In the first randomized-assignment study in which English language learners were followed for as long as five years, researchers have found that Spanish-speaking children learn to read English equally well regardless of whether they are taught primarily in English or in both English and their native language. The findings lend considerable weight to the argument for bilingual education, as students in bilingual education programs are less likely to fall behind in subjects other than English compared to students in English immersion programs.
“Reading and Language Outcomes of a Five-Year Randomized Evaluation of Transitional Bilingual Education,” from the Center for Research and Reform in Education at Johns Hopkins University and the Success for All Foundation, reports the fifth-year results of a study comparing the English and Spanish language and reading performance of Spanish-dominant children randomly assigned beginning in kindergarten to Transitional Bilingual Education (TBE) or Structured English Immersion (SEI). Funded by the Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, this is the first randomized study to compare TBE and SEI reading approaches over a period as long as five years.
As expected, on the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (PPVT) and its Spanish equivalent (TVIP) and on English and Spanish versions of three Woodcock Reading Scales, kindergartners and first graders in TBE performed significantly better in Spanish and worse in English than their SEI counterparts, controlling for PPVT and TVIP. After transitioning to English, TBE children in grades 2-4 scored significantly lower than those in SEI on the measure of receptive vocabulary on the PPVT, but there were no significant differences on most English reading measures. On the Spanish language (TVIP) and reading measures, TBE students scored significantly higher than SEI in grades K-3, but not grade four. Both groups gained substantially in English receptive language skills over the years. These findings suggest
that Spanish-dominant students learn to read in English (as well as Spanish) equally well in TBE and SEI.
The researchers followed three cohorts of English Language Learners who entered kindergarten in 2004, 2005, and 2006. Only the group that entered kindergarten in 2004 was followed for a full five years, through 4th grade.
For both groups studied, teachers used Success For All, a reading program that one of the report’s authors, Robert E. Slavin, developed. Success For All is available in English and Spanish.
Teachers of both groups received similar professional development. They took part in an initial two days of professional development, focusing on topics such as strategies for teaching English-language learners, using cooperative learning, and teaching reading in a comprehensive manner.
The study involved six elementary schools, one each in California, Colorado, Illinois, Minnesota, New Mexico, and Texas. Not surprisingly in light of public pressure, some of the elementary schools in the study have since dropped their bilingual education programs. North Alamo Elementary School in Texas, has also dropped its transitional bilingual education program.
The full report will be available from Johns Hopkins University.