English learners (ELs) are the fastest growing U.S. school population and constitute 21.4 percent of the total enrollment of California schools (U.S. Census Bureau, 2016). However, schools are struggling to provide programs and practices that are consistently effective, replicable, and scalable for ELs. Insufficient programs that do not meet students’ academic and language development needs result in these students becoming underserved and underachieving (Olsen, 2014). Furthermore, many ELs who have attended U.S. schools for years are still not English proficient. Between one quarter and one half of all ELs who enter the primary grades are estimated to become long-term English learners (LTELs) (Olsen, 2014). The large number of adolescent ELs who have not yet become proficient English speakers indicates that their instructional needs have not been met (Flores, Painter, Harlow-Nash, & Pachon, 2009).
These students have unique language issues including limited knowledge of vocabulary, syntax, and grammar in both English and their native language. Many remain at an intermediate level of English proficiency or below (Olsen, 2010). These EL adolescents must cope with the double demands of learning rigorous content in core courses and a second language (Short & Fitzsimmons, 2007), which contributes to ELs achieving below grade-level academic standards (Olsen, 2010). LTELs are more likely to take longer to complete their credits and more likely to drop out of school. As a result, they graduate at substantially lower rates (Callahan, 2013; Gwynne, Pareja, Ehrlich, & Allenworth, 2012; Kim, 2011). The majority of English learners express a desire to go to college. However, they are often unaware of college entrance requirements, including the coursework needed, required GPA, and minimum entrance exam scores.
Moreno Valley Unified School District (USD) is a high-poverty, urban-fringe district in Riverside County (east of Los Angeles) with a low high school graduation rate and high dropout rate. Compared to the county and state, Moreno Valley USD has large percentages of students who are classified as English learners, Hispanic, and qualified for free or reduced-price meals. Finding effective intervention solutions that can change the life trajectory of the majority of these students is, therefore, paramount.
A key recommendation from Olsen (2010) is the use of appropriate, intensive, and effective English Language Development materials and academic content materials to promote access to the core content. In addition, ELs need dedicated time for second-language learning and practice, as content teaching does not effectively teach language skills (Gersten & Baker, 2000; Ramirez, 1992). Therefore, the Moreno Valley USD implemented the California League of Schools English Learner Families for College (Families for College) program, which used English 3D as its curricular anchor for daily instruction with its EL students. Dr. Kate Kinsella is the author of English 3D, a Common Core State Standards and California English Language Development Standards aligned curriculum for long-term ELs. English 3D was specifically designed to accelerate language development for ELs who have functional social interactions using English but lack the more advanced linguistic knowledge and skills required for more complex classroom content. Language acceleration is accomplished through a series of lessons and instructional routines derived from research-based principles designed to dramatically increase students verbal and written interactions using academic English and to better prepare learners for more complex coursework.
During the dedicated English 3D period, students are explicitly taught language elements and use consistent instructional routines. Instruction that helps English learners see specific linguistic elements makes it more likely that students will acquire them (Spada & Lightbown, 2008). Teachers model articulate verbal use of English using complete sentences, precise vocabulary, and a more formal register. Students are exposed to engaging and effectively written academic English with the intent of using these exemplars as models for their own writing. Providing models of exemplary writing assists students in developing their own written academic discourse (Wong, Filmore, & Snow, 2000). Language targets are included in peer interactions as they have been shown to increase gains in oral language proficiency (Saunders & Goldenberg, 2010), which in turn leads to gains in reading and writing competency (August & Shanahan, 2006). Student language production is consciously monitored by the teacher with timely productive feedback given for verbal errors.
Dr. Kinsella provided the initial training for teachers and administrators in Moreno Valley USD and oversaw the implementation of English 3D. Theresa Hancock, Dr. Kinsella’s lead associate, directly trained all of the grade-level cohorts of 12 EL teachers (Grades 6–8) by extensively modeling lessons and the key instructional routines required to successfully implement English 3D. Each year, teachers participated in 10 days of English 3D training, classroom coaching, and customized follow-up support sessions. Each teacher provided one period of core English language arts with a second designated period of academic language instruction using English 3D. Teachers also worked collaboratively in Professional Learning Communities during each of the trainings, at their school sites, and on Edmodo® (an online communication tool) with a focus on English 3D curriculum: lesson planning, reflection, and improvement. Guided by Theresa Hancock, the teachers used this time to practice and plan lessons, share success and challenges, and to refine implementation of English 3D.
