Five-Year Study of Proposition 227 Finds No Conclusive Evidence Favoring One Instructional Approach for English Learners

Feb 21, 2006, 00:00 ET from American Institutes for Research

    PALO ALTO, Calif., Feb. 21 /PRNewswire/ -- There is no conclusive evidence
 that one instructional model for educating English learners, such as full
 English immersion or a bilingual approach, is more effective for California's
 English learners than another, according to a five-year study of Proposition
 227. The study, by the American Institutes for Research (AIR) in conjunction
 with WestEd, concludes that a variety of factors in varying school contexts
 influence English learner achievement.
     "Effects of the Implementation of Proposition 227 on the Education of
 English Learners, K-12," was conducted for the California Department of
 Education under a mandate by the state legislature. Passed in California in
 1998, the proposition requires that English learners be taught "overwhelmingly
 in English" through sheltered/structured English immersion programs during a
 transition period normally not to exceed one year, and then once they have
 acquired a working knowledge of English, transferred to mainstream English-
 language classrooms. The proposition contains a provision that allows students
 whose parents sign a district-provided waiver to be taught bilingually.
 California is home to nearly one-third of the nation's five million English
     Key findings from the study include:
     * Since the passage of Proposition 227, students across all language
       classifications in all grades have experienced performance gains on
       state achievement tests.
     * During this time, the performance gap between English learners and
       native English speakers has remained virtually constant in most subject
       areas for most grades.
     * That these gaps have not widened is noteworthy given the substantial
       increase in the percentage of English learners participating in
       statewide tests, as required by federal and state accountability
     * Limitations in state data make it impossible to definitively resolve the
       long-standing debate underlying Proposition 227 as to whether one
       instructional model is more effective for California's English learners
       than another. However, based on the data currently available, there is
       no evidence to support an argument of the superiority of one English
       learner instructional approach over another.
     * The likelihood of an English learner meeting the linguistic and academic
       criteria needed to reclassify them to fluent English proficient status
       after 10 years in California schools is less than 40 percent.
     * Interviews with representatives of schools and districts among the
       highest performers in the state with substantial English learner
       populations further supported the finding that there is no single path
       to academic excellence among English learners.
     * The factors identified as most critical to their success were: staff
       capacity to address English learners' linguistic and academic needs;
       school wide focus on English language development and standards-based
       instruction; shared priorities and expectations in educating English
       learners and systematic, ongoing assessment and careful data use to
       guide instruction.
     "Proposition 227 was based on the premise of the superiority of a single
 approach. This study challenges that assumption," says Tom Parrish of AIR's
 Palo Alto office. He is the Principal Investigator for the study and one of
 the coauthors. "Given the diverse learning needs of English learners, we
 recommend less emphasis on dictating specific methods, continuing on the more
 general path of rewarding school academic success and intervening in the case
 of failure wherever it occurs."
     Adds WestEd's Robert Linquanti, Associate Project Director and one of the
 coauthors: "Our findings suggest that it is not the language of instruction
 but rather the quality of instruction that matters most. We also found a
 number of ways that state and district education leaders can better support
 school administrators and teachers in helping English learners progress and
     The study recommends the following to improve the achievement of English
     * California should identify schools and districts that are successfully
       educating English learners at all grade levels, and create opportunities
       for their peers to learn from them.
     * The state should ensure that students' English learner status does not
       impede full access to core curriculum.
     * Schools should limit prolonged separation of English learners from
       English-speaking students to cases of demonstrated efficacy.
     * District leaders need to ensure that their plan of instruction for
       English learners is articulated across classes within grades, across
       grades within schools and across schools within the district.
     The report is available on the AIR Web site, and the
 WestEd Web site,  Maria Perez and Amy Merickel
 of AIR were co-Project Directors and co-authors of the study.
     About AIR
     Established in 1946, with headquarters in Washington, D.C., the American
 Institutes for Research (AIR) is an independent, nonpartisan not-for-profit
 organization that conducts behavioral and social science research on important
 social issues and delivers technical assistance both domestically and
 internationally in the areas of health, education, and workforce productivity.
     About WestEd
     WestEd, a national nonprofit research, development, and service agency,
 works with education and other communities to promote excellence, achieve
 equity, and improve learning for children, youth, and adults. WestEd has 15
 offices nationwide, from Washington and Boston to Arizona and California. Its
 corporate headquarters are in San Francisco. More information about WestEd is
 available at

SOURCE American Institutes for Research