and support roles (e.g., teachers, care and education practitioners, administrators, guidance counselors, psychologists and therapists) in serving dual language learners (DLS)/English learners (ELs) be prepared through credentialing and licensing as well as pre- and in-service training to work effectively with DLLs/ELs.
Competencies in connecting research on dual language development with best practices to guide the instruction of DLLs/ELs should be required in addition to current basic credentialing/licensing requirements. A common course of core body of content should be available for the professional development of all personnel who work with DLLs/ELs, and should include the following elements drawn from the research reviewed by the committee and consistent with its conclusions and recommendations:
- an understanding of language development and the relationship between first and second language acquisition;
- an understanding of the influences of sociocultural factors on language learning;
- knowledge of and ability to implement effective practices for promoting the successful education of DLLs/ELs, including early intervention strategies for DLLs/ELs with disabilities;
- an understanding of assessment instruments and procedures and of the interpretation and application of assessment results for DLLs/ELs;
- development of skills for establishing respectful partnerships with families of DLLs/ELs; and
- development of skills to advocate on behalf of DLLs/ELs.
The components of this common course of study should be built into preservice licensing coursework and continuing professional development requirements. Professional organizations should incorporate this common course of study into their professional offerings and advocacy efforts, and educational settings should incorporate it into their in-service education.
Recommendation 10: All education agencies in states, districts, regional clusters of districts, and intermediary units and agencies responsible for early learning services and pre-K to 12 should support efforts to recruit, select, prepare, and retain teachers, care and education practitioners, and education leaders qualified to serve dual language learners (DLLs)/English learners (ELs). Consistent with requirements for pre-K to 12, program directors and lead teachers in early learning programs should attain a B.A. degree with certification to teach DLLs.
School districts, institutions of higher education that prepare teachers and other professionals who work with DLLs/ELs, and alternative teacher preparation programs, as well as other related service providers, should increase their efforts to attract and retain personnel who are qualified to meet the needs of DLLs/ELs, including by focusing on the pool of high school graduates with seals of biliteracy and recruiting them to become teachers
as part of their college education. Too few staff in the workforce know the languages and cultural customs of DLLs/ELs and their families. Programs in institutions of higher education should consider incorporating practices described in Chapter 12 into their recruitment and teacher preparation programs. Attention should be given to ensuring that teachers acquire in-depth understanding of the cultural realities of their students and the U.S. educational context through ongoing mentoring and intensive professional development.
Research and Data Collection Recommendations
Recommendation 11: The Institute of Education Sciences should promote studies focused on the impact on English learners of variations in state policies and decisions related to Every Student Success Act (ESSA) implementation. These studies should be completed in time to inform the next cycle of ESSA reauthorization in 4 years.
Specific topics addressed by these studies should include the nature of the standardized statewide entry-exit criteria, the length of time for which exited ELs are included in reports of academic progress, the minimum subgroup sample size for accountability, the models chosen for gauging progress toward English language proficiency, and the manner in which states implement the evidence-based provisions of the law for district improvement programs. The research should also document and evaluate how local district adaptations to the required state accountability systems can serve the needs of school improvement efforts.
Recommendation 12: State education agencies (SEAs) should analyze student data on the relationships among English language proficiency, academic assessments, and individual student characteristics (including students’ proficiency in their L1) to determine the appropriateness of entry and exit procedures and the efficacy of targeted services. SEAs should use this information to refine entry and exit procedures and make decisions about the length of time for which exited students are included in accountability systems.
Recommendation 13: Understanding that definitions of English learners (ELs) vary from state to state, a common definition should be used by school districts, state education agencies, and federal agencies (such as the U.S. Department of Education, the Census Bureau, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) in their data collection efforts and in reports related to ELs to enable comparisons and analyses across datasets.
Recommendation 14: Federal agencies that support research should develop guidelines specifying descriptors to be used to characterize dual language learners (DLLs)/English learners (ELs) and other child participants in funded research. These agencies should also develop an agreed-upon and consistent set of definitions of those descriptors, including DLL, EL, immigrant, country of origin (versus pan-ethnic or racial categories), and socioeconomic status, among others.
Reports on DLLs/ELs published by school districts and federal agencies should consistently
- include information about DLLs’/ELs’ past and current language experiences and competencies;
- disaggregate panethnic and ethnic group categories, such as Latin American, Hispanic, Asian American and Pacific Islander, and African;
- disaggregate data by age group, including infants from birth to 2 years, pre-K (ages 3-5), elementary school (ages 6-12), and middle to high school (ages 13-18);
- stratify data by families’ socioeconomic status;
- identify DLLs/ELs by country of origin and immigration status; and
- provide information about the participants’ competence in English and their home language(s), including both oral and written language skills.
These features would increase the policy and practice relevance of the reported data by providing commonly understandable and more useful information to the public, educators, researchers, and policy makers. In addition, data collection on underserved populations, including DLLs/ELs who are from migrant/seasonal worker families, are members of transnational groups, are homeless, are unaccompanied minors, and are refugees, should be improved.
As described in Chapter 1, the committee was charged with developing a research agenda identifying gaps in knowledge about DLLs/ELs, specifically with respect to understanding the influences on their educational success. The committee found that more research is needed on the policies that govern DLLs’/ELs’ education and shape their life experiences; the social, cognitive, and linguistic development and learning trajectories of ELs over the pre-K to grade 12 period; the effectiveness of alternative instructional models (including dual language models); instructional strategies that con-
tribute to academic success; assessment methods that shape clinical and educational decisions about ELs; and the preparation of educators. Box 13-1 provides more detailed descriptions of these gaps in the knowledge base and research needed to address them.
Barrueco, S., Lopez, M., Ong, C., and Lozano, P. (2012). Assessing Spanish-English Bilingual Preschoolers: A Guide to Best Approaches and Measures. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes.
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