In addition to teacher training, school principals also received training in English 3D by Dr. Kinsella and Theresa Hancock. Ms. Hancock guided principals and district leadership during observations of grade-level cohort teachers to identify trends and to inform the subsequent day of follow-up training. Principals learned to identify key features of the English 3D instructional routines and discussed strategies to further support teachers. Principals also identified ways to protect teachers from additional initiatives and demands while participating in the program. Finally, to strengthen their understanding of Dr. Kinsella’s work with response frames, a key attribute in English 3D lessons, principals delivered mini-lessons with their teachers. These mini-lessons not only strengthened each principal’s understanding of the curricula, but also strengthened their credibility with teachers when conducting observations. Many principals expressed a deeper understanding of language-focused instruction as a result of the trainings and guided observations.
The Families for College program also addressed the needs of students from culturally diverse backgrounds. These students may not share the same experiences as their peers and this may limit their ability to comprehend academic content (Jimenez, Garcia, & Pearson, 1996). Providing direct experiences or helping learners recall or add to relevant background knowledge through brainstorming increases the likelihood of learning and retention. Adding to students’ background knowledge, including personal, cultural, or academic aspects, expands and extends their schema, thereby aiding their comprehension of content (Echevarria, Vogt, & Short, 2007). English 3D includes instruction to extend prior knowledge of language and content using these strategies. This is accomplished through enhancing prior knowledge and building and using critical vocabulary.
The Investing in Innovation (i3) development grant was awarded to the California League of Schools English Learner Families for College program in Moreno Valley USD to assist middle school ELs on their path to college success through intensive school and family interventions and engagement. In particular, the Families for College program was designed to improve the academic achievement of high-need English learners and students who were recently reclassified as Fluent English Proficient in Moreno Valley USD so these students would be able to access and navigate college preparatory curriculum in high school, with the ultimate goal of increasing EL college entry and completion rates.
Beginning in the 2012–2013 school year and continuing through the 2016–2017 school year, independent evaluators from Educational Resource Consultants (ERC) conducted an evaluation of the program.
Moreno Valley USD is one of the largest school districts in California, serving nearly 35,000 students in Grades K–12 in 43 schools. Per district records, Moreno Valley USD is an urban-fringe district with the county’s lowest high school graduation rate and the highest dropout rate. Sixty-six percent of the student body is Hispanic, 17% is African American, 10% is White, and 4% is Asian, and 83% of students qualify for free and reduced-price meals.
Approximately one-fourth of Moreno Valley USD’s students are classified as ELs, and among the district’s ELs, 88% are long-term English learners (LTELs). Historically, the percentage of ELs who were proficient in English language arts dropped below 10 percent by 6th grade and below 5 percent by the 11th grade, an obstacle that impeded EL students’ access to college-preparatory curriculum in high school and thereby limited their opportunities to access higher education and careers.
The five-year program served a cohort of 325 English learners and their families from the beginning of 6th grade at six middle schools through the fall of their 10th grade year at four high schools.
To measure the impact of the Families for College program on the achievement of ELs, an interrupted time series design was conducted, applying a multilevel model (students within schools) and using state standardized test scores in English language arts (ELA) as the outcome measure. California schools administer grade-level state standardized tests each year in May. This study included measures for cohort students from two pre-intervention years (4th and 5th grades) and two post-intervention years (7th and 8th grades). Only students for whom all four test scores were available were included in the analysis. California schools did not administer a state standardized test in May of 2014, when cohort students were in 6th grade. Because the state standardized test given in the years prior to intervention (California Standards Test) differed from the test given after the intervention (California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress), raw scores for each student were converted to z-scores. Z-scores were calculated separately for each testing year, based on statewide means and standard deviations for the grade level of the cohort.
A longitudinal hierarchical linear modeling (HLM) (Raudenbush & Bryk, 2002) was used to examine the impact of the Families for College program on the achievement of ELs using state standardized test scores in ELA as the outcome measure with four waves of data. In longitudinal HLM, level-1 represents time and level-2 represents an individual (i.e., repeated observations are nested within individuals), which allows exploring change in scores across time. An important feature of the longitudinal HLM is that the growth parameters vary across individuals (Raudenbush & Bryk, 2002), which was reflected in the random-coefficient regression model.
This study included measures for cohort students from two pre-intervention years (4th and 5th grades) and two post-intervention years (7th and 8th grades). Therefore, for substantive reasons, researchers chose to use a piecewise linear growth model, which allows testing individual linear growth for each wave. Thus, ERC modeled three slopes to test individual linear growth between the 4th and 5th grades, between the 5th and 7th grades, and between the 7th and 8th grades.
The Families for College program was designed to improve the academic achievement of high-need, long-term English learners and students who were recently reclassified as Fluent English Proficient in Moreno Valley USD, setting the stage for improved college entry and completion rates. It provided a unique combination of professional development for EL teachers, the EL-focused academic English language curriculum English 3D, family engagement strategies, and other academic and social supports for students. Innovative avenues for student, peer, teacher, family, and leadership engagement led to a largely successful college-focused educational community. Targeted academic English instruction using EL-focused curricula, instruction, and assessment in particular positioned students for reclassification as Fluent English Proficient and led to gains in grade-level ELA proficiency. Academic resources were concentrated in Grades 6–8 so cohort students could reclassify by the start of high school, enabling access to the high school core curriculum.
In the two years prior to beginning the Families for College program using English 3D, cohort students scored .94 and .93 standard deviations below their same-grade peers on the state standardized ELA test. After two years of participation in the Families for College program, cohort students in the 7th grade demonstrated a significantly higher mean standardized ELA score when compared to their 5th grade (last pre-intervention) year (see Figure 1). They showed a mean gain of .36 standard deviations relative to their same-grade peers in the state norming sample, with a high level of statistical significance (p < .0001). After three years of participation, the mean score of cohort students in the 8th grade remained .23 standard deviations higher than in their 5th grade year, also with a high level of statistical significance (p < .0001).
The Families for College program resulted in significantly improved performance on standardized tests of ELA for students classified as English learners, which contributed to reclassification for a majority. Seventy-eight percent of students (196 of 250) who began the program in the fall of 6th grade (2013) as English learners were reclassified as Fluent English Proficient by the fall of 9th grade (2016), and 83% of all cohort students were reclassified by the fall of 9th grade (2016). These results were consistent across the six middle schools where the program was implemented, as no significant school-level effects were detected.
Teacher Focus Groups
Between 2014 and 2016, annual focus groups were held with the teachers who participated in the Families for College program. Focus groups were conducted among program teachers receiving English 3D training each year (nine 6th grade teachers in 2014, nine 7th grade teachers in 2015, and seven 8th grade teachers in 2016). Teacher focus groups yielded similar findings across the three years:
- Schools participating in the Families for College program took active steps to create a welcoming environment for parents of EL students
- Teachers agreed that the program improved parent engagement at their schools
- Teachers agreed they saw a major difference in the engagement levels of parents who attended Families In Schools’ workshops, when compared to other EL parents
- Teachers agreed that English 3D classes benefitted students
- Teachers agreed that they benefitted from training provided through the program
- Teachers reported that professional development received through the program made a positive impact on their classroom instruction
Student Focus Groups
Two student focus groups were conducted in May of 2017, when cohort students were at the end of their 9th grade year. Focus groups included 14 students from Moreno Valley High School and 6 students from Vista Del Lago High School. Major themes emerged from the student focus groups:
- Students credited English 3D with helping them reclassify out of English learner status by improving their speaking, reading, writing, and listening skills in English
- Students perceived their teachers as being excited about teaching and caring about their success
- Most students said that English 3D helped prepare them for the transition into high school
- While most students said they had planned to attend college after high school before they became involved in the program, most students said their attitude toward school had improved because of their experiences in English 3D
- Students who had parents who attended at least one parent workshop all reported positive changes in their parents’ involvement in their education
Overall, the Families for College program using English 3D as the curricular anchor brought about positive changes for the students targeted and the teachers who took part in the trainings. Results from the program reinforce findings from current research on the instructional characteristics of a strong designated period of English Language Development in a secondary school LTEL program. The program succeeded in improving EL student achievement on standardized ELA assessments and reclassifying 83% of the ELs as English Proficient. Student and teacher interviews indicated that the daily English 3D class had the greatest impact on this increase. Students benefitted from academic vocabulary development and increased time for discussions and presentations, as well as having access to exemplary writing examples. Teachers used student collaboration more frequently and reported an increase in student confidence and interest in academic success. Teachers felt the trainings provided by the program were useful and provided them with instructional routines that improved their abilities to deliver language-focused lessons that benefitted their students.
Please refer to the full study for more details.
